|Issue 15 - September 1973|
|Tyneside Film Theatre|
Charlie Picken, talking about the theatre, its programmes and its aims.
When the Tyneside Film Theatre opened in March '68 it seemed that an alternative cinema had finally arrived in Newcastle. Now, after five years and two managers, it appears to have outgrown its birth pains and come to terms with the financial world while still showing certain films that would not be shown anywhere else because they are either not 'commercial' or because they have not been given a certificate for public viewing.
The present programme ranges from the amazing Marx Brothers, Miss West and Mr Fields to the terrifying 'Long Live Death' and the audience beating 'Dyn Amo' with lots of nice and interesting things in between.
Charlie Picken is the Manager. He came to the cinema two years ago and is attempting to run a path between money (it costs £60,000 a year to run) and his obvious desire to show good films.
It is a place that should be visited by anyone who has even a passing interest in film. It is opposite the Odeon on Pilgrim Street. The price of admission is lower than all other movies in town. Cinema One is open to the 'public' while Cinema Two is the 'Associates'. It costs only 50p a year to be an Associate and this means that you get an illustrated programme every three months and that you can use Cinema Two and take a guest.
"I get very annoyed by people who judge films by specific instances. Anything can go into a film providing, overall, what the film is trying to do justifies its content. 'Soldier Blue' was sold on its violence, I would say that the plot of that film did not justify the violence - it was violence for its own sake, which I'm against. You must judge the film overall. That is important. This is the whole point of the British Board of Film Censors. It has always been founded on a sensible basis, unlike the American one with its ten commandments of what Thou-Shall or Shall-Not do. I think that ours is one of the best there is. They try to keep up to date with current tastes and acceptability which is the only way to run a just method of censorship. To try and run one like America and say you can't show adultery or child nudity is nonsense since some of these things are essential to what the director is trying to put over in his film.
The unfortunate thing that's happened with the pressure groups that have been brought to bear on films like 'Straw Dogs' and 'Last Tango' is that the local committee are possibly going to ask for notification on any controversial films so that they can decide whether or not to view them before a showing. What we hope is that because of the nature of film theatres, and that films aren't shown for commercial reasons, they are shown because they are important films - we might get a blanket coverage in the same way a film festival does. It is aimed against the porn clubs, but the way the act is worded at the moment, it could affect film theatres, film societies, whose objects aren't similar to porn clubs.
I will not sell a film on sensation or violence. 'Long Live Death' I could have sold as the most violent film you could ever see, but I'll not sell it that way because the Tyneside Film Theatre is not commercial in that way. It is there to show 'Long Live Death' to the people who want to see 'Long Live Death' - not the people who want a night's sensation. One of the reasons I have changed the name from 'Members' to 'Associates' is that 'Members' was starting to mean dirty movies.
Last September the programming policy for Cinema Two changed. For once it had a set pattern. In a three-month period you could see some first-run films. Some recognisable film classics, two general specialised seasons and some obscure stuff. I've tried to repeat this three-month balance programme so that we have something for everybody. Previously to this things were just programmed any old how, but last September I did take a conscious step in programming the theatre to this pattern and it's beginning to pay off. Obviously you don't get overnight miracles, but you've got to keep trying and this is one that seems to be working.
Obviously my personal likes have to come into it but I have to keep it to the barest minimum because I have to respect that I'm catering for the public so I can't enforce my personal tastes on them. It would be suicide to try and do that.
Any reaction I get from the audience is more on the "You shouldn't have done that, it was disgusting". Don't really get enough feedback from the Associates, I'd like a lot more because, as I say, I'm programming the theatre to what I think they want.
Someone may come to see a film they know and stay on to see the film that's on with it. They may come to see 'Yellow Submarine' and see 'The Decameron' that's on with it. By doing so, their film-going experience is broadened. This is part of our job. At my late night horror shows some of the people I used to shout "shut up" to have joined and are coming to see people like Berman and liking what they see and talking about them and their film-going has been broadened. It is a very rewarding thing for me.
It would be nice if every single person in Newcastle, at least once a year said: "I must go to the Tyneside Film Theatre. They've got a film I want to see". I'd be happy then."
The above is only a brief part of quite a long talk I had with Mr Picken but I think it illustrates that he not only knows about film, which must be quite rare for a cinema manager!, but he also cares about the things he shows and the way people involve themselves in them. So, unless you happen to be happy with what they are showing at your local Roxy, I advise you to truck down and get a headful of some of the movies they're showing nightly. There really is something for everyone!