Half a century from the moment when British cinema flickered so brightly as to contend on even footing with Hollywood’s most mainstream product in the American market it remains Alexander Walker’s accounts that provide the most vital records of this turbulent period. Both Hollywood, England: The British Film Industry in the Sixties1 and, to provide the coda, National Heroes: The British Film Industry in the Seventies and Eighties,2 provide a narrative of a national cinema’s boom and bust. His narrative (and here I heavily condense) is of one that gained a foothold on the American arthouse theatre circuit with a combination of realist dramas and quaint comedies, then found mainstream popularity the James Bond franchise, David Lean’s epics and the Beatles’ musicals. The fortuitous emergence of London being seen as the epicentre of all things swinging infused British cinema with a hip factor, one assisted by American cinema’s moribund state of the time. Constrained by a Production Code that had barely altered in thirty years, the output of the major studios appeared tired and ineffectual and its attempts to reflect the tumultuous times reactionary and glib. British film had the vibrancy of European arthouse cinema but without the tyranny of subtitled distance. Walker discusses the industry of the time in chronological depth and his work has the advantage of being published so close to the period in question. He offers critical analysis of the films and of the industry that produced them, augmented by the access and interviews with key industry players. He untangles the complicated financial dealings and the input of Hollywood that wished to capitalise and invested heavily in British productions. However, late in the decade a number of costly British failures saw Hollywood withdraw much of its funding and the British industry collapsed so drastically that it would take over a decade to recover.

Walker’s thesis is correct in that too many British films lost money for their production companies and distributors to maintain their previous level of funding. But how did that come to happen? It is not as if there was a silent oath undertaken by American audiences at a particular time to ignore British films. To ascertain the possible reason, we can explore British cinema’s performance at a micro–economic level, by examining how they performed in individual theatres over a period of time. Now, which films grossed the highest or lowest in these theatres only tells part of the story. Today the theatrical space is a homogenised one, with multiplexes consisting of uniformly-sized screens showing a similar slate of entertainment. Fifty years ago, this was not the case. Multiplexes were not as common and the majority of venues were still single screens. Major release films generally did not open in wide release, as the industry still adhered to the ‘run-zone-clearance’ regulations that gave a theatre in a territorial zone exclusive rights to a new release for a number of weeks (first run) and a clearance time before it could then move to the suburbs (second run) and beyond. In some major territories as many as a dozen runs could see a popular film still screening for a year before its theatrical life ended. First run theatres would pay the distributor the highest premium for the right to exhibit the new release and accordingly charge the highest admission prices. Both the premiums and the ticket prices would decrease as the film continued its way through the theatrical runs. The longer a film screened in its first run, not only would its gross increase, but it would be more likely to receive extra bookings into later runs, maximising its potential audience. As a result, the first run of a film was crucial to the overall performance of a film.

The Creative Destruction of British Cinema

The failure of British cinema to maintain its position in the post-1967 period could be seen in Darwinian terms as the least fit being unable to survive the challenges of a torrid period. This may be true, but upon closer inspection it would appear to be more exemplary of Schumpeter’s theory of ‘creative destruction’. He proposed, in 1942, that one of the characteristics of a successful Capitalist system was that it is never stationary and always regenerating from within. Thus, even a successful entity in a given marketplace at a given point in time, is prone to collapse if it is unable to adapt and cope with change. Indeed, the successful yet static entity is more vulnerable due to its strongest attributes being emulated and elaborated upon by those businesses with the ability to mutate within the constantly shifting marketplace.3 British cinema in the US cultivated a following through the patient, symbiotic efforts of both its distributors and American theatre owners. It was that key demographic, one that traversed both the mainstream of the commercial and the niche of the arthouse that was particularly appealing to the distributors of the burgeoning New Hollywood cinema. What follows is an examination of how that audience and the theatres that catered to them was prised away from British cinema, leaving it to compete for the audiences of less suitable venues.

