in Irish Cinema
Multiplicity in Irish Cinema: The
History Of The Irish Cinema
The Article On This Page was First Published in the American
cinema trade magazine Box
Office in three parts as Multiplicity In The Irish Cinema in
1997. It is re-published here in its entirety.
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It’s been called the land of saints and scholars, which is ok
if you’re living in a country that still holds on to its old ways.
The Ireland of to day is light years away from all of those old
fashioned ways that we love to hear about from our parents &
grandparents. It’s the most westerly island in Europe the next
stop being the states and while some foreigners often mistake it for
part of mainline Britain it’s as far away from it as it can come.
It has a population of 3-4 million people and research shows that it
has the youngest population in Europe each with a vast amount of
disposable income. This is spent mostly on entertainment of some
sort and the cinema comes high in this order.
When Giuseppe Tornare was writing the script for his film Cinema
Paradiso he like all Europeans was thinking back to his childhood
when the local flea pitas it was called was a way of life. Children
of all ages went to their local cinemas, which were in abundance if
you lived in the city and were the central meeting place for those
who lived in the country. In the 50s, the island had at least 300
sights north & south each with a singular screen and about three
prints to go around. This caused a lot of delay in less populated
areas as the bigger films used to play in the city for at least
three to four weeks. By this time the print was in bad order it then
had to go to the country where it spent the next three years of
it’s life doing the rounds of cinemas that changed their
programmes at least three times a week.
There also applied at the time a barring order in which films
that were shown in one neighbourhood cinema would not be shown in
the same area, this gave the cinema goers a choice and the owner
high blood pressure. The most popular film at the time was the
western, which the Irish people went to in their droves because they
had an affinity with the wide outdoors and the easy pace of life.
The Screen cinema (then called The Corinthian”) in the heart of
Dublin was christened The Ranchbecause the staple diet each week was
the old Universal Bmovies; sadly it has been closed for years. Like
time itself things got more sophisticated and the westerns moved up
a notch with the likes of John Wayne moving on to other types of
Dublin being the capital held at least a third of the population
of the country and was where all the cinema industry had their
offices. The largest house was The Royalwhich held almost 3,996
people and showed a mixture of cinema and stage productions.
The more sophisticated Metropole was where they showed what we
call now art housecatering for the likes of Shine& The English
Patient”. The 60s saw a change in the mood of the cinema going
public with the likes of more classy films from Doris Day & Rock
Hudson grabbing the attention, and the industry was not prepared for
the latest technology Televisionwhich was about to cause havoc.
The opening of the National Television Station on New Years Eve
1961 was almost the end for most of the cinemas in the rural part of
the country, people liked what they could see for nothing and
spending 3-4 $. Per week on the movies was too much. The devastation
in the south of the country saw almost 160 sites close in the space
of eight years and left only about 120 to cater for the small
trickle of movie goers. Things were about to get better as was the
quality of the movies Pillow Talk”, Rio BravoCome Septemberbrought
the people back. Double feature films were to be no more, the
attention span had shortened due to TV and a two-hour programme with
advertisements and trailers for the coming attractions were as long
as the public could take. The twinning of the first cinema in the
country The Savoywas a monumental occasion for never before was
there choice in the cinema.
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In the early 70s Dublin’s second largest cinema The Savoy was
turned into a twin, it originally held over 2,000 patrons and when
it was split it held 800 downstairs in no 2 & 1,000 upstairs in
no one. The first films shown were Anne of A Thousand Days&
Airportboth of which were blockbusters. The Savoy also held a
restaurant as did most cinemas of their day and this was turned into
a 200-seated cinema, much to the horror of the trade.
Brendan McCaul, Vice-President, General Manager, Buena Vista
International (U.K.) Ltd. recalls his days with Rank Cinemas who
owned the Savoy. at the time we had committed both cinemas to two
films Eye Of the Needle& The French LieutenantWifeand had no
place for a little movie called Bugsy Maloneso we put it into the
200 seater, it filled the cinema from the afternoon until late
evening, seven days a week”. The trade were startled at what had
happened and in 1978 most of the cinemas were split into some sort
of extra capacity.
