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THE RESEARCH BUREAU HOLDS AN AUTOPSY
What killed our
AUSTRALIA'S once promising moving picture industry formally expired this month, when the last big studio at Pagewood, Sydney, began pack- ing its equipment for shipment to England. There was a time when, despite our limited resources, we were actually showing the Americans how to make pictures.
What went wrong? Can't we make paying pictures here? Do Australian filmgoers boycott local products? Has onr industry been beaten by the tied house system? ' Australians are rated as the most enthusiastic picturegoers in the world. For every 1000 members of our popula- tion we have more than 180 theatre seats available. England is a bad second with 86, and America third with 78. Yearly we purchase some 200 million tickets to cinema, shows — an impressive figure for a population of only 8,300,000. Film industry should be a natural here TT would seem to follow that in a country such as ours a movie making industry would be a natural. success.
Is distribution the catch? Have American and English picture interests so tied up Aus- tralian screens that local products cannot get to the picture-going public? There are more than 800 independent theatres in Australia with managers all striv- ing to hire box office hits. Many other cine- mas generally tied to one particular brand of imported film are still tree to run occasional outside productions. Distribution of our films is not the cause of the film's industry failure. That leaves us with the question of quality. Mr. Ken Hall, of Cinesound, the doyen of Australian motion picture producers, told the bureau: 'Never in the 22 years I have been in the industry has a good locally- made film failed in Australia. Never once have the local theatres refused to screen it. Box office returns prove that a genuinely first-class local film will outsell a comparable American or English film. This fact kills the standard criticism that Australians will not support home-made products.
A topline American hit (super-colossals such as Gone With the Wind and Going My Way excluded) will gross somewhere between £20,000 and £50,000 in Australia. Several local films have all returned well over £50,000 to Australian box offices. Among them are: 40,000 Horsemen, On Our Selection. Smithy, and Sons of Matthew. An average American A grade main feature will gross in Australia approximately £10,000 to £15,000. Many of our films have easily beaten those figures. Silence of Dean Maitland was just under £50,000 and The Squatter's Daughter close behind it. Go well on our own market AMERICAN B fea- tures (shown first on programmes) earn about £4000 to £6000 in Aus- tralia. It would be almost im- possible to name an Aus- tralian picture which did worse than that. On these statistics it can be said that the best Aus- tralian films sell better in Australia than the best American, barring, of course, the rare American world- beaters. [The most successful film made in Australia was The Overlanders which cost about £80,000 and grossed through- out the world about £250,000.
But this picture was made by English producers and is ex- cluded from the above list which is 100 per cent. Aus- tralian.] Why then has our industry collapsed? Because of high costs of production these days, over- seas sales on top of good local returns are needed to produce real profits. And we cannot establish an overseas market. American critics generally are harsh on even our best films. Our faults and our accents HERE are some typical American cracks : — Rats of Tobruk: "A sincere but tedious tribute to Aus- tralian infantrymen." "Downright painful." "One of the most harrowing bores in years." Eureka Stockade: "A blurred copy of similar westerns from Hollywood." "It's dis- jointed drama is hampered considerably by a profusion of Down under accents." Sons of Matthew: "Strictly according to the formula of low-budget leatherneck films." Our Australian accent seems to be a regular stumbling block in America. It is claimed that in mid-western areas the locals can't even understand our dialogue. Smithy, which grossed £50,000 in the U.S., was one of the few Australian pictures the Americans liked. They also supported 40.000 Horse men. The English take more kindly to us. They paid over £40,000 to see 40,000 Horse- men and £35,000 to see 'Dad and Dave Come to Town' (1938). The Overlanders was quite a riot in England. But such overseas hits are too few to encourage local producers. All started on a tennis court AUSTRALIA'S film industry started in 1900 on a tennis court at a Salvation Army girls' home in Melbourne. A Salvation Army officer draped the wire round the court with painted screens and made a
100-footer entitled The Early Day Christian Martyrs. Many shorts were made here between 1900 and 1908. Then Australia revolution- ised the world movie industry by making the first full length feature consisting of five reels. Titled The Kelly Gang it cost the startling sum of £400. It grossed £25,000. Melodrama vied with bush rangers for popularity. The Love Child and What Woman Suffers were typical of the popular tear jerkers of the 1910-20 Australian film era. Pilmgoers showed that they were prepared to pay to weep. The Fatal Wedding cost only £350 to make. It grossed £18,000. In the days of Snowy Baker SNOWY Baker was the local top film star of those days. He dived 80 feet and climbed great cliffs in person to win fame as The Man From Kan- garoo and Jackeroo of Coolabong. The 30's provided a con- tinuous string of sensations in our local industry. In 1933, Charles Chauvel, looking for a Fletcher Christian for his Wake of the Bounty read in a Brisbane paper of a young man who had saved a girl and himself from a wrecked yacht. Within 18 months, Errol Flynn was earning £1000 a week in Hollywood. Overseas players were im- ported wholesale. Helen Twelvetrees starred In Thor- oughbred, Charles Farrell in
The Flying Doctor, and Vic- tor Jory in Bangle River. Cecil Kellaway, in 1937, was whipped away to Holly- wood because the moguls there liked the way he imitated a tipsy koala bear in locally made, It Isn't Done. Ken Hall produced the first of the famous bush comic pictures in 1932 — On Our Selection— which cost £6000, and grossed £60,000. Our film industry seemed destined for a splendid future. Then came World War II to spoil everything. Costs rocketed so steeply that a picture had to be very good to pay for itself. Ealing, the big English company, took over Page- wood Studios in the post- war era, and, scored a mag- nificent first try success with The Overlanders. From studio to drink factory THREE pretentious productions — Eu- reka Stockade, Bitter Springs, and Wherever She Goes — then followed. All were relative flops. That finished Ealing's Australian ambi- tions. Cinesound's studios had been turned into a soft drink factory in 1950. Now the industry is more or less back where it started, except for newsreels and a few independent producers without a modern studio available to them to make features.