In analysing a theatrical market of half a century ago one needs to be aware that with their first run policy theatres would cultivate a particular audience through the product they screened and additionally by the character of the venue. This product differentiation allowed a theatre’s cultivated audience to have certain expectations of the content and quality of a new release feature. This applies not only to art houses screening critically acclaimed films, but also to grindhouses and their fare of horror and sexploitation.

These theatres differed not only in the films they screened, but also in their size and seating capacity. Thus, it is unfair to compare the grosses in one against those in another. Furthermore, it is also more likely that the larger venue has higher overheads needing to be covered from their weekly ticket sales. Considering those two factors I wish to introduce a new methodology of box office analysis, one that incorporates the DWA (Difference to Weekly Average) metric. In its simplest explanation, this metric measures a film’s performance in a theatre against the median average gross achieved by films in that theatre in the same calendar year. A film that manages, over the course of its run, to maintained an average weekly gross equal to or higher than the median is thus deemed to be a ‘viable’ product for the venue. Those that fall below the mark are considered ‘unviable’. The results are presented in the form of an aggregate total. For example, if a theatre’s median weekly average for the year was $100,000 and a film screened for three weeks grossing $90,000, $80,000 and $70,000 its DWA would equal -60.00% (the aggregate of -10% + -20% + -30%). For those with a mathematical bent the equation is calculated as:

British film

The viability methodology makes no claims to a film’s overall profitability, instead it pays heed to the exhibitor’s perspective which is how the film performs for their theatre only – whether the film makes a profit for the distributor or producer is not their concern.

For this particular exercise, I have chosen the city of Chicago: at the time, it was the second most populous city of the United States and a place which presents a first run and exclusive theatrical market that includes a large number of theatres with a broad coverage of commercial, grindhouse and arthouse cinema.  Utilising the weekly grosses listings for first run theatres as published in the trade paper Variety I have compiled a dataset of 8886 individual weekly grosses from the thirty venues that were classed as first run or exclusive by Variety (not all theatres are necessarily represented each week with some opening, closing or dropping from first run status) during a ten-year period of 1963-1972.

These venues range from the 88-seat Bijou theatre to the 3900-seat Chicago Theatre. When analysing the viability of British films in Chicago, it became evident that seating capacity is a key variable. Therefore, in the following discussion theatres will be referred to as ‘small’ (the fourteen with fewer than 1000 seats), ‘medium’ (the eleven with between 1000-1999 seats) and ‘large’ (the five with ,2000 or more seats).  The following table details the number of engagements featuring British content (including double features) that screened in Chicago’s first run and exclusive theatres 1963-1972. The table categorises the releases by the size of the venue and the lists the number that recorded positive (viable) results and those that recorded negative (unviable).

Seats

Engagements

+ Aggregate

– Aggregate

% + Aggregate

<1000 131 55 76 41.98%
1000-1999 198 114 84 57.58%
>2000 43 20 23 46.51%
Total 372 189 183 50.81%

As can be seen, British cinema was, overall, a viable entity for Chicago theatre owners in the ten-year survey period. In medium sized theatres, British cinema performed the best but was less likely to be viable in large or (especially) small venues. A thorough examination of the data shows that the survey period is a decade of two distinct halves.  The next table presents the same data from only the 1963-1967 period:

Seats

Engagements

+ Aggregate

– Aggregate

% + Aggregate

<1000 86 36 50 41.86%
1000-1999 108 66 42 61.11%
>2000 23 14 9 60.87%
Total 217 116 101 53.45%

In the first half of the period British engagements perform just as well in the large, ‘picture palace’ venues as they do in medium houses. We can break this down further by examining the number of screening weeks devoted to British content. The next table presents these weeks for the 1963-1967 period and includes the average weekly DWA recorded by British cinema. Due to the fact that the DWA metric has an inherent bias towards positivity (due to the use of a median, rather than mean average) the fact that the average for all films in all theatres is 10.57% above DWA allows for that number to be used as a comparative weight. Thus, the remarkable figure is that the 108 weeks of British films in large houses delivered a DWA 32% higher than the entire market:

