Tartan closed for business

Alexander Jacoby a_p_jacoby at yahoo.co.uk
Sun Jun 29 11:09:37 EDT 2008

I agree with almost everything Jasper says, except I can't see why the wider public diffusion of Kamikaze Girls should be a cause for any sort of celebration! If there was ever a film designed to convince Western audiences that Japanese films could be as twee and as stupid as Hollywood, this has to be it.
  Getting Hiroki a proper release or two, on the other hand, would be great. How about a London retrospective for him? He's had one or two in Europe.

Sharp Jasper <jasper_sharp at hotmail.com> wrote:

There might be several reasons for the decline of Tartan. Here's a few ideas that I've been bouncing around.

Firstly, Tartan have always been involved in the edgier side of the market, distributing the films of Gaspar Noe, Michel Haneke, Catherine Breillat, Carlos Reygadas etc. While I have to praise their bravado for this, the fact is that this type of film is not popular with the general public. Sadly, the type of cinemas that one might have once labelled as "arthouse" are now owned by chains such as Picture House in the UK, whose idea of alternative cinema is stuff like Little Miss Sunshine or There Will Be Blood. Consequently, for the past 5 years at least, companies such as Tartan have had a great deal of trouble getting their films onto screens, when there's only venues like the Edinburgh Filmhouse, the Sheffield Showroom and the Bristol Watershed that would book them. Look at the pitiful state of London's cinema scene for example, where in the past ten years we've seen the closures of the Lumiere, the Metro (latterly The Other Cinema), and the Lux, to name but three; the
 ABC chain taken over by Virgin and the ICA's programming barely worth a look at in recent years. Tartan were lucky with Audition, Ring and Battle Royale, which managed to get widespread theatrical distribution, but lets remember, this was way over 5 years ago.

The other thing is periods of high economic growth are not particularly good for the arts. Rising building rentals squeezed the margins of exhibitors and distributors alike, ticket prices went up, and so only the bigger multiplexes were in a steady financial position. As for the DVD market, in the UK its mandatory to submit all films to the BBFC, who charge to certify the films, and a considerable amount too when you consider how many units you can shift for specialist markets like Asian cinema. Companies like Artsmagic and Tartan started up their US labels simply because they were losing money on UK only releases, and unfortunately the economic situation in America has had a severe knock on effect over here. (Freelancers are usually quite good at spotting looming recessions, when their invoices start getting paid later and later... Whatever Gordon Brown says, the UK is clearly only one step away from recession).

But for me the biggest problem I had with Tartan was this whole "Asian Extreme" thing. Now, I should point out that the company did also release all the Ozu movies in the UK, and wasnt entirely fixated on horror. However, distributors should remember that booms in anything are generally shortlived. Audition, Battle Royale, Old Boy etc caught the publics imagination because we hadnt seen anything like it before. When it comes 5 years later and you're still trying to capitalise on their success with crappy Malaysian ghost films, its no wonder you'll lose your audience, especially if you're selling the disks at 15 pounds a pop - the price of a night in the pub, for something you'll probably only watch once. 

Tartan could have been building a sustainable market for Asian films if they actually strayed away from the pure genre stuff. But I really have my doubts about distributors. I invited people from Tartan and a few other companies to Raindance last year to come and see Ryuichi Hiroki's Its Only Talk. They'd never even heard ofHiroki, despite the buzz that has been building around him over the past 5 years, and of course, they didnt come. The screening was pretty full and everyone was asking afterwards how they could get to see the film again. Ditto for Strawberry Shortcakes on the recent Japan Foundation tour - a film whose international sales agents Uplink would surely have given a better deal than Battle Royale's Toei or Ring's Asmik Ace.

I keep saying this till I'm blue in the face, but distributors of Asian film over the past 5 years are so myopic its a wonder any of them are still in business. Aside from effectively killing any new interest in the market by constantly releasing the same blood guts ghosts and gangster films instead of some of the great comedies and dramas that have been coming out over the past 5 years, they never seem to actually have an eye out for any new interesting trends any more. I don't understand it - in the 90s distributors were putting out stuff like Hirokazu Koreeda, Takeshi Kitano and Wong Kar Wai. These are hardly commerical directors, but they found their market. 

