Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Death of the Jamaican movie house

So, had a discussion Friay night last with Sasha Bowie and host Simon Crosskill on CVM-Tv's "Live@7"  programme on the topic of Jamaica's disappearing movie houses. One might believe its hardly worth comment, in that the economics of the entertainment biz (and of cinema in particular) has changed drastically all over the world.

But when you consider that we've gone from no less than 4 theatres in a 400-yard radius as recently as the 1980s, to 2 locations  for the entire city of Kingston, then one can see the merits of discussing the issue Its interesting to learn that he Palace Amusement Co that today operates as a virtual monopoly exhibitor, was itself originally in a competitive situation and is in fact now owned by persons, the Graham family (and the 150 or so shareholders) who were in competition with the original Palace
The quote from Melanie Graham is taken from a Gleaner article by Tanya Batson-Savage.

The Palace Amusement Company (1921) Limited was formed by Audley Morais, and operated as a Private Company prior to 1921 (silent movie days). He re-formed the company and offered shares to the public in 1921.
Over the years the Company operated Movies, Rose Gardens, and Palace Cinemas. Gaiety and Majestic was subsequently acquired, Odeon (Mandeville) was leased, and other cinemas ( urban and rural) were built. It operated cinemas and distributed films to many of the independent cinemas that existed in Jamaica and Cayman.
In 1938, Cinema Company of Jamaica Limited built the Carib, in competition to Palace.

In 1947, J. Arthur Rank, from the United Kingdom, bought control in Palace Amusement Company.   The Rank Organisation  bought out Cinema Company of Jamaica Ltd. owner of the Carib.    J. Arthur Rank closed the Movies and built Odeon in Mandeville in 1951, and Odeon in Half Way Tree in 1952.
In l949, Russell Graham built the Tropical Cinema Company, and used it as a centerpiece of the competition that he mounted for the movie audience against Palace.
In 1962, Russgram Investments Limited - a Company owned by Russell Graham - bought the controlling interest in Palace Amusement Company from J. Arthur Rank, and Douglas Graham was appointed Managing Director. The new regime purchased the Majestic Cinema on Spanish Town Road, built the Harbour View Drive In as a partly owned subsidiary, and took control of Tropical Cinema Company, which was a 2-cinema company - Tropical and Rialto.
In 1989, Russell Graham sold his Russgram Investments Company to Douglas Graham, who still has ownership of it.
Palace Amusement Company is listed on the Jamaica Stock Exchange and has approximately 150 shareholders. There are l,437,028 issued stock units. Russgram Investments Limited presently owns 62.05% of the shares in Palace Amusement Company.
So Palace has, in effect, become what they initially fought against. A very typical situation with monopolies, at least in the Jamaican context thus far.

Odeon is by no means unique. A drive through Downtown will also reveal signs on now dilapidated buildings which clearly, if not brightly, state that they were once movie houses. However, not all the old theatre buildings bear reminders of what they once were. It has probably begun to slip from memory that there were actually four cinemas in Cross Roads not too long ago (a perspective which may vary, depending on your age).
Sharing space with Carib was the Regal theatre. It used to be housed in the building which Azan's now occupies. The more recent closing was that of the State theatre. Up to last year it was home to the Kingston Church of Christ and, at the end of last year, the seats were up for sale. Its days as a theatre are long over and there is no sign that they will return.
The other, almost directly across from Courts, now also hosts a church.

Movie buff extraordinaire, Orville Clarke, reflects on the days when there were cinemas in every parish. An avid moviegoer since the 1950s, he names several theatres which existed throughout Kingston. Among them is the very famous Rialto (also of The Harder They Come fame), along with Kings, Gaiety, Queens, Majestic, Ritz, Tropical, Globe and Deluxe. The names of the cinemas seem to reek of the glitz and glamour which they used to hold.
Outside Kingston , The Del Mar (Port Antonio), Empire (Morant Bay) and Capri (May Pen) all added to what helped to create the movie culture in Jamaica. The second city, Montego Bay, had four cinemas strand, The Roxy, Palladium and Coral.

It appears that only Carib is left from that golden era. The grand white building still stands boldly defiant in the middle of Cross Roads. Now Carib 5, the cinema has changed from the single screen set-up that could hold well over 1,000 people at once. Devoured by fire in September of 1996, the cinema managed to arise phoenix-like from the flames. It was also able to do what so many others were unable to do. Change.

Ms. Melanie Graham, marketing manager for Palace Amusement Company, attempted to explain why she believes none of these cinemas were able to last. "They all closed because they were the old type of movie cinemas. Not air-conditioned, very sparse seat, and I think with the advent of video... that added to their demise," she said. She went on to explain that in order to continue to thrive, cinemas needed a lot of investment. "I don't think at the time they were willing to spend to upgrade," she stated, also noting that the admission rates were not very profitable.

No comments:

Post a Comment