Seats

Wks

+ Wks

– Wks

+ Wks %

Ave Dwa

Adjusted

<1000 305 169 136 55.41% 7.67% -2.90%
1000-1999 433 265 168 61.20% 18.96% 8.39%
>2000 108 64 44 59.26% 43.01% 32.44%
All Venues

And Films

4246 2276 1970 53.60% 10.57% —–

1963-1967: British Viability in its Ascension

The data reveals that in the 1963–1967 period British cinema’s appeal was not to be found in Chicago’s small theatres, which mostly specialised in foreign language art house product. Against these imports British engagements (with some notable exceptions) were below par performers. Instead, their surest footing was to be found in the medium sized venues – those of sufficient capacity to seat a enthusiastically sized audience, but not too large as to demand a blockbuster sized crowd. Therefore, it is possible to surmise that British cinema was considered neither art house nor commercial, existing in the precarious position balancing on the tightrope between high and low art. What sustained British cinema in the medium venues was a steady procession of middlebrow prestige spectacles including Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962) (aggregate 211.18% DWA), Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (Ken Annakin, 1965) (1419.23% DWA) and The Blue Max (John Guillermin, 1966) (603.33%). These long running, high grossing entertainments were exhibited as ‘roadshow’ releases with higher ticket prices, reserved seating and limited screenings. The 1963–1967 period is when these event screenings were most favourably received by audiences and the British contributions were no exceptions. The major British phenomenon of the period was the James Bond franchise: Thunderball (Terence Young, 1965) which was the most viable of all with its 2149.47% DWA, the highest of any British film of the ten-year survey period. It is the success of the Bond features in the large venues that accounts for the wildly disproportionately high average DWA British cinema enjoyed in that tier of venue.

1967: Britain’s Boom Year Before the Crash

Nineteen of the thirty-four British engagements that screened in Chicago in 1967 achieved positive DWA. The one-two punch of Casino Royale (John Huston et al, 1967) (452.00% DWA) and You Only Live Twice (Lewis Gilbert, 1967) (1365.00% DWA) were large theatre hits and To Sir With Love (James Clavell, 1967) (626.80% DWA) had strong medium venue appeal. As the year came to a close it would appear that British cinema was set to continue to provide a viable stream of programming for Chicago’s theatre owners and their audiences. However, in September the release of a relatively anonymous gangster film would be the first marker in a notably symmetrical pattern of releases and closures that depicted the rise of New Hollywood to be the happening cultural mode for Chicago cinema-goers and the collateral damage it imposed upon British cinema.

It took 39 weeks from late in 1967 to mid 1968 for this to occur. It is a complex tale of three films, five theatres and seven screening engagements.

September 1967: Bonnie and Clyde opens at The Woods

On 22 September 1967 Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde opened at the 1200-seat Woods Theatre. The Woods was situated in the Loop district, Chicago’s prime entertainment precinct and the venue’s fare was mostly mainstream Hollywood product, generally of the genre variety and including many from Warner Bros. For Penn’s film, the first day advertising was similar in terms of font, images and tagline to that applied to numerous gangster films from the previous decade and bore no resemblance to the more iconic artwork with which the film has become accustomed.

It has been stated that Bonnie and Clyde was a box office disappointment upon initial release,4 having been mishandled by its distributor and only found an audience after highly favourable critical reaction led producer (and star) Warren Beatty to convince Warner Bros to reissue the film the following year.5 The film may have originally been an underwhelming performer in some markets, but in key urban centres it was very popular and its release at Chicago’s Woods Theatre was no exception. The film ran for nine weeks and grossed $1,960,667, the 24th (of 223 titles) highest in the city that year and the third highest (of eight releases) for the theatre, behind Blow-Up (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966) and Cool Hand Luke (Stuart Rosenberg, 1967). In terms of DWA aggregate, Bonnie and Clyde’s 94.55% was the also the third best for the theatre behind Cool Hand Luke (134.79%) and Hells Angels on Wheels (Richard Rush, 1967) (101.82%). Citywide it ranked 34th.

