Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol. 38, No. 6 April 10, 1975
Now Showing.... Kerridge 'This Is Your Life'
Now Showing.... Kerridge 'This Is Your Life'
The following article is reprinted from the NZ Republican and is the second part of a three part series. The article was written by Bruce Jesson and has been slightly adapted for Salient. In the first part it was detailed how Sir Kerridge had fought his way to a monopoly position in the New Zealand film industry and then allied himself with the Rank Organisation based in England. This article shows how Sir Kerridge is supported in his position of power by law and tradition and the uses he puts his power too.
Kerridge Couldn't Go Wrong
with an outfit the size of the Rank organisation backing him. He was safe from any competition within New Zealand: firstly because of the financial backing, and secondly because of the guaranteed access to films through Rank's overseas distribution company. The second point was crucial, particularly in the forties when internicine warfare was still raging in the cinema industry. As we have seen it was doubt about obtaining reasonable supplies of films that forced the J C Williamson Picture Corporation to sell out to Kerridge.
The New Zealand film business has two aspects: importing films, which is the job of the distributor and screening them, which is the job of the exhibitor. In New Zealand these two functions are closely inter-related. In one case a distributor, 20th Century Fox, owns an exhibitor, Amalgamated. In the other case an exhibitor, Kerridge Odeon, is controlled by a company with distribution interests, the Rank Organisation; and in its turn it controls a number of local distribution companies: International Film Distributors, Lion Film Distributors, Cinema International and Photographic Wholesalers (the biggest 16 mm film rental company.)
This sort of vertical integration (distributor-exhibitor tie-up) is in itself scandalous and is prohibited in many other countries. It gives some exhibitors (in this case the two chains) the possibility of an unfair advantage over others (in this case the independents). In the United States there have been more anti-trust and anti-monopoly prosecutions brought before the courts than in any other industry.
There are distributors in New Zealand who are independent of the two chains, but they are inhibited by the chains' commercial strength. There were 208 cinemas in New Zealand at the last count, and of these Kerridge Odeon owned 59 and Amalgamated 32. More importantly, the two chains own all but one of the city theatres - which is where the money is made. The 100-odd independent theatres are confined to the suburbs and the country towns.
Distributors feel that only a showing in the city can generate enough business to make importing a film worthwhile. However Kerridge-Odeon and Amalgamated have a habit of not showing films that have been premiered in independent theatres - which means that a distributor will prefer to let a film gather dust on his shelves, awaiting the pleasure of Kerridge-Odeon or Amalgamated, rather than release it to an independent. Worse, if the two chains aren't interested in showing a film at all (and they aren't interested in showing a great many) it will almost certainly be sent out of the country again. There is the occasional exception, like Slither which went to the Capitol (Auckland) but such exceptions are very occasional.
The chains can even put on ice films that have already been widely shown. For instance, Jan Grefstad (owner of the Hollywood) complained in an interview with Alternative Cinema (April 1973) that Amalgamated had had the film 2001 frozen for over a year. They could offer the distributors more money for it than he could.
Keep Off the Grass
Not only is there no competition from the independent theatres; the two chains even limit the areas of competition between themselves. Each chain has its own distributors, and they don't therefore compete for the same films (this is the 'Keep off the grass' policy). However, if one chain turns a film down it may be offered to the other.
The film industry is therefore essentially monopolistic. Kerridge-Odean and Amalgamated can inflict on the public whatever they like, even to the extent of determining the films that the independent theatres show.
This monopoly is protected by act of parliament. This might sound like an odd claim to make, but it is literally the case. Since 1932 a system of licensing of theatres has existed in New Zealand, designed to protect the smaller operators. It can't have been very effective because by 1948 when the Committee of Inquiry was set up, the industry was under monopoly control.
This was one of the things that the Committee was set up to examine; it decided that some degree of monopoly was inevitable and perhaps even desirable. However it didn't want to see the two chains get any bigger, but comforted it-self with the thought that the licensing system could cope with the situation.
