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Movies

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Parent Issue
Day
12
Month
July
Year
1974
OCR Text

A real handicap to the leisure life of summer in Ann Arbor is the lack of good first-run commercial movies. We often have the meager choices of an excess of re-runs, and the hold-overs of single films forweeks on end. Explanation of the situation is rather simple -- with approximately twothirds of the students gone, the in-town theatres have a relatively small potential audience. And out of habit, or perhaps a need for security, people overwhelmingly prefer watching movies when it is dark outside. Long summer days, and daylight savings time, work to the disadvantage of theatres. You probably have noticed the self-serving petitions to stop daylight savings time that are present in most theatre lobbies. This summer slowdown naturally brings up the question of who decides what movies will be shown, and who owns the theatres. Most of the ten Ann Arbor theatres follow the general national pattern of corporate ownership by large conglomerates. Bookings are made by agents at central offices, rather than the local manager. The smaller the chain, naturally the more influence a local manager might have in swaying the booking agent towards a given movie. And of course, the large national firms have a tendency to book with a sense often alien to the local variations of taste. The Movies at Briarwood are booked out of an Eastern office which has little awareness of what we want to see - and they consequently are prone to make mistakes, like the lulu of four months of The Exorcist, which was hot in Boston and New York but dribbled out of interest shortly after it got here. Of the ten local theatres only one, the Fifth Forum, is owned by a small corporation. That theatre is one of six around the state managed by Harvey Farber Enterprises, a Southfield-based corporation under the control of the firm's namesake. The small size of the chain allows Forum manager Maris Michelson to have more than the usual say over the choice of movies, though the two Farber booking agents make the ultímate decisión. Maris has succeeded in bringing in several independent and foreign films that otherwise would not have made it to town. La Grande Bouffe and Mean Streets are two of his fine recent choices. It was apparently Maris' idea to bring in The Three Musketeers, which is now holding on through its seventh highly lucrative week. The other theatres are locked up in huge conglomerates. The Movies at Briarwood are owned by United Artists, the enormous company which produces and distributes records, distributes films, and owns many theatres around the country. United Artists in turn is one of dozens of corporations owned by the Transamerica Corporation, which also holds insurance, lending, mutual fund, real estáte, computer, market research, airlines, rent-a-car, and manufacturing firms. Transamerica has assets of more than 53 billion, 24,000 employees and an annual rate of growth of 15% per share of common stock. Briarwood's boojdngs are made out of an Eastern office, and the strange pattern of film showings there indicates the style of absentee ownership. It is rumoree! that Butterfield is attempting to buy the four theatres from United Artists. The W. S. Butterfield Theatres, Inc. is a Michigan-based group with approximately 55 theatres around the state. Locally they own the State, Michigan, Campus and Wayside theatres. The University of Michigan owns some portion of stock, given to them by Paramount Pictures when anti-trust action demanded the break-up of Paramount's empire of both production of movies and ownership of theatre chains. The Fox Village is part of the large Mann Theatre group, which recently bought out the hundreds of theatres owned by the National General Cinema Corporation. The four corporations who own these ten theatres compete in booking the films through large national distribution companies. The corporation, through its booking agent, that offers the most money gets the movie - so obviously the smaller chains with less capital are bound to lose out. Rental fees are on a percentage basis, and most films start out their local rur. with somewhere between sixty and eighty percent of the box office receipts going back to the distributor. The percentage drops as the weeks go by. which explains why movies stick around here so long in the summer. With a relatively small potential summer audience. it is cheaper to hold onto a movie for weeks, or show re-runs, than to face the expense of competitive bidding for a new film. With the occasional exception of unusual movies at the Fifth Forum, Ann Arbor's theatres are essentially conservative in their bookings. There are literally dozens of films shown in New York, Boston, or any large city that never make it out here to the sticks. Larger populations naturally can support more specialized forms of theatres. induding the delightful bonus of theatres which show only older films. Here in Ann Arbor the Butterfield theatres have a very generalized form of specialization -- according to Fred Caryl, manager of the Michigan Theatre, 'The State is the action-house, the Campus the art-house, and we handle the musical comedy and romance types." He explained that the Campus has gone more commercial lately because there are fewer "art" films, and the line between "skin" and "art" is becoming increasingly fine. The Campus, which avoids sex like the plague, has filled in with showings of re-runs and "semi-art", whatever that is. But if you've seen all the movies in town and are looking for something new, the University's Audio-Visual Center offers a free summer series of short films from their library. The series runs at the Modern Language Building's Auditorium 3, Monday through Friday niglits until August. Niglitly showings are gathered under topic headings that can guide you towards your interests. The SUN calendar will be listing the free showings, and you can easily piek up a schedule at the auditorium. A fine commercial offering is Chinatown. out at the Fox Village. Roman Polanski, master of terroi at first hand, directed this up-dated interpretation of the classic forties style detective thriller. Jack Nicholson, as the hard-boiled dick, and Faye Dunaway, as the hardened aristocratie woman. star m this bewildering maze of murder and incest among Los Angeles' corporate ruling class. The color film is finely shot , a saga of corruption over the control of Los Angeles' public supply of water. Thanks to the film societies, Ann Arborites are able to see an enormous variety of movies. The film groups New World, Film Co-op and Friends of Newsreel show recent films, the overwhelming majority of which have not been shown in Ann Arbor before. Cinéma II and Cinema Guild both show the so-called "classics" which are lately getting far more distribution and interest all over the country. With tHe commercial theatres offering such limited fare, it is a real relief that the University has lifted, under pressure. its moratorium on auditorium rentáis to these essential film groups.