British cinema

Considering its reputation as a key New Hollywood film Bonnie and Clyde’s Chicago first release was a low-key success in terms of gross, but far stronger than some histories of the film may imply and for The Woods it was a very viable product. After a week off screen on 1 December Penn’s film moved to the sophisticated 1350-seat Esquire Theatre located in the Near North Side, the home of most of the city’s arthouse cinemas. The Esquire specialised in ‘quality’ films, including those from major studios but also a number of foreign imports that included a high proportion of British features. Of the sixty-one films screened at the theatre between 1963-1967, twenty-one were British and of these fifteen ended their runs with positive DWA aggregates. However, The Esquire’s audience was not predisposed to Hollywood gangster films, especially those that had already run their course downtown. Bonnie and Clyde was a disaster at the Esquire, with its three-week gross of $107,532 equalling a DWA of -213.79%, placing it as the fourth–lowest in the city that year. Earlier in 1967 The Esquire had enjoyed a $4,496,998 gross from a 28-week run of A Man for All Seasons (Fred Zinnemann, 1967) the sturdy and scholarly adaptation of Robert Bolt’s 1954 play. Exhibited as a roadshow item the film, which was awarded six Academy Awards for during its run, recorded an extraordinary 805.17% DWA, the seventh best in the city for 1967. The Bonnie and Clyde experience should have deterred The Esquire from flirting with new and edgy product, but later we will return to that venue’s remarkable shift in taste and product.

December 1967: The Graduate Opens at The Carnegie and The Loop

The 598-seat Carnegie Theatre, also located on the Near North Side, had opened in 1949 and in 1965 hosted the inaugural Chicago Film Festival but the following year it was razed by fire. Completely rebuilt, it reopened on 12 October 1967 with the mid-west premiere of the British working class comedy-drama The Family Way (John Boulting, 1966).  It was a successful choice for the theatre, grossing $577,000 over nine weeks for a fine 210.34% DWA. The Family Way closed on 21 December 1967, and the following day The Graduate (Mike Nichols, 1967) would open at The Carnegie and downtown’s 606-seat Loop Theatre. For a major American film hoping to cash in over the Christmas period it would appear an unusual choice to place it in first run venues with small seating capacities that would not cope with the anticipated audience numbers.

British Cinema

However, the Chicago scheduling was not isolated. In fact, the preference for smaller venues was a concerted strategy and one embraced by New Hollywood. To illustrate this strategy, we can compare the seating capacities of first run theatres chosen for The Graduate with that of The Green Berets (John Wayne, 1968) that opened in June of 1968. An examination of twenty-six US cities shows that the average first run theatre for The Graduate had 939 seats, whereas for The Green Berets the average was 1,805 – nearly twice the size.

The Green Berets was John Wayne’s love letter to the American forces fighting in Vietnam and his implicit support of the war and could, for this exercise, be seen as an exemplar of ‘old’ Hollywood. Wayne’s film was a major success at the time, grossing $147 million domestically (its Chicago release in on 21 June was at the city’s largest theatre – the 3900 seat Chicago – where its five-week run grossed $1.6 million and a very healthy 97.44% DWA). That The Graduate grossed an astonishing equivalent to $745 million is, in this context, beside the point. The choice of theatres shows that New and Old Hollywood were not in direct competition with each other, rather it was a case of targeting specific audiences. Certainly, there would have been an overlap with a number of consumers seeing both films, but instead of working through the traditional channels of releasing a prospective hit into the largest venue available with an advertising blitz to maximise the potential audience at the peak of its interest, a number of New Hollywood distributors were intent attracting a new and sophisticated market. This was an audience that was younger, better educated and more culturally curious. They were also consumers of foreign (including British) cinema. What better way to attract this audience than to screen in the venues they regularly attend? In the 1920s and 1930s when cinema going was at its peak the vogue was for first run theatres in major cities to be ‘picture palaces’, huge in size (often with over 3000 seats) and opulent in design. In the decades that followed audience numbers decreased and rarely were such theatres filled to capacity. The trend was to build smaller venues which were cheaper to construct and maintain and offered a more intimate audience experience. This trend is evident in the comparison of the average seating capacity of new venues (not including drive-ins) built in the United States in 1949 and 1969. Grouped by size and percentages of total included.