Gone was 4,000 seated Royalwhich had been sold off for an office
building, the same applied to many of the fine central cinemas like
The Capitolwhich was a converted opera house, the up market
Metrapoleand the beautiful Regal Rooms”, all of which made way for
upmarket shopping. The Savoy went on to six cinemas, across the road
it’s opposition The Carlton(which was known as a horror house
because that’s all it showed) extended to 5 cinemas again taking
in the beautiful restaurant, It’s sister house The Adelphiaround
the corner extended to sixbut the city still retained some singular
cinemas which showed art house or independent movies, and in total
24 cinemas were opened to the public by the 80s.
However, things were in for a change for the big cinemas as a
flood of pirated videotapes were being shown in pubs and local
hostelries, some of them almost on the doorstep of the cinemas. So
called art-house cinemas which showed foreign films with some sort
Suffered most because the videos showed everything, which was
against the censorship laws. The fact that you could also see a
first run film before a cinema caused devastation.
In the suburbs things were also changing, the local cinemas was
vanishing as quick as time and were being turned into supermarkets,
some still are. Others attempted to keep up with the public’s
appetite for entertainment by turning the cinemas into Bowling
Alley’s, Skating Rinks and Bingowas a great money-spinner. However
the transport situation was getting better and more people had
motorcars so it was easier to get into the city to see the film of
your choice weeks before it came to the local
Multiplex Back To Top
Fifteen successful years after the cinemas split their main
complex into several different cinemas a custom built dedicated
multiplex was built on the Southside of the city in a place called
"Tallaght”. Brendan McCaul has had a tremendous effect
because it has become our No 1 grossing hall, it’s in the top
three in Europe for UCI Cinemas.They were turning over one to two
million admissions per year and as a mean average you could multiply
that by three. Take 40% of that & it would give you an idea of
the concession sales”.
A notion that was touted in the 90s when the cinema was opened
was that because of the high unemployment in the area people had
nothing better to do so they went to the movies. McCaul does not
agree, The fact of the matter is that more people are travelling
from surrounding country areas to shop in these complexes, and while
there they take in a movie. This is good for the shopper and the
owners of the sites that are adjacent to the cinemas because both
benefit. On one hand, the shopkeeper gets the business, as does the
cinema while on the other the shopper is able to take in a meal and
a picture, which makes the day out an occasion.
UCI next opened a nine cinema complex on the north side of the
city and while it had not got the turnover of the Tallaght branch
due to the short distance from the city, it never the less captured
the imagination of the public with it’s superior sound and it’s
extra facilities. Several months ago, they opened yet another
9-cinema complex in the southwest of the city but so far, it has not
caught on, even with a wine bar. Brendan McCaul I believe we have
not seen the best of it yet, when the summer comes along the likes
of BatmanConair Men in Black” Jurassic Park 2will bring people out
in their droves to the cinema”. In 1975 Rank saw no future in the
suburban house so they closed most of them yet The Classic
Cinemaindependently owned by Albert Kelly was opened as a twin in
1976 and is running still.
Cinemas in the city were hard hit because in less than two years
they had competition from three multiplexes that housed 27 cinemas.
Rumours abounded in the trade about the impending closure of The
Carlton & The Adelphi, which by this time were national
institutions. Management reported that they had been hit by the new
multiplex but intended to open one in the city, which would bring
people back. True to their word, they opened a 9-cinema complex in
the heart of the city, which was to be called at the time The MGM
Multiplexand right from the start all sorts of trouble dogged them.
Between take-over and planning the cinema was finished but not
opened for 18 months and by then it had changed hands as did all the
MGM cinemas in Europe... the new name was The Virgin Complex”.
The new complex was up against the very well known and reliable
Savoy complex, which at this time had six cinemas, one of the
largest screens in the country (4 stories high & 60 feet in with
which is the largest screen in Ireland) and the latest in digital
sound. It was owned by the Ward -Anderson group under the company
name of Abbey Filmsand is a two family business; with over 100
screens around the country they were a force to be reckoned with.
Leo Ward who was a footballer of note in the late 40s went into
distribution with a film called The Hills of Donegal”, Paul Ward,
director of Abbey Films...
