10.07  The Ritzy Shows - October 1995 to September 1996

This series of eleven or twelve shows is a deviation from the open access format. Differentiated from the main shows by the designation 'Exploding Cinema Presents'. This was motivated by the idea of integrating short film within the programmes of commercial cinemas. Giving mainstream audiences an option of short film.

The Ritzy Cinema is housed in what was an Edwardian barrel-vaulted cinema in the centre of Brixton, that closed in 1976 but reopened two years later as an independently run arthouse cinema called 'Little Bit Ritzy'. In the Nineties it underwent a conversion to a multiplex, reopening in 1995 as The Ritzy but retaining much of its independence and commitment to supporting non-mainstream film.[1]

Two approaches were tried: the first, called 'A Free Sample', was a selection of four to six shorts shown between the regular midnight double feature spot programmed by the Ritzy in October and November of 1996. [2] An advert for the Ritzy showings was included in a show on the 28th Of October. [3] (See illustration 19) Paul commented on this in his interview:

This didn't really work that well for various reasons° The (feature) films chosen weren't very interesting so they didn't get much of an audience. We had very brief turn around time to actually set things up and the audiences weren't aware that this was going to be going on and thought it was a break - so it's a reason to leave. Some of them even came in and thought they were in the wrong auditorium so they walked out again and then came back. So it was a bit frustrating. We felt like we were a little kind of side bar that wasn't really publicised. Another thing that really complicated it was, some of the time, when we were doing those shows, we couldn't actually project from the booth. The Ritzy cinema spaces were pretty badly designed and they didn't make enough projection port holes in the projection booth. (PT)

Communicating between the stage/ screen and the projection booth was also a problem. You could only ring it by telephone and this was before the time of mobile phones. To communicate you had to go down a corridor, up a staircase and then down another corridor to the projection booth. This architectural form clashed with the Exploding ethos in which the separation between consumption and production is being challenged partly by having the projector in the midst of the audience.

The second format was slightly more successful. Entitled 'Exploding Cinema presents six to nine 'lo/no' budget films bubbled up from the underground', which were followed by a 'mystery feature'. After about forty-five minutes of short films there would be a break. People would sneak in cans of drink. So the formal aspect of mainstream cinema, in which the audience does not talk amongst itself and is constrained by fixed seating, was broken down to some extent. There were seven or eight of these shows between 7th March 1996 and the 26th September 1996.[4]

What actually happened with this though, because it was the Ritzy, they still had to charge their normal door price, which was annoying, they are charging six pounds or three pounds concession which obviously is a far inflated version of what we usually charged for our shows. Also they took half the door takings after VAT so we actually ended up getting very little money for putting shows on there.

The new format was well received at first but the next show was considered by Paul Tarrago to be a 'pointless and fruitless fiasco'.[5] A meeting on the 14th January 1996 discussed the Ritzy Shows.[6] They discussed the different nature of the Ritzy as a commercial cinema and the problems of programming short film for this context.[7] At a subsequent smaller meeting on the 29th January there is a minuted report which is critical of the show that the Halloween Society had put on at the Ritzy:

Halloween Society at Ritzy was packed, but thought to be depressing - lots of naff gimmicks - really mainstream. High production values and white upper middle class culture - smug and bad scripts with 'farting in the lift' gags. Confirms your worst suspicions. Andy Johnson fell asleep. The Exploding Cinema shows are completely different; the audience is very different. Halloween doesn't have a sense of being cutting edge.[8]

Later on in the year the Ritzy shows are still coming under fire at meetings: Someone called Mandy Barefoot makes the point that 'The Ritzy show did not have the buzz of a Loughborough show° The problem with the Ritzy is that we can't show open access films there.' Duncan Reekie counters this: 'No cinemas are showing short film as a matter of principle° We are making a gesture towards this.' The meeting voted to continue with a bimonthly showing at the Ritzy. The next shows were programmed for 26th September & the 28th November.[9]

(See Illustration 20; a programme sheet from 7th March 1996.)

