By Freda Bruce Lockhart
ORE people now watch
more film, in the cinema and on television, than ever
This stimulating. encouraging declaration is made in Penelope Houston's introduction to her recent Pelican Book, The Contemporary Cinema. Miss Houston is general editor of the British Film Institute's publications.
The all-round excellence of her own book is in a way symptomatic of the reconciliation which is in process between the warring. or at least the contradictory elements which contribute to create the cinema.
Industry, art, criticism and creation. imagination or documentary,
entertainment or instruction (though many of us would refute this antithesis); the conflicts could be coupled indefinitely.
Everybody is aware of what Miss Houston calls the cinema's "fight for peaceful co-existence with television". Many will presume the fight already lost, the cinema already vanquished. All who accept this defeatist view, as well as all who love the cinema (and I have often thought that only film critics truly do so) are recommended to read Miss Houston's inf or rri C d. illuminating and thoroughly sensible book.
It is in itself evidence of the intelligent intermediary posit ion between the old highbrow, feet-offthe-ground ramblings of intellectual cinema addicts and the box office millions, which the British Film Institute and its representatives can now take up.
Miss Houston succinctly examines and traces to their present-day position, the violent rocketings, the desperate contortions of the cinema in what defeatists take to be its death agonies. I would not think so. Nor, I am glad to gather, would Miss Houston.
Her book is not. as she makes clear, a history of the cinema, but an invaluable commentary on its present important phase. She outlines the influences — television, panic, Italian neo-realism and the newer Italian elegance. the French search for a "language" of film, technical inventions and financial fears which have brought the cinema to its present paradoxical state where. as she says, the cinema has become fashionable again and a more stimulating place to work in.
1 have been aware of this for some time. But it is fine to have it correlated by such a sound, informed and enthusiastic authority.
Awareness of the situation has become inevitable on every front. As Miss Houston says implicitly in the figures of film trade disaster, the commerce which had thriven for nearly forty years has broken down. But that there is a new spirit of enthusiasm. a new creative concern for the cinema is testified to in my experience. both by the complete change of attitude among actors, and by the new babas and comments pf the customers.
Actors (in England, at least. with few exceptions) used to look down on the cinema. They went to the studios in a spirit of slumming. or of shamefaced money-grubbing. Today nearly all the more intelligent young actors (and actresses) I meet rate the cinema as their favourite medium and by no means only because it still pays best.
The other and more significant witness to change for the better is -in the new approach from the customer who may be said to "shop for his movies".
Specialist cinemas showing the latest "new wave" product from France, Italy or Japan are packed. Taxi-drivers. shop assistants. the most general of the public, often ask about the most select of offbeat films.
Admittedly a good deal of study is needed to shop intelligently for available movies. But it is only necessary to study your local paper. or in London an evening paper or one of the entertainment guides to find available a range of films which used to be beyond one's dearest dreams in the bad old days when filmgoers went to the flicks once, twice or thrice a week regardless of what was on, or as Miss Houston says "not to see something, but to see anything"; when, moreover. the whole film industry. production distribution and exhibition was so rigidty tied together that "general releases" were under a control so tight that "release" was a mocking word.
This week I look over the films available in London and find that besides the new West End films having their "first runs" I could if I so chose and had transport see pictures as far apart in time and temperament as: Where the Boys Are, Cimarron (second version), Ten North Frederick, Scarlet Street, Room al the Top. Tom Jones (still on first run), Eve (a film I hated but starring the great Jeanne Moreau), Dial M. for Murder and Le Regle du Jeu. These are only a quick selection of pictures I, personally, should be interested to catch again.
Cinemas where the management conducts a thoughtful policy of programme-buildieg have quite a new elasticity— though I e as surprised to see one house go so far as to offer a season of Rock Hudson's films! But the valiant Everyman Hampstead continues to show its enterprise and taste.
At present the Everymen is showing a season of "X" films by Claude Chabrol. the French director who though not the most important is one of the most typical and often, enjoyable of the New Wave directors — perhaps the personification of those meant by Francois Truffaut in a passage quoted by Miss Houston: "The qualities of this new cinema, grace, lightness, modesty. elegance. speed —are balanced by its failings, frivolity, lack of conscience. naivete".
In any ease the days when a film once released was lost for ever seem er. That al least is a small gain.