Kenneth Rive became a good friend of our
family, I am not sure how he first met my father George, but it was
because of Ken that my father decided to devote our cinema in Oxford
St., London (opposite Selfridges) to the showing of the best of
continental films. This was our first Cinephone.
There was a need to change our cinemas,
that were cartoon and comedy shows, because the better cartoons were
slowly being taken off the cinema market and sold to television, with
the result that we were having to repeat more frequently the ones that
were available to us. There were no new good short comedy films
being produced either. All this contributed to a gradual drop in our
box office takings.
All the other cinema circuits were relying
on American, British and Australian film productions. They also
operated a barring system with the distributors, so if they booked a
film, the condition was that no other cinema within an agreed radios
of their cinemas, could show the same film. The larger the
number of cinemas and better the locations, the stronger the booking
As a small independent cinema company,
although we had the best locations, our booking power was not that
strong. The concept of showing the finest continental films (either
with subtitles, or that were dubbed) appealed to us, as there were so
many really outstanding films available, that were never shown before in the
was a success in London so we began to change all our other cinemas,
the second one was in Birmingham.
This introduced glamour to our cinemas
as we brought over film stars, for the film premieres and we loved
going to the Cannes Film Festival, Ken was great fun and a very good
So to begin with we played all Gala Films and had some
input into the choice of films found at Cannes each year. We
also took over two more cinemas in London (owned 50/50 with Gala
Films) The International Theatre and The Gala Royal.
Later on we met Anthony Balch and a
number of other distributors that had continental films for us.
But it is sad, that we are mostly remembered for sex films, although
these were mostly shown by others who took over, after we had sold
out, having become rather tired of the Nudist films.
"For British followers of European
cinema, Kenneth Rive is a name etched on the subconscious." So began a
recent Guardian article on a London Franšois Truffaut season, and,
indeed, the postwar popularity of French and other foreign films owed
much to Rive, who has died aged 84. His Gala Film Distributors
introduced the works of Truffaut and the nouvelle vague to audiences
Born in Canonbury, north London, the son of a
cinematographer, Rive was a child actor, whose film appearances included
Das Geheimnis Des Abbe X (Behind The Altar, 1927) and the Conrad Veidt
movie Rasputin, Dńmon Der Frauen (Rasputin, Demon With Women, 1930).
He worked for
British intelligence during the war, and afterwards became a cinema
manager. Then, in 1952, he bought the leases of two cinemas in central
London, which, as the Berkeley and the Continentale, became the
foundations of a prestigious, national arthouse circuit. The appeal of
"continental films" in the 1950s and 1960s was considerable as they
often presented a more mature picture of human relationships than
Hollywood, then still constrained by the notorious production code.
Rive created Gala
Film Distributors in 1958 to feed his cinemas, and quickly expanded its
repertoire, distributing films by Resnais, Lelouch, Chabrol, Bergman,
Fellini, Bu˝uel and Kurosawa, among others. The relationship with
Truffaut went deeper than most. It began when Rive saw Les Quatre Cent
Coups (1959) just after its completion and acquired the British rights.
For many years, he maintained a small office in Paris, with Truffaut a
couple of floors above, the better to spot the best new French films.
Even after the major studios began to acquire
world rights in the increasingly popular "art movies", MGM and Columbia
still preferred to hand over to Rive the UK rights to such films as
Sophia Loren's Oscar-winning Two Women (1960) and Fellini's La Dolce
Vita (also 1960). Gala held sway with its cinemas in most major cities
playing subtitled films, and Rive was president of the Cinema Exhibitors
Association from 1970-72.
declined during the 1970s, and Hollywood espoused more adult themes,
Rive decided to link his for tunes with the BBC. By mid-decade, he had
established a relationship which ensured that Gala's increasingly risky
acquisition costs were covered by a television pre-sale; in return, the
corporation got the films for screening less than a year after their
release, instead of the three-year holdback then decreed by the film
In the late 1970s, depressed by increasing
problems of vandalism, Rive sold his cinemas in order to concentrate on
distribution. When Cannon's Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus took over
EMI's film division, he became a director, and was head of UK
distribution for Cannon from 1984-89. Gala became Cannon-Gala, and
Cannon funding made possible more ambitious acquisitions, among them
Claude Berri's Jean De Florette (1986) and Kieslowski's A Short Film
About Killing (1988).
After Cannon fell
under the control of Gian Carlo Paretti, however, Gala regained its
independence; its later releases included The Double Life Of Veronique
(1991), and the charming Take Care of My Cat, its last acquisition, with
the BBC, which is currently on release.
Rive also dabbled in
production, including During One Night (1961) with the young Susan
Hampshire and, for a while, owned the Arts Theatre. A dapper, urbane and
unruffled presence at all the major film festivals, he notably lacked
either pretension or snobbery, and, a diligent fundraiser to the end,
was chief barker of the Variety Club in 1962.
He is survived by
his two sons and two daughters.
Kenneth Rive, film
distributor, Born July 26 1918; died December 30 2002
Kenneth Rive, Gala Films,
Film distributor, Truffaut, Resnais, Lelouch, Chabrol, Bergman, Fellini,
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