NOTES FROM THE. UNDERGROUND..'
Kinc Weekly is a magazine devoted to news and views from the film world. In so far as its tone accurately mimics the gossipy bit- chiness of the movie industry, the twenty- page publication does a good job. For ex- ample, it has a A< inc booking guide' section which reviews all the latest films for the benefit of cinema managers who might wish to book them. But recently in a column entitled 'Long Shots,' one Bill Altria (who, judging from his photo caption looks to be 190) boomed forth on the subject : 'Is there need for another inquiry?' Into what? Bill ,Altria? Judging from his photo, the answer is almost certainly yes. Alas, this pleasure is denied because what he is com- plaining abotit is the proposal for an in- dependent inquiry (initiated by the Writers' Guild of Great Britain) into the state of the British film industry today. I'm not quite sure how such an inquiry can be
independent if on the one hand it has been set up by the Writers' Guild; many of whose members would benefit directly if the indus- try were healthier, and on the other hand if its proposed membership involves so many of the industry's faithful. John Trevelyan, the retiring censor, for example; or Alexander Walker, the retired film critic; or Sir Michael Balcon, the retired. John Gould, who is chairman of the Writers' Guild, says the inquiry will aim to collect information from all branches of the film world during the next twelve months to discover exactly how it works and therefore presumably to sug- gest how it could be improved. Both the general public and, curiously although not surprisingly, those working in the industry itself, says Gould, 'are in a state of grave ignorance concerning the business and tech- nical methods throughout the industry.' Al- though methods of production and of com- mercial management have changed in every other industrial sphere in the last twenty- five years, the film industry has stayed with its head screwed on to the 'forties. Not so, not so, thunders Bill Altria. The British film industry, he declares, has been sub- jected to more probes, government in- quiries and private studies than any other industry in the land. Remember the Plant Committee Report on Distribution and Ex- hibition (1949), he asks, Yes; it led indirectly to the present corrupt and monopolistic system of non-distribution. Remember the Political and Economic Planning reports on the British Film Industry (1952 and 1958)? Yes; they got it all wrong—well, any- way, there is now a 76 per cent unemploy- ment rate among film technicians. To most outside observers, this seems worth an investigation in anybody's money. But to Altria it will be a waste of everybody's time.
John Trevelyan, the chairman of the inquiry, however. is never a man to waste anybody's time. His committee will concen- trate on: a) film financing; b) film produc- tion; c) technical operations; d) distribution; e) exhibition; f) management/union rela- tions; and g) government involvement. The problems facing the industry are monumen- tal, says Trevelyan, but at least they may as well be clearly understood. Among them, he sees as the most significant the 'polarisation of success and failure (at the box office) which has arisen out of the selectivity of audiences. It is widely felt that the methods of marketing films have not kept pace with changes in the nature of cinema-going.' I know this; dilemma well, and at first hand.
A year ago, I was asked to prepare in a hurry two half-hour films of pop music which would be distributed around the cir- cuits in place of Look at Life Part 902 in order to attract the potentially vast youth market. Someone, it seems, in distribution, had heard that over two-thirds of his aud- ience consisted of trendies and that trendies liked pop music and that Woodstock looked like being huge. so why not flood the cinema with pop films? The logic must have seemed to him inescapably simple. Accordingly, the films were done and delivered. Unfortu- nately this someone in distribution thought that all pop music still consisted of 'Moon- River,' a very lovely song no doubt but not exactly what the trendies were listening to.
The loudness of the films for example, sur- prised him (to put if mildly), so he thought he'd better try one of them out in what he kept calling 'selected areas'—just to see 'how it went down'. First among these sel- ected areas was that hot bed of trendydom, Cheltenham, and surprise, surprise, the nat- ives did not react with a noticeable deal of enthusiasm towards this 'loud music.' There- after, our special someone was quite deaf to arguments such as, why didn't he try it out in Liverpool or Birmingham? He could not be moved and the film was withdrawn; the second film has never been shown and f20,000 is down the drain. On a small setpc, this is exactly the kind of idiocy that per- vades the whole industry. If Mr Altria thinks that such situations are not in need of an inquiry, I suggest he keeps his mouth shut and gets his head investigated.