Up to a point it was right. The two chains didn't grow any bigger, and after the advent of television they actually got smaller. But they already owned most of the city cinemas and already had first rights to all the films. The limitation on their size merely meant that up to 1960 they had to cram bigger audiences into the same number of cinemas. After the advent of television this limitation became irrelevant.
Licensing System Upholds Monopoly
The most important effect of the licensing system has been to strengthen the two chains by stifling opposition. To open a 35 mm movie theatre you must be licensed by the Cinematograph Films Licensing Authority, a body that 'operates in considerable secrecy' according to Thursday's film critic, John Westbrooke (October 17 1964). The Authority appears reluctant to grant new licences, and its repressive influence is shown by the following examples:
- Jan Grefstad, the owner of the Hollywood at Avondale (the most lively independent theatre in Auckland) rented a warehouse in Queen Street with the intention of converting part of it into a theatre to be called the Classic. Both Kerridge-Odeon and Amalgamated opposed his application and the Authority turned him down. Its reasons? It wasn't allowed to authorise the showing of one type of film only (Grefstad wanted to specialise in old films). And it thought that Auckland already had enough theatres - which was a particularly stupid thing to think. The long runs of the films shown on Queen Street has resulted in newer films piling up on distributors' shelves. There is in fact an urgent need for more city theatres. Grefstad is appealing this decision in the Supreme Court - by the time this is printed the result should be known (we wouldn't actually give much for his chances; the Authority's powers are pretty arbitrary). In the meantime he is trying to run his theatre as a private club, which commercially speaking must be next to impossible. Grefstad would need an unusual amount of support from his patrons for his private club to work.
- Another man to feel the hard hand of officialdom is Barrie Everard of Auckland Amusements. He wants to set up drive-in movies in Auckland. However, before he can even apply for a licence he has to get the permission of the Minister of Internal Affairs (the Cinematograph Films Act harbours a Victorian prejudice against drive-in movies). The 8 O'clock reported (12 October 1974) that the cinema chains had lobbied the Department of Internal Affairs about the matter, as they felt that drive-ins would be a threat to their business. The Minister is dubious about driveins; according to the Thursday article mentioned earlier, he is worried about the effect on the existing exhibition industry. Perhaps the lobbying paid off?
About ten years ago the commercial interests managed to stop the Auckland Film Society screening 35 mm films on Sunday nights in an independent suburban theatre.
Licensing is a common feature of the commercial world in New Zealand. The powers-that-be have a fetish about [unclear: goverment] controls. The men who sit on the various licensing authorities see their function as preserving the status quo They feel that they would be exceeding their powers if they allowed radical changes to occur in the industries that they control.
Thus, if the cinema chains tried to extend their monopoly too much the [unclear: Autity] would no doubt slap them down. However, the present situation is that so people are trying to erode this monopoly - and the Authority is slapping them [unclear: dov]
In other words the Licensing [unclear: Authori] is protecting vested interests. No [unclear: wonde] Kerridge-Odeon and Amalgamated [unclear: oppo] the occasional suggestion that licensing [unclear: t] scrubbed.
The Effect of the Films We See
Movies are an extremely important form of art, entertainment, education and general communication (the leaders of the Russian revolution, for example, were fully aware of this even in the early days of movies). New Zealand in particular has always had a strong film tradition. One of the first theatres built specifically for movies anywhere in the world opened In Auckland in 1910 - the Kings, now called the Mercury. By 1945 we had three times as many cinemas per head of population as the United States of America.
The appearance of television caused a dramatic decline in the interest in [unclear: movi] Cinemas closed (from 525 at the peak to 208 today, most those closing being independents) and attendances dropped (from 24 visits per year per person in [unclear: 194] to four in 1973). However interest in films is now reviving especially among young adults. Kerridge-Odeon is building theatres again and business is booming for the cinema chains.
The cinema has weathered the full blast of television competition and survived. Films will continue to play an important role in the cultural life of New Zealand, which means that the choice of film available is important - especially as the cinema can escape some of the restrictions imposed on television. For instance, it is very unlikely that the broad casting bureaucrats would allow a politically-radical film to be shown on New Zealand television; whereas such films are available to the cinemas.