YEAR

<500

500-999

1000-1499

1500-1999

>2000

TOTAL

1949 182 (27.2%) 347 (51.9%) 103

(15.4%)

28

(4.2%)

9 (1.4%) 669
1969 267 (48.6%) 234 (42.6%) 45

(8.2%)

7

(1.3%)

0

(0.0%)

553

By 1969 fewer than 10% of new screens had more than 1000 seats compared to the 21% in 1949 whereas nearly half had fewer than 500 seats. In major cities, the first run theatres that were smaller in capacity were generally the newest venues and they swapped the grandeur and overwhelming spectacle of old for newer pleasures. The advertisement that heralded the reopening of The Carnegie extoled these virtues, promising to “surround you in comfort and luxury, from the deep pile carpeting throughout the entire theatre to the wall-to-wall waterfall curtain.” You could “relax before or after the film in our step-down coffee lounge where the finest of coffee is complimentarily served as you view the newest of Chicago’s art galleries and listen to the finest in stereo music.” If that was not enticing enough, in the “…tasteful blue and gold auditorium, body-form push-back theatre chairs assure you of comfortable seating…” The copy ends with The Carnegie’s promise: “Where every patron is our personal guest.”

British Cinema

This all may sound the height of 1960s kitsch, but the promise of the unique experience, tailored to the tasteful, cultured individual is what set The Carnegie and other similar venues apart from the now often dilapidated downtown picture palaces through which Hollywood was still channelling its mainstream product. In these downtown palaces, a film required an immediate selling point whether it be a major star or a specific genre association in order to sell enough tickets to cover the sizable overheads. This is why Bonnie and Clyde was a reasonable success at the mid-sized Woods Theatre. For a film such as The Graduate, with the unknown Dustin Hoffman in the lead and a promotional campaign that implied genre ambiguity, The Carnegie could allow the film to slowly brew over time. Much like its complimentarily served coffee.

January 1968: Far From the Madding Crowd Opens at The Loop as Bonnie and Clyde Moves to the Suburbs

Opening The Graduate day and date in the smallest of the downtown theatres – The Loop – was an insurance policy of sorts that allowed the film to not be restricted to The Carnegie crowd and it was a strategy that was met with immediate success. After four weeks Nichols’ film had grossed $729,652 (182.55% DWA) at The Loop and $504,320 at The Carnegie (211.61% DWA). It was at this time that The Loop dropped The Graduate and replaced it with a British import, MGM’s expensive Far From the Madding Crowd (John Schlesinger, 1967), an adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel starring Julie Christie. The Loop had enjoyed two stints with the previous Schlesinger-Christie pairing Darling (1965), screening the film for six weeks in late 1965 for a $475,360 gross (45.00% DWA) and returning it to the theatre for a further six weeks in early 1966 to capitalise on Christie winning the Best Actress Academy Award for her performance where it captured a larger audience, grossing $558,680 and aggregating an excellent 125.58% DWA. Far From the Madding Crowd could have been expected to have done just as well, especially as The Loop adopted a roadshow policy for the film. Instead, after The Graduate’s fourth week’s gross of $167,000 was followed by a first week of $133,600 for the incoming film. From that point Far From the Madding Crowd’s audience dwindled and in its fifth and final week it earned a paltry $66,800 for a total of -129.87% DWA, which was the eighth lowest for Chicago first runs in 1968.

