MISSING THE POINT OF THE CRISISCategory: Cinema + TV/Radio
There has been too much talk about a Crisis in the British film industry. This is not to. deny the justice of abolition of entertainments duty (for the cinema has been in recent years the only popular entertainment to be so taxed); nor to overlook the sobering facts that annual attendances have slumped in ten years from some 1,500 million to a little less than 1,000 million, and that daring the last two years over 400 cinemas have been closed.
Many of Britain’s remaining 4,100 cinemas are obsolete, poorly equipped and badly managed shells, all that remain of the shopfront and skating-rink biographs of the get-rich-quick days of the late twenties and early thirties. The presence of many of these cinemas has helped to maintain a film release policy that demands four new top features every week — one for А. В. C., one for Gau- mont, one for Odeon and one for “Independents.”
As few cinemas will show a single-feature programme only, this means that English and American producers are having to cope with a demand for over 400 new feature-length English-language films every year. Such an output strains creative talent to breaking point and it is little wonder that many new films fail to rise above the level of modestly efficient, factory production-line copies of past successes.
Yet the fact remains’that when film makers are able to break from the factory technique and turn out pictures of individual merit (such аз The Bridge on the River Kwai or Witness for the Prosecution ) it is difficult, if not impossible, to buy a cinema ticket without waiting in a queue.
The film industry executives will also dotwell to consider that whereas there is a general decline in attendances, there are indications that there are audiences for what the industry like to call “specialised” films. If this were not so, the National Film Theatre would not be putting out “House Full” notices nearly every night of the week, and the Curzon and the Academy (and scores of other “art cinemas”) would not be able to commercially show such out of the way films as Clouzot’s Le Mystere Picasso or Bergman’s The Seventh Seal.
The real “crisis” in the film industry is that so many diehard executives believe that what the public accepted in 1938 they can be persuaded to accept in 1958; and that if they don’t, then the high pressured sale of ice-cream and soft drinks to the remaining faithful will solve all the industry’s economic problems.
Until the industry makes a serious attempt to .adjust the present talent-squandering method of release, a major factor in the present “crisis” will continue to hamper its efforts towards rationalization.
Further, the executives who control the major circuits may do well to consider the merits of converting some of their smaller cinemas, which today are either redundant 01 operating at a loss, into “art houses” for showing the best foreign-language pictures and a selection of British and Americanre-issues.
(Films and Filming)