However the kindest thing that can be said about the choice of film available in New Zealand is that there isn't very much. New Zealanders only see a small proportion of the films made throughout the world: those made in the United States and England. And even among these we miss out on just page 9 about everything that is controversial, political, or that even simply stretches the intellect.
The bias against 'foreign' (i.e. non-English/American) films is basically a commercial one the two chains are associated with English and American distributors Kerridge's principal, the Rank Organisation is mainly active in the exhibiting side of the industry; but it does act as a distributor to Commonwealth countries, and this will be one of its motives for its involvement in Kerridge-Odeon - a guaranteed market for its products.
Obviously English and American distributors have no interest in peddling 'foreign' films (although the English distributors have an interest in peddling American films because of the business they do with the Americans in England). So apart from a small commercial wave of interest in European films in the sixties, we have been denied the bulk of the world's film production.
Kerridge-Odeon has a definite leaning towards British films, mainly because of the Rank link-up but also because Kerridge-Odeon shows what Sir Robert wants them to show and he likes British films He also liked to have the National Anthem (British) played in his cinemas despite public complaints but was forced to drop it because people were refusing to stand up.
Subsidising British Films
Sir Robert isn't the only man in the film industry afflicted with pro-British sympathies. Anglophilia is endemic in New Zealand, and even if Kerridge-Odeon hadn't shown a preference for English films they would have been forced to show them anyway. In 1928 a British quota was introduced, at the prompting of the United Kingdom stipulating that a growing percentage of the films shown had to be British made. The percentage from 1940 1940 on was to be 20%, which mightn't sound much but it was about all that the British film industry could manage. This quota didn't have to be enforced because the exhibitors voluntarily met it - which they will probably continue to do even if the quota is removed as a result of Britain entering the EEC. English films have also paid less customs duty than films from other countries (Commonwealth countries have shared these privileges since 1953, but haven't supplied a significant quantity of films.)
The idea of these measures was to help salvage the film industry in Britain from the wreckage left by American competition. Similar, but more expensive, measures are in force in Britain. Their main effect is to encourage American companies like Rank, which still makes the occasional film, the bulk of English film-making is done by the Americans. This isn't completely to the advantage of Britain - they at least have a film industry of sorts, which is more than we have.
This discrimination against 'foreign' films means that the casual movie goer isn't even aware that films are made in places other than the United States and England. As a matter of fact countries like India and Japan make more films than Hollywood, and among the world's most respected directors are: Ray (India) Ozue and Kurosawa (Japan), Janese (Hungary), Godard, Bresson and Rohmer (I ranee) Bunuel (Mexico-Spain), and Bergman (Sweden). And brilliant feature films are made in Cuba and other Third World countries
New Zealand culture consists of an English base and an American overlay; New Zealanders are gradually becoming aware that there is more to the world than this. However the cinema chains are more English and American than they are New Zealand, and so can't be expected to share this developing awareness.
The chains are old-fashioned, as well as anti-'foreign', Films that are unusual, controversial, political or that require a little thought are inclined to be ignored. Kerridge-Odeon in particular is very conservative in its taste in films. People who work for them say that Sir Robert knows everything that is going on and makes a lot of the decisions. In which case the best that can be said for him is that he has the taste of a Mother Grundy.
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.
Friends of Wi Tako
For some time now Youthline has been running fortnightly visits to Wi Tako Prison, but as the organisation alone hasn't the numbers to provide enough regular visitors, it is now looking for other folkses willing to fill the ranks.
These visits consist of names, chin hat, and a cuppa tea (and bikkis if you bring them!) and there is no emphasis on counselling - you're there as a friend, not as a pathologist or social worker, so we want all you scientists, accountants, mathematicians el al just as much as the social scientists and arty types!
Although things are reasonably relaxed out there (for a prison!) there are obviously a few rules and conditions which must be adhered to for these visits, i.e. no funny cigarettes, pills, knives, guns, etc. pleas! It's for the guys" good in the long run.
The next visit will be on Friday April 18, so come along! If you're interested, ring Russell, tawa H8538 or Robin 768-727.