A Future for Cinema?

Submitted by Reddebrek on June 4, 2016

When Shirley Clarke made her screen version of The Connection in
New York a few months ago, she financed the production by methods
familiar in (he theatre but almost untested in the cinema. A couple of
hundred small investors took shares in the enterprise; they were given no
Huarantee that they would ever see their money again, and there was no
advance commitment to a distributor. John Cassavetes' Shadows was only
lompleted after money had been raised through a broadcast appeal.
Lionel Rotfosin went into the business of running a cinema to ensure that
On Ilia Howcry and Come Back, Africa got a showing in New York. In
brume, sttme young directors have been able to finance their films out of
legacies, money lent or given by parents or friends.

Nothing like this has yet happened in England — nor does it seem very
likely to happen. The hazards dogging the steps of young film-makers are
too well known to need elaboration: costs of production, difficulty of
ttettinx a distribution guarantee, and so on. But these are largely the
problems of an industry geared to the production of commercial pictures;
and people who are prepared to approach the cinema in a different way—
who have, that is, a passionate and desperate concern — have found overseas
that it is possible not to fight an industrial system from within, but as
nearly as possible to disregard it.

— Sight & Sound, Summer 1961.

Tm: film as mass-entertainment has perished. Its place has been
taken by television, which has captured the middle -brows with BBC
and the low-brows with ITV. That leaves only the high-brows, and
they're no mass-market. Cinemas are being pulled down, or converted
into bowling-alleys, warehouses or bingo-dives all over the country.
I wen the Empire, Leicester Square is coming down to make way for an
office block with an economically-sized cinema in the basement. Six
thousand people petitioned the House of Commons on July 10th
against the closing of the only cinema in Welwyn. Their time would
have been better employed in starting their own film society. The
Slate Cinema. Leytonstone has turned itself into a club and film society
which sells shares to members. With four paid employees, the rest
of the work is done by volunteers.

Speaking under the double-breasted eagle in Grosvenor Square,
Dwight Macdonald recently pronounced the funeral oration for Holly-
wood, and even if this was a little premature, it is true that the low-cost
non- Hollywood film instead of being a Cinderella, is becoming a welcome
product, if only because it helps to keep down cinema overheads. More
and more of the surviving small cinemas are turning over to 'classics',
showing old films, foreign films, off-beat films, becoming in fact what
are called in America (with a suitable sneer) 'art houses'. This, as well
as the proliferation of film societies, and the existence of the National
Film Theatre fortifies the makers of films which would never find an
audience in the old days of the mammoth super-cinema, and emboldens
managements who find it is not necessary to insult the public's intelligence
to get them into the cinema. Like a man under sentence of death,
the cinema is becoming bolder in its behaviour and thought.

The Rank Organisation with its near monopoly of large-scale
distribution, is slow to grasp the changed situation, the big production
companies still dream of colossal epics, like the ill-fated Cleopatra, but
it is still true that the amateur or near-amateur low-budget film (Come
Back Africa, The Savage Eye, The Day) has a far greater chance today
of getting distributed and covering its costs, than it did ten years ago.

In the United States the average weekly cinema attendance fell from
85 millions in 1946 to less than 45 millions in 1958, but the number of
'art houses' rose from about a dozen after the war to about 450 in 1959.
In France, the 'new wave' films, according to Jacques Siclier, "were
really designed for the art houses, where the price of seats is lower than
in the circuit cinemas and where audiences are looking for something
more than entertainment".

Ten years ago you may remember, Bernard Miles had to fight a
battle with the Rank Organisation through the Film Selection Committee
to get a showing for his film Chance of a Lifetime (about a factory taken
over by its workers), which had been refused exhibition since it was
"bad box office". It wasn't a remarkable film but it was a good
deal better than The Angry Silence, and would have had more success

Someone described the present trend in the newspaper industry as
"Gresham's Law in reverse" — the good driving out the bad, for a
change: the small-circulation 'quality' newspapers and weeklies gaining
in circulation, while all but a few of the mass-circulation ones dwindle
and disappear. This is happening in the film press too; the fan magazines
have gone out of business, but serious magazines devoted to the
cinema grow in number : Sight and Sound, Definition, Films and Filming,
Film, Motion, they all have something to say, and they are all serious
about it. Perhaps the same thing is going to happen in the industry
itself. If it does, it will be thanks to that small minority of film makers
and film goers who have already taken the cinema seriously.

This issue of Anarchy is about some of them. It is not an essay
in film criticism. It is an attempt to describe the background and ideas
of three great directors, Vigo, Bunuel and Flaherty, all of whom are
likely to have a particular interest to readers of this journal by virtue
of the quality of the assumptions on which they acted. All three, you
will notice, throughout their working lives have suffered from the censorship,
both of governments and of distributors. If it were not for
the film society movement in different countries and for the minority
cinemas and 'art houses', most of us would never have seen their films.

We have too, articles by the makers of two recent non-professional
films, about their aims and the difficulties they encountered in realising
them. These difficulties are so immense, and the prospect of financial
recompense so slender, that such films can only be conceived as works
of love. The rigor mortis of professionalism has not touched them.