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JACK MATHEWS

A Goldwyn Tradition Continues

October 03, 1986|JACK MATHEWS

It has been more than 60 years since Samuel Goldwyn--having been squeezed out of his own company before it merged with something to be called Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer--declared his permanent independence as a film producer and began a career that made his name synonymous with quality motion pictures.

Now, Samuel Goldwyn, Jr.--the sequel--is carrying on an old family tradition.

The Samuel Goldwyn Co., which the second Goldwyn formed after his father's death more than a decade ago, is one of the strongest entries in the new layer of Hollywood distribution that is filling the void left by the phased-out classics divisions of the major studios.

Goldwyn, who just turned 60, and his competitors are the patient ones, the boutique distributors who compete for the reasonably priced "smart" movies that appeal to that--gulp!--sophisticated movie-going audience that the major studios seem to think is limited to members of Mensa.

"I was brought up in a tradition of patience," Goldwyn said, during a recent interview in his fifth-floor office overlooking the Los Angeles Country Club. "My father never made films that were instantaneous hits. 'Wuthering Heights' was not a success the first time around. Neither was 'Best Years of Our Lives.' They had to be nursed. . . . Basically, he was always waiting."

"Wuthering Heights" and "Best Years of Our Lives" have been doing fine ever since, thank you. Well enough to provide the younger Goldwyn with a profit center from the moment he launched his own company. He inherited those two films, along with 50 other Goldwyn productions, and has since expanded the library to a total of about 600 films.

Goldwyn says his company receives about 60% of its revenues from the TV syndication of his library movies. (Note to film buffs and film makers opposed to the current trend toward computer colorizing of black-and-white films: Goldwyn says he will not submit his father's classics to the process.)

Not everything Goldwyn is doing is cerebral, unless you find the "Care Bears Movies" and the upcoming "The Chipmunk Adventure" (yes, with Alvin, Simon and Theodore) heady experiences. Unfortunately, with the major studios' collective obsession with satisfying pubescent moviegoers in recent years, anything that appeals to people on either side of the teens is perceived as a special-audience movie.

Goldwyn, echoing some of the anti-bureaucracy sentiments of his father, comes down hard on the modern studio system.

"I think what's happening with the studios is just tragic," he says. "There is no consistency of management. There is a horrible waste of money, with layers upon layers upon layers of senior and junior executives all stumbling over each other. It's disgusting."

But for Goldwyn, it's also good. While the majors' bumble-ocracy chugs along in what its research tells it is the mainstream, there is fertile ground for companies like his, Island Pictures, Alive, Cinecom and others that operate on principles of low overhead and (comparatively) modest expectations.

Goldwyn distributed six movies in 1985 and will have released 10 or 11 by the end of this year. None of his films will end up among the year's 20 top-grossing movies, but they are hits with him. "Turtle Diary," from England, "Three Men and a Cradle," from France, and "Desert Hearts," an American independent film, were major income producers for Goldwyn.

"The films didn't cost us a lot of money and they did very well," Goldwyn says. "We are not taking terrible risks. Whenever you release a movie, you're gambling, but we're gambling at a level we can afford. . . . I wouldn't want to suffer through the kind of thing they (the major studios) face. It's a pretty terrifying idea to have $30 million or $40 million tied up in a movie and watch it die in one weekend."

Most of Goldwyn's films are acquisitions, small-budgeted films that do not have the broad commercial appeal that would get them a distribution deal with one of the major studios.

"Sid and Nancy," a biographical drama about the ill-fated romance between British punk rock star Sid Vicious and his American girlfriend Nancy Spungen, is the next Goldwyn "pick-up" to be released. The film, by British director Alex Cox ("Repo Man"), was one of the big hits of the Cannes Film Festival this year and was one of the critics' pets during the recent festival series in the East.

Despite the advance word, "Sid and Nancy" will open in one theater in each of three cities--New York, Los Angeles and Chicago--and be left there to ferment in the film-going consciousness before Goldwyn will attempt to serve it to a larger audience.

"In the old days, a movie like 'Midnight Cowboy' would open this way and then they would decide where to go from there," Goldwyn says. "Today, the studios are terrified of opening a movie in three theaters. They want to open in 1,000 theaters and check the grosses on Monday."

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