“When in doubt, Showcase”

The rise and fall of United Artists’ revolutionary New York distribution pattern

Authored by: Zoë Wallin

The Routledge Companion to New Cinema History

Print publication date:  February  2019
Online publication date:  February  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138955844
eBook ISBN: 9781315666051
Adobe ISBN:


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Writing in Variety in March 1960, Vincent Canby (1960a) drew attention to the major problem that Hollywood’s distributors had faced since the late 1950s, arguing that “the standard pattern” for film circulation in New York, “with the Broadway opening followed by a Brooklyn first run and then dates in the circuits … is no longer realistic in terms of today’s market.” Growing suburbanization had drained customers from the primary sites of their business in the large metropolitan centers. The traditional system of circulating films, based around profitable first-run venues in the central business districts of the major cities, was geographically ill-equipped to service this newly dispersed audience. The fact that this was a transitional period for the Hollywood industry has been well documented, but scholarship has largely focused on production and, to a lesser extent, exhibition. The distribution sector was also being recalibrated. The former run-zone-clearance circulation of the vertically integrated studio system had been upset by the US Supreme Court’s 1948 ruling requiring theater divestiture and outlawing of several profitable distribution practices now deemed “unfair.” In light of this attempt to loosen the studios’ stranglehold on exhibition, the majors’ retention of market control through distribution needed to be further secured.

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