Exploding's 'mystery feature' format included the following features:

The Seven Faces of Dr Lao, Dir. George Pal, 1964;

Pretty Baby, Dir. Louis Males, 1977

Quatermas and the Pit, Dir. Roy Ward Baker, 1968

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Dir. Russ Meyer, 1970

Morgan a Suitable Case for Treatment, Dir. Karel Reisz, 1966

The Man Who Got His Hair Cut Short, Dir. Andre Delvaux, 1966

Bronco Bullfrog, Dir. Barney Platts-Mills, 1970

 

The Ritzy shows were initiated by an invitation from Claire Binns; one of the original collective owners of what was then called 'A Little Bit Ritzy'. The Ritzy was being re-launched as a new multi-screen venue with a policy of relating to the local community and was interested in getting local arts groups in. She had been to Exploding Cinema shows and asked Danny Holman if Exploding were interested in being involved. There were a lot of good reasons that Exploding had rejected conventional cinema spaces so rather than trying to bring an Exploding show into the cinema space it was thought that a new approach was needed.  

Exploding Cinema is about redefining space and the whole aspect of watching films. But there were several of us that actually felt that the reasons why we got involved in film was because of going to see films in cinema auditoriums and to actually dismiss that was a trifle nonsensical. (We should) try and look at the positive aspects of what we could get from feature film screening facilities. (PT)

The features were chosen by Paul, Duncan, Colette and Caroline. They were chosen as idiosyncratic films that had had a personal influence on them as filmmakers.

We had to do a 'mystery' cult feature because we were hiring the films from a film society screening sort of list and you can't actually advertise publicly otherwise you get charged about twice the amount of money, so we had to go under the name of. . . this is all slightly illegal anyway - we had to go under the name 'Swollen Hearts Film Society'. (PT)

As we have seen the Ritzy shows were controversial within the collective. Often it was left to Paul and Jenet to make these shows happen. Others in the collective were not so committed to the experiment and found the Ritzy too formal and constrained.

We had to operate around their scheduling. We had very little time to set up. We'd be kind of rushing in there trying to set things up, once their previous feature had finished, before our slot came on. Then they'd want us out by a certain time so it was working against quite a few voices, including the ushers and projectionists. It wasn't ideal. But when it worked well it was pretty engaging because you were in this kind of little cosy auditorium, showing films and having a bit of banter. (PT)

But, as well as its brief to be responsive to the community the Ritzy also had a desire to be a respectable tidy space and in various little ways this went against the Exploding culture. At one point someone in the collective designed a notice board decorated with little creatures and so on. This was a contact point for people to buy and sell equipment or show films or whatever - a little filmmaker's forum. But it was soon taken down by the Ritzy management on the grounds that it was a fire risk.[10]

Some people were attracted to the format because a showing at an arthouse cinema was better for your CV than a showing at Exploding Cinema. It could have been a bridge between the 'independent' film world and that of the underground. In the end there was to much of a culture clash which, as we have seen, ranged from the architectural design of the Ritzy, to the institutional aesthetic as well as the basic economic conditions. For collective members like Paul who had been so influenced by arthouse cinema it was an important experiment. In terms of this thesis the Ritzy intervention is useful for what it uncovers about conventional cinema space. Some of its limitations, which are usually invisible, are here made explicit.

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[1] Information I obtained by speaking to staff at the Ritzy where Thomas Zagrozek works (c2001).

 

[2] 7th and 21st of October 1995 &  4th and 18th of November 1995

 

[3] IP: 28-10-95. p13

 

[4] Information supplied from the personal files of Paul Tarrago. Two programmes are included in the Appendix.

 

[5] Minutes of 10-3-96 & 12-5-96

 

[6] Meeting attended by Andy J. Andy S. Paul, Georg, Jennet, Caroline, Duncan, Theresa, Fiona and Colette

 

[7] Minutes of 14-1-96

 

[8] Minutes of 29-1-96

 

[9] Minutes of 7-7-96, see also undated minutes around Sept/Oct 1996

 

[10] This seems an unlikely argument when one sees the amount of commercial flyers that are to be seen around the walls of the Ritzy today.