Wednesday 13 April 2016

Excavating Melbourne Cinema-going - Despatches from Paul Harris, Michael Campi, Deb Verhoeven, anonymous & moi

Cinephile, broadcaster, critic, and scholar Paul Harris responds to the earlier posts  here and here  about the screening of popular Italian cinema, and provides some additional memory/detail about the Melbourne art house scene.
Forgive this rambling entry but off the top of my head I can rattle off some major Italian titles imported by Blake such as Kapo (Gillo Pontecorvo, Italy,1960), L'Avventurra ( Michelangelo Antonioni, Italy,1960), Rogopag (Pasolini, Rossellini, Godard & Gregoretti, France/Italy,1962) and Red Desert ( Antonioni, Italy,1964). Nearly all played at the Australia Cinema in Collins Street, a Blake stronghold. It seems that Blake rarely, if ever, supplied films to the rival Savoy. I'm sure there are many others. In the 1990's I recall seeing a huge batch of ex-Blake Films appearing in the NFSA holdings, mainly French titles like Vadim's The Night Heaven Fell (France,1958). A few years after SBS went into operation I recall ABC TV dipping their feet in the water with a series of late night foreign films including the aforesaid Vadim. . Taken from battered old 35mm. prints, possibly from Blake, with hard-to-read sub-titles. Now they have disappeared ,hopefully consigned to the vaults and not destroyed.

Camping (Nino Manfredi, Paolo Ferrari e Marisa Allasio)
A comprehensive detailing of Italian distribution in Australia represents a major challenge. As already alluded to, the major operators did not keep detailed records and the haphazard nature of competing interests complicates matters further. The elephant in the room is the La Scala in Footscray. So little has been documented about this purpose-built Italian cinema which stayed in business for nearly 20 years, screening a steady diet of popular genre cinema. Finally Camping (1957), the Zeffirelli comedy was owned by Centenary Bakeries and my memory was that they were located in Victorias Street, North Melbourne, going up the hill away from but close to the Market. This was another title booked for an Italian Film Festival which I booked into the Carlton Moviehouse circa 1990.

Deb Verhoeven advises that the baker’s name was Damiano Galle. (That was a well-known name in North Melbourne in the 60s. Frank Galle played a number of seasons for North Melbourne in the then VFL, mostly at full-back. Have to be related.)

To which cinephile Michael Campi offers some further thoughts. Mmmm. Seems like time for someone to sit in the public library with Thursday night Heralds and more than a month of Sundays.

Interesting Paul mentions the forgettable CAMPING as well. I think this could have been almost the first of those late night previews organised by Leon Boyle at the Australia. Somehow I assumed it was a World Films release maybe offered to Australia at the time of SALVATORE GIULIANO and also as one of their rare subtitled prints. But maybe it was the very decent baker. I saw an un-subbed BANDITS AT ORGOSOLO (Vittorio De Seta, Italy, 1961) at Clifton Hill. An odd release for them.  Maybe a Titanus stocking filler. Both CAMPING and BANDITS indicate how long after production some of these films hit the screens here.

Over the years Blake had a lot of films from France, Germany and Italy and I think the Savoy showed its share of them. With every due respect to his impeccable memory and knowledge, Paul is a little younger and the earlier demise of that theatre means it was maybe less of his experience. First time I saw Blake's print of THE SEVENTH SEAL (Ingmar Bergman,  Sweden, 1957) was in the last days of Savoy. The film returned to the Curzon a couple of years later. As a regular attendee of the Savoy right through the 50s, I wish I could remember who distributed a lot of those films. Around 1957 I saw LA KERMESSE HEROIQUE (Jacques Feyder, France, 1935) plus UNE PARTIE DE CAMPAGNE (Jean Renoir, France, 1936) at the Savoy. The lovely NFSA print of the latter is possibly the same one and bears Blake's logo. But LA KERMESSE may have been Frank Bruegler(?) so that Blake may have picked up the Renoir from him.

The regular early 60s distribution of European films by majors like UA, Columbia and MGM should be remembered too.  UA with MURIEL, LA NOTTE and more. Columbia with the Vadim films. SENILITA, CONGO VIVO, VANINA VANINI and a clutch of others before a couple of Godards, LA CINA E VICINA, LE BONHEUR and the banned LA FEMME MARIEE plus of course SANDRA which still awaits a decent video release anywhere. LA DOLCE VITA and 8 1/2 were earlier and later too. Vadim's AND GOD CREATED WOMAN played for months at the Majestic with at least one suitably titled Boetticher western in support for a while but was it RIDE LONESOME, DECISION AT SUNDOWN or BUCHANAN RIDES ALONE? LA REPOS DU GUERRIER played in most locations in a dubbed version but one night I was astonished to find it was subtitled at the Globe in Richmond.  NO SUN IN VENICE was at the Curzon but maybe a revival. I saw a dubbed THE NIGHT HEAVEN FELL at the Adelphi in North Carlton. Tagged as "the hottest exposure since man created film".

Paul's mention of the La Scala brings back MGM into the fold with FAMILY DIARY which played there. MGM imported quite a few Euro films too like SPOTLIGHT ON MURDER, VICE AND VIRTUE and so on. Sometimes these played in out of town Metro theatres like Malvern and King's Cross. Sometimes only in dubbed versions.

Now how about the Cinestar-Loco closer to your beat? The Loco still adorns the building but I remember nothing of its probably unremarkable interior, maybe a railway workers' hall. Believe I saw THE GIRL WITH A SUITCASE there which I think was another Blake film and which played maybe the Savoy on first run.

Finally, though I’m sure that there will be more sent in on this subject, a piece of information  has come in from a source who prefers anonymity, but which  might assist in explaining why the World Films and other ‘catalogues’ were so eclectic  and featured ‘new releases’  of quite old films. My informant advises that the key to understanding might lie in the existence in Naples in the post-war years of an informal,and un-regulated, but very large public market place dedicated to the sale and exchange of 35mm film prints. Buyers and sellers didn’t trouble the rights holders about their purchases, simply did a deal for a print. Many such purchases were allegedly shipped out to the Antipodes quick smart. 

Regarding the Footscray La Scala, Deb Verhoeven has sent a link to her CAARP research project which advises that the researchers had logged just over 300 Italian film screenings there. The link is at La Scala. Michael Campi reminds me that at La Scala German and other European films were also screened. Some at least of these are on the list I’ve just linked to.  In the meantime I remind you, although I cant believe you've forgotten, that the first review I ever wrote was of Franco Rossi's Smog, an MGM release that had its Oz premiere at La Scala. I saw it there and wrote the note for its later re-screening by MUFS in 1965. I know you knew all that already. If you look at the photo on this link La Scala might be confused for thinking its the location for the new Australian film Pawno (Paul Ireland, Australia,2015).

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