Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol. 38, No. 6 April 10, 1975
The First Line of Censorship
The First Line of Censorship
Because of Kerridge's position of cultural autocracy, we are going to have to give his taste in films more attention than it deserves. He has stated his attitude several times: for instance in an article in the Artist and Connoisseur (1 July 1971) entitled The Critic and in a letter to the Herald entitled Exhibitor Replies (2 November 1974).
Both of these statements are violent attacks on film critics in general (the Herald letter was a reply to an article of Wynne Colgan's criticising the long runs of the films shown by the two chains). Summed up, Kerridge's view-point is that what makes money is good cinema, and he quotes with approval (in The Critic) the famous Liberace comment 'I cried all the way to the bank.' He dis-likes critics because they believe that there are cultural standards other than the commercial.
This viewpoint owes more to self-interest than it does to common sense; nonetheless we will make a few comments.
Kerridge claims that he is giving the public what it wants. Firstly, his publicity machine is effective enough to arouse interest in any film. And secondly, he has spent 50 years showing glossy, escapist entertainment - people have be-come accustomed to this, just as they would have become accustomed to other sorts of film given the same exposure. Kerridge thinks that his financial success vindicates his choice of film. In fact his financial success owes more to J Arthur Rank than it does to his taste in films. As a monopolist he can't help but make money. Most people go to the pictures for a night out. Among all the films that Kerridge is showing there must be one that they don't object to too much.
Kerridge claims that 'unusual' films can't attract audiences - a self-fulfilling prophesy seeing that he makes sure they can't by not providing cinema space for them. Or else by dumping an unusual film like Medium Cool in an out-of-the-way theatre like the Berkely without much publicity so that he can say 'I told you so' when it bombs.
Kerridge did make one concession to the critics. In his letter to the Herald he said that he made the Berkely available for people with a taste for specialised or 'foreign' films. And he does give a day or two, now and again, to films like Medium Cool. However, The Dove is showing in the Berkely at the moment; Kerridge seems to have an unusual idea of what an unusual film is.
Even so, Kerridge is selling himself short. He doesn't judge films solely by their ability to make money for him. He has other criteria: his right-wing politics, his puritanical moral standards, and his personal view that films are escapist entertainment, not art or serious communications. He publicises this view in his newspaper ads which he heads 'K O Leisure Services', listing Pakatoa cruises along with the movies. Another example was the eight page colour supplement he put in the Auckland Star, advertising the opening of his two new thaatres last year: it was headed 'Leisure 74'. Films for Kerridge are merely leisure, to fill in time, not to be taken seriously. The opium of the masses.
He has been consistently uninterested in films with enough reality to break down this assumption. We are not the first to comment on this: The Listener's critic R H said in the May 24 1971 issue, 'Kerridge-Odeon) seems uneasy about controversial films. For example it delayed the release of 'How I Won The War' (a film relevant to the Vietnam protest) . . . 'Yet Kerridge-Odeon has not hesitated to show films that are controversial for their right-wing policies, such as short propaganda films from South Africa.
Literally hundreds of films are rejected or ignored by the big chains, but it is almost impossible to find out what they are because of the secrecy surrounding the private previews (trade screenings) held in the small, private preview cinemas (Kerridge-Odeon's is in the St James building, Amalgamated's is behind the Civic). There films are accepted or rejected by a small handful of executives (perhaps only one) and on-one else knows of these decisions. Normally we can only surmise about films that stir up controversy overseas and that aren't seen here. For example, virtually all the films screened over the years by the film societies and film festivals are films originally rejected or ignored by the big chains.
However, we can mention a couple of specific examples that we found out about by accident.
- W R Mysteries of the Organism by the Yugoslav film-maker Dusan Makevejev has been hailed overseas as one of the great films of the last decade. It is a psychological study of Stalinism and of sexual attitudes in the communist countries of Europe and of the persecution of Wilhelm Reich (the title of the film is taken from his initials) in the United States of America. This wide-ranging film - which attacks aspect of both capitalism and communism - has aroused tremendous interest both for its controversial subject matter and its highly original techniques. The script has been published in many countries.
Aucklanders had no way of knowing that a long time ago this film was previewed in Auckland by International Film Distributors (Kerridge-Odeon in the guise of distributor) and rejected (presumably representatives of both chains attended the preview).
- Another film to get the cold shoulder is The Conversation, a prize-winning drama from the United States of America about the use of bugging devices It is still on the shelves of Cinema International (Kerridge-Odeon in yet another guise). This film has done well overseas, especially in the wake of Watergate and is directed by Francis Ford Coppola whose The Godfather and Godfather 11 are among the biggest box office successes of all time.
Despite these advantages the film has so far been regarded by local exhibitors as too political or too controversial or too intellectual for screening in New Zealand. After the film sat on the shelves for a long time Cinema International finally obtained a one-day booking for 1975 at the Christchurch Film Festival. Meanwhile Kerridge-Odeon is uninterested.
No doubt Sir Robert would maintain that there isn't the same audience for films like these in New Zealand as there is overseas and that his own prejudice has nothing to do with it. If so, why did he waive his first rights to Woodstock and allow Amalgamated to snap it up, if it wasn't for the fact that he hated it (unless of course he had a lapse of commercial judgement)? Incidentally, Amalgamated is slightly more receptive to counter-culture films, mainly because of the influence of Michael Moodabe Jnr who likes to think of himself as a smooth show-biz swinger. Whereas Sir Robert obviously sees himself as the first line of censorship.