British Cinema

Why the film failed (as it did in most American markets) is difficult to discern. The romantic drama was generally well reviewed and other than Christie it had three marketable actors in support (Peter Finch, Alan Bates and Terence Stamp). Additionally, Christie had starred in the immensely popular Doctor Zhivago (David Lean, 1965) that had only recently concluded a long theatrical run. It is only a supposition, but more than likely Far From the Madding Crowd would have received a better reception had it screened in The Esquire, a theatre with an track record of proven British successes. The Loop may have drawn a smart crowd to The Graduate as it had earlier in the year with the 24-week roadshow run of The Taming of the Shrew (Franco Zeffirelli, 1967) that grossed $2.7 million and recorded an astonishing 686.92% DWA but in both cases there was a sense of salaciousness to the product. A similar theme runs through much of The Loop’s 1963–1967 screening slate, with saucy European imports being prominent fare. Lest it be mistaken for a downtown arthouse, the film that preceded The Graduate at the theatre was House of 1000 Dolls (Jeremy Summers, 1967), a German-Spanish white slavery exploitation piece starring Vincent Price.

February–March 1968: Far From the Madding Crowd Closes, The Graduate returns to The Loop and Bonnie and Clyde returns to the City.

As Schlesinger’s film limped out of The Loop and into the suburbs the theatre, in a near repudiation of the British film having screened there at all, replaced it with The Graduate.  Normal service resumed. It would screen for sixteen weeks and in its penultimate week it was still grossing 50% more than Far From the Madding Crowd managed in its opening week. Nichols’ film would gross $2,869,127 in this return engagement for a 434.15% DWA. At The Carnegie, where it never left, it would screen for a week longer than The Loop for a total of twenty-six, a gross of $2,873,424 and a DWA of 307.61%.

British Cinema

In an act of near symmetry, a week after Far From the Madding Crowd closed at The Loop Bonnie and Clyde returned from the suburbs where it normally should have been milked dry. Instead, armed with the now-familiar marketing campaign it opened at the 1400-seat downtown Roosevelt Theatre on 1 March 1968 and it was as if it were a brand-new release. No longer a standard gangster flick, this was a stylish and modern film, one garnered with critical appraisal and a slew of Academy Award nominations. What was a New Hollywood film disguised in Old Hollywood promotion now found its alternative downtown audience. The first week of the reissue was the second highest grossing film in Chicago, behind only Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (Stanley Kramer, 1967) screening at the Chicago. This rebirth of Penn’s film would gross $1,183,429 in six weeks for a healthy 49.06% DWA.

1968 – 1972: The Decline of British Viability and its Displacement by New Hollywood

The following table displays the number of engagements featuring British content that received first run or exclusive releases on Chicago’s screens from 1968–1972. The list is divided into the seating capacity of the exhibiting venues and shows the final aggregate DWA of the engagements and the percentage that ended their run as viable products for their screening venues: 

Seats

Engagements

+ Aggregate

– Aggregate

% + Aggregate

<1000 45 19 26 42.22%
1000-1999 90 48 42 53.33%
>2000 20 6 14 30.00%
Total 155 73 82 47.10%

Whereas in 1963–1967 53.45% of British engagements could be considered viable, in the following five years only 47.10% could be considered as such. In small venues, this followed the earlier trend but in large venues British content was poison. The breakdown into weeks with weight adjustment is shown in the following table:

Seats

Wks

+ Wks

– Wks

+Wks %

Ave Dwa

Adjusted

<1000 179 79 100 44.13% 0.02% -12.70%
1000-1999 360 205 155 56.94% 11.40% -1.32%
>2000 74 30 44 40.54% -11.63% -25.67%
All Venues And Films 4642 2488 2154 53.60% 12.72% —-

