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Movies: The Great Come-&-See-lt Day

2 minute read

It looked like a cinema exhibitor’s dream, a remembrance of prosperity past, a pre-TV anachronism. In France one day last week, from the Champs Elysées to the quays of Marseille, customers outside movie houses pressed in queues three or four abreast. At the Wepler theater on Paris’ Place Clichy, where Goldfinger was playing, patrons actually crashed through heavy glass doors. And “National Defend French Cinema Day,” as it was called, would have produced the fattest 24-hour box office in history except that there was no box office—all the films were on the house.

What the French cinema was being defended against was the tax-greedy government. Though the exhibitors seemed to be cutting off their gross to spite their face, they were also cutting off—with the only and most dramatic means available—the 24% of that gross sluiced away in a special tax. “The survival of French cinema is at stake,” declared Director René Clair. And though the industry suffers from many ills, he continued, “the worst problem right now is this taxation.” Clair’s polemics came at a wellrehearsed, Defend French Cinema Day press conference that was followed by a one-hour sympathy strike, from the producers to les script-girls, closing down all French sets.

Last week’s demonstrations and scapegoat were not the first in the French exhibitors’ fight against TV’s increasingly damaging competition. Last January the movie-theater owners’ federation even ventured a $20 million damage suit against the French national television network, which is run by the government. The charge: “unfair competition,” which has reduced cinema attendance throughout France a full one-third since 1958. Their federation’s lawsuit was thrown out, with the theater owners ordered to pay the court costs.

Yet their message seems to be getting through. A current study by the Finance Ministry concludes that governmental relief is indeed “indispensable” to the industry, and recommends, as a starter, reduction of the 24% special tax. Yet, as last week’s demonstration National Defend French Cinema Day proved, the film industry cannot be saved by tax relief alone. Even with the clochards just coming in out of the cold, many of the 5,600 French movie houses were nowhere near filled, despite the fact that they were giving away their seats for free.

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