All is not lost of course. A former Tartan employee left the company a year or so ago and founded Third Window Films, because he saw how much good Asian films were slipping by and not getting picked up by Tartan. A lot of the releases, mainly of Korean films, still fall into the "cult" category, but its great to see Memories of Matsuko and Kamikaze Girls also on his roster, films which are indicative of wider trends in the Japanese industry at the moment and which surely have a potential audience abroad. I only hope he's successful and doesnt follow the Tartan model of putting all his eggs in one basket.

Midnight Eyewww.midnighteye.com

> Date: Sun, 29 Jun 2008 09:11:51 -0400
> From: mccaskem at georgetown.edu
> To: KineJapan at lists.acs.ohio-state.edu
> Subject: Re: Tartan closed for business
> This is disheartening news. I looked up Hamish McAlpine, and he seems to have been involved in producing a lot of (often awful) pictures outside of Tartan, including The Ted Bundy Story (2002). Most recently he produced Funny Games (2007), which I think is a Warner picture. Were such other ventures possibly a factor in the decline of the fortunes of Tartan?
> Michael McCaskey
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: Sharp Jasper 
> Date: Sunday, June 29, 2008 6:53 am
> Subject: Tartan closed for business
> > 
> > 
> > 
> > This might not come as a surprise to some list members, but sad 
> > news nonetheless, given how Tartan were one of the most active 
> > companies distributing Japanese films in Britain over the past ten 
> > years, responsible for among other things, the releases of Battle 
> > Royale and Ring.
> > 
> > Jasper Sharp
> > 
> > Tartan closed for business
> > 
> > McAlpine breaks news to London staff
> > 
> > 
> > LONDON - U.K. distrib Tartan Films has finally shuttered.
> > 
> > Sources told Variety that Tartan employees found the London office 
> > doors closed Thursday June 26 and were then informed later in the 
> > day by Tartan topper Hamish McAlpine the company was closed for 
> > business. 
> > Speculation over the future of Tartan has been rife for several 
> > months.The distrib was believed to be in takeover talks with David 
> > Bergstein of
> > the Capco Group, the firm that owns ThinkFilm, a stake in I.M. 
> > Global as
> > well as the U.K.'s Capitol Film and has itself been plagued by 
> > rumors of
> > financial troubles, for much of last year before negotiations 
> > broke down
> > following disagreements over Tartan's financial worth.
> > Last October Tartan announced it had received a cash injection of £3
> > million ($6.2 million) in the form of a convertible loan from a 
> > privateinvestor and also had restructured its Brit operation, with 
> > managingdirector Laura De Casto ankling. The company's theatrical 
> > and home
> > entertainment departments, previously run out of separate London 
> > offices, were also merged into one entity based at Tartan's head 
> > office.Tartan USA, the company's U.S. arm, announced at this 
> > year's Cannes that it was being foreclosed. Film print and 
> > advertising financing company Palisades Media Corp. has since 
> > bought the U.S. rights to its library.
> > Those moves now appear to have only offered temporary respite from 
> > a downward turn of fortune for McAlpine, who founded Tartan in 
> > 1982. The 
> > company subsequently expanded by launching sub-labels such as 
> > Tartan 
> > Terror and Tartan Asia Extreme. Distrib arguably became the home 
> > for genre fare and edgy, foreign-language pics, especially from 
> > Asia. No official comment has been made yet by Tartan execs as to 
> > what the
> > future holds for the company although it seems likely that a team of
> > liquidators and accountants will be brought in to assess the company's
> > assets and sell them off.
> > 
> > 
> > 
> > 
> > 
> > Midnight Eye
> > www.midnighteye.com
> > 
> > _________________________________________________________________
> > ?MSN????????????????????? ?????????????
> > http://video.msn.co.jp/rvr/default.htm

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