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Friday, 15 April 2016

Distribution Tales from long ago - A Facebook conversation between Paul Harris, Bruce Hodsdon and Peter Hourigan, veteran cinephiles all

Following the recent screening by the NFSA in Canberra of five (not six) un-subtitled Italian films gleaned from a donated collection, cinephiles and scholars have been sending in information or, in this case, posting it on Facebook, reminding readers of the rather fascinating, for some, days of independent art house distribution back in the fifties, sixties and seventies. I’m not sure if there’s much more to go into in this burst of nostalgia but as background you need to go to the earlier posts  here and here and here to get the flavour of the conversation.

Bruce Hodsdon takes it up with more tales of legendary distributor Sid Blake. Blake also had Accattone (Pier Paolo Pasolin, Italy, 1961) and Il Bel  Antonio (Mauro Bolognini, France/Italy, 1960) I recall. My first foreign language film  Umberto D (Vittorio De Sica, Italy, 1952) (probably the beginning of my serious film education) at the age of about twelve or thirteen was at the local cinema in Epping (Sydney) which was close to North Ryde where there were then (early fifties) many Italian market gardens. The local cinema instituted an Italian night mid week. In the mid sixties inner suburban cinemas were screening Italian films mid week. I remember seeing Salvatore Giuliano (Francesco Rosi, Italy, 1962)  in a near empty cinema probably at Enmore on a double bill with Two RodeTogether (John Ford, USA, 1961). A few years later when I was involved with Sydney University Film Group in the late sixties we were doing first releases in the Union Theatre on Parramatta Rd. of films that could not find a release in the city. We gave Il Posto (Ermanno Olmi, Italy, 1961) its Sydney premiere over five sessions in 1966.I recall booking it while visiting Melbourne with the distributor working in an estate agency in Carlton. He also had Mamma Roma (Pier Paolo Pasolini, Italy, 1962)  which we were later able to book for a single screening ( I don't recall it ever getting a first release run in Sydney).

Paul HarrisI believe Nanni Loy's The Four Days Of Naples (Italy,1962) was released in Australia by Metro which had some kind of output deal with Titanus at the time . I remember being quite impressed with Tiko And The Shark (Italy,1962) when I saw it as a support to Love In Las Vegas (Viva Las Vegas, George Sidney, USA, 1964) at the Metro Collins Street. It was promoted as a Flipper-type kids' adventure with a co-writing credit to the novelist Italo Calvino. That film was also an introduction for me to the work of the director Folco Quilici who specialised in fictional documentaries. . At the 1972 MIFF I got to see his Oceano (Italy,1971) (aka The Wind Blows Free) which looked magnificent on the Palais screen with a Morricone soundtrack. It has never surfaced again in any format to my knowledge. I';ve spent decades fruitlessly searching for it. Michael Campi is right about my being too young for the Savoy but I can vividly remember my mother taking me there to see Arne Suckdorff's semi-documentary of farm life The Great Adventure (Sweden, 1953), a school holiday treat, a film which both delighted and moved me to tears. In the 1960's  the ABC would screen it on Sunday afternoons. I can therefore truthfully boast that, yes, I also saw a Swedish film at the Savoy, if you get my drift.

Speaking of the Savoy I think they ran many films from Robert Kapferer and Natan Scheinwald. The Great Adventure could well have been one of them. And does anyone recall Marcelino ( aka Miracle of Marcelino, Ladislao Vajda, Spain,1955) which was a huge hit with Catholic audiences there in the late 1950's? I also recall seeing a trailer for I Briganti Italiani (1961) (The Seduction Of The South) at the Hoyts Lyceum ,directed by veteran journeyman Mario Camerini. I can't recall if Ernest Borgnine was dubbed, a Columbia release locally.. Metro also distributed Louis Malle's Vie Privee (A Very Private Affair, France, 1962) in Australia .

Bruce Hodsdon The American majors' local offices were being sent prints of European films in the mid sixties, their head offices having secured world rights e.g.UA  had La Notte (Michelangelo Antonioni, Italy, 1961) Columbia had Bande a Part  (Jean-Luc Godard, France, 1964) and a Torre-Nilsson film, Fox had Un Soir un Train (Andre Delvaux, Belgium, 1968) ) and Je tame, je t'aime (Alain Resnais, France, 1968)- and mostly couldn't get releases for them in the few city art houses in Sydney. SUFG first released the Godard, Delvaux and the Resnais over four or five nights on a 25% gbo rental. We also gave Bertolucci's Spider's Strategy (Italy, 1970) a short first release run and I remember doing the deal by phone with the distributor in Melbourne. I had the impression it was his only film and unlike the Carlton distributor of the Olmi and Pasolini films above I don't think he was Italian- Hungarian seems to come to mind. There was a window of opportunity up to the early eighties to acquire rights for an Italian film for a minimal advance. This was because Blake who was in a quasi monopolist situation as the main supplier of the Sydney and Melbourne city art houses, kept a tight cap on advances for European films ( I think often they were once only royalty payments). The game for him was finally up when distributors like Palace in the eighties started paying much higher advances for European films and Blake retired.

Paul Harris: The Spider's Strategy was released in Australia by a gentlemen whose name I think was the Caulfield-based Fred Banki and he traded as Cinemahouse of Australia . He had 3 films in release the short time he operated including I Am Curious Yellow (Vilgot Sjoman, Sweden, 1967)

Bruce  Hodsdon: You have a better memory than I Paul, Was Banki Hungarian? He was an example I think of that window of opportunity. I was involved in acquiring theatric and non-theatric rights for The Inheritance ( Mauro Bolognini, Italy, 1976) and Celine and Julie Go Boating  (Jacques Rivette, France, 1974) for advances which would today be dismissed as risible.

Oscar Boetticher, Jr, aka Budd Boetticher
Paul Harris:At the risk of getting slightly off topic. Flaus would often tell me about the 1972 Arruza (Budd Boetticher, USA/Mexico) documentary being knocked back by the local Columbia office. That film hardly played anywhere in the world to the best of my knowledge . It is listed in IMDB as distributed through Avco-Embassy (which was handled by Fox in Australia). So how come it would even make its way to Australia when it was so obscure ?

Peter Hourigan: In Melbourne, the release of THE SPIDER'S STRATEGY was at the Palais, St. KIlda. I remember this because I'd written a review of it in some journal or paper (I can't remember for certain) and my review was quoted as part of the advertising, including in large details on the massive billboards outside the Palais. I think I felt very superior or important or something like that!

Bruce HodsdonI assume it didn't do v good business at the Palais as he readily gave it to us for a few first release screenings in Sydney. It  was before The Conformist (Bernardo Bertolucci, Italy, 1970)  after which Bertolucci had drawing power although The SS was a 'difficult' companion to Before the Revolution (Bertolucci, Italy, 1974). We didn't do a lot of business in the Union Theatre but didn't have anything like the seats to fill or  the accompanying theatre rental for the Palais.

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