In mid-sized venues, the adjusted difference is negligible, yet in large houses a week of British content would take 25% less than the average film from elsewhere. Now certainly this other product included a number of Hollywood blockbusters but also a number of European genre titles. The six British engagements to record positive DWA in large houses in the period were Where Eagles Dare (Brian G. Hutton, 1968), Secret Ceremony (Joseph Losey, 1968), The Killing of Sister George (Robert Aldrich, 1968), The House That Dripped Blood (Peter Duffell, 1971), Asylum (Roy Ward Baker, 1972) and Tales from the Crypt (Freddie Francis, 1972). Action, implied or actual lesbianism and horror. Of the fourteen unviable titles, the likes of Deadfall (Bryan Forbes, 1968), Oliver! (Carol Reed, 1968), The Magic Christian (Joseph McGrath, 1969), Murphy’s War (Peter Yates, 1971), The Last Valley (James Clavell, 1971) and Frenzy (Alfred Hitchcock, 1972) may have found an audience in mid-sized theatres rather than be forced to compete with genre-specific product in the fast-sell picture palaces.

The problem was that the reliable mid-sized venues were being squeezed by New Hollywood product. This was most notable in the case of The Esquire. In 1968 this theatre continued its British policy, but to dispiriting results: of the six British films screened only two managed a viable DWA, with the New Hollywood feature Rachel, Rachel (Paul Newman, 1968) (368.75% DWA) creating such a high median average that few films could match it. One British film that did was The Lion in Winter (Anthony Harvey, 1968). This prestige piece grossed over $5 million at the Esquire over 33 weeks, realising a mammoth 814.26%. From when it closed in June of 1969 until the end of 1972 this 183-week period saw only five weeks devoted to British cinema – two films both which failed miserably. Instead The Esquire found favour with New Hollywood cinema. Audiences responded to Easy Rider (Dennis Hopper, 1969), Getting Straight (Richard Rush, 1970), Carnal Knowledge (Mike Nichols, 1971) and The Last Picture Show (Peter Bogdanovich, 1971).  The role The Esquire played for British cinema before 1967 it was now performing for New Hollywood. With ideal venues difficult to come by such British prestige fare as The Charge of the Light Brigade (Tony Richardson, 1968) and Anne of the Thousand Days (Charles Jarrott, 1969) were denied a city first run release and instead sent directly to the suburbs. That British films managed viable returns in mid-tier houses was mostly due to the still reliable James Bond franchise and the sex and horror exploitation that, by the early 1970s, had taken hold in most of the downtown precinct. Within a few years most of the crumbling picture palaces would be grindhouses. Today, none exist as cinema spaces.

The success of New Hollywood was not predicated upon its conquering of Old Hollywood, instead the two maintained an uneasy co-existence through not intruding into other’s screening space. The collateral damage was felt by British (and foreign) cinema whose carefully cultivated audiences and dedicated theatres were ripe for New Hollywood to attract and take over. The discussed performances of Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, Far From the Madding Crowd, The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde again illustrates how the prestige British film was smothered by the edgy new American breed.

As the British industry crumbled John Schlesinger would regain his critical cachet by directing The Graduate’s star Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy (1969) and Julie Christie would also move to Hollywood and begin a professional and personal relationship with Bonnie and Clyde’s Warren Beatty. The theatres, the audience and the talent: the takeover and creative destruction was complete.

 

Endnotes

  1.  Alexander Walker, Hollywood, England: The British Film Industry in the Sixties (London: HARRAP, 1974).
  2. Alexander Walker, National Heroes: The British Film Industry in the Seventies and Eighties (London: HARRAP, 1974).
  3. Joseph A. Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. (Routledge: London, 2013), p. 81-91.
  4. Peter Biskind, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. (Simon & Schuster: New York, 1998), p.41.
  5. Ibid. p.45-47.