No one wanted to know about this movie, so my father took it to
Cork (the 2nd largest city) and it ran for over three weeks, now
everyone wanted it. Leo made several visits to London and picked up
the rights to show film that were lying around for several years.
When the Carry On& The Bruce Leeseries came out Leo went into
distribution in a big way.
Paul Ward: The first cinema the family got involved in was in the
mid 50s in Lucan (a suburb about 10 miles from the city) the
previous owner wanted to leave the country. He had debts of £ 8,000
($12,000) and my father took over the debts and gave him £10,000
($15,000). From then on along with a partner Kevin Anderson they
took shares in local cinemas”. They had a good working
relationship with the local owners who ran the cinemas for the sake
of the town folk. In Cork city they took over The Pavilion Cinema
which then took over The Capitol and in turn they got The Lee
cinema”. For the first time, they had 100% of the business and the
empire began spreading.
Paul Ward... I came into the business in the 70s when we had
about 20 cinemas and the distribution deal but because there was a
glut of films not all of them were good”. Leo Ward had a cinema in
the city called The Greenand while it was not in the exact centre
but about a mile away, it was classed as a 2nd run cinema. They
could not get first run films so Leo again went to London and bought
the rights for the first seven Bond movies for about £500 ($750)
each. He ran them from week to week and took in ten times their cost
so to put icing on the cake he double featured them and made yet
another killing. The distributors saw the potential and allowed him
first run movies; he was no longer out in the cold.
The day after they took over the Savoy they reduced admissions to
£1 ($1.50) and five thousand people turned up at the cinema. Paul
Ward....We realised that there was a pricing problem and with the
recession reduced the afternoon performances to £2 ($3) which was
half the price of the evening performance...again the public came,
and the other cinemas followed by reducing the price.
With a £40 million ($65million) turnover the group employ almost
1,000 people. They are at the moment putting multiplexes up in
several country cities. One plan they have for next year is to have
a 12-cinema state of the art cinema in the south of the city where
there are already some family owned houses. Paul Ward...I can see
objections to the plan, but this will be our flag ship cinema with
as much attention to what the public want, we intend to have
everything you could want in a cinema complex’s asked him why he
has not branded his cinemas like the UCI complexes, There can be
several reasons for this… unlike a company where share holders
have a vote and can be turned down by the majority”, this being a
family run business any member has his chance for a say and while
you might not agree, you respect his wishes”. There are also
different reasons like locations in which the branded name might not
It cost UCI £7 m ($11 million) dollars to open Blanchardstown
with an annual rent of £4 million) ($6M) it will take at least 11
years to break even”. According to Ward If opposition comes on the
scene, and it looks as if it will, it might take 25 years to get
back their investment. Unlike UCI origination, Abbey films did not
have the large cash to invest in cinema complexes, when the builders
of a north city shopping centre that included a complex offered it
to them for over 3 million. They did a deal, which saw the builders
getting 50% of the takings after the Abbey group equipped the
nine-cinema complex, and this still stands. In the rural parts of
the island they took another route by building their own cinemas.
Paul Ward: Virgin are the company to watch, they don’t
buy, they rent and its possible that they will rent the new 18
cinema complex which is going up in Quaryvale which is not too far
away from Uci’s. Blanchardstown cinemas.
The north of Ireland has always been seen as a place that has a
lot of troubles yet Abbey have 7 cinemas there Paul Ward: The north
was a natural progression for us because this is an island and the
distance is not that far, if it had been England it would have not
been as easy for us to defend our market”. Both Paul Ward and
Brendan McCaul agree that the multiplexes have put new life into
cinema going, people in their 30s & 40s who have not visited a
cinema in years are coming back, states Ward and I’m sure this
will also extend to the older bracket”.
Last year alone there were over 12 million admissions to cinemas
on this small island, at around £5 ($8) a ticket things must be
looking up and several things point to an upsurge people, money and
a booming industry which looks as if it is going to continue well
into the next century. American architects are now planning the next
cinemas from their New York offices. The door into Europe begins in
this small country, which is why there are so many computer
companies setting up here and the immigrants are returning home. To
be able to sit in a cinema that is equal to any other in the world
is pleasure alone.
Copyright (c) 1997 Tony
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