One Hundred Films and a Funeral

One Hundred Films and a Funeral

One Hundred Films and a Funeral

One Hundred Films and a Funeral


Many Europeans have dreamed of a film studio able to challenge Hollywood on its own ground. Only one post-war company has come close-- PolyGram Filmed Entertainment.

This book is a brilliant account of the life and death of PolyGram Films seen through the eyes of its British President, Michael Kuhn. He describes the beginnings of the company, in London and LA, in the heyday of the '80s and its subsequent meteoric growth throughout the next decade.

In the words of Sir Alan Parker, "Michael Kuhn is the visionary who created the most successful global company outside of Hollywood. He achieved this with a most unusual premise: championing original and creative work, coupled with imaginative marketing and distribution, and remarkable honesty and fiscal accountability. He failed, of course, but he very nearly pulled it off. Kuhn's candid first-hand account of PolyGram Films' success and demise is a must read for anyone interested in the brutally sharp end of the business of film, or anyone who ever wondered why the films emanating from the Hollywood machine are mostly crap."

Combining critical acclaim and popular success with such films as Wild at Heart, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Fargo and Notting Hill, PolyGram Films garnered ten Oscars from 1991 until 1998, when its potential was unexpectedly and unaccountably destroyed.

This is not only a story of deals won and lost in a ruthless world peopled by titans, sharks, peacocks and all the usual suspects, but a real business adventure that changed the structure of the global film industry.

The book includes valuable appendices: The Players; Chronology; Timeline; Film List; Film Credits; Awards; PolyGram Companies; Corporate Structure.


The end, as is often the case, couldn’t have been more mundane. In mid 1998, I was sitting in my top floor conference room at PolyGram’s London offices in St. James Square (‘toney St. James Square’ as Variety would say). My assistant told me that my boss, Alain Lévy, wished to see me in the boardroom. As I had done hundreds of times before, I climbed the two flights of stairs to the very modern but rather anonymous boardroom on the fourth floor, where I found Alain smiling nervously and chain smoking.

‘Guess What?’ he said.

I gave him the pause he was looking for and then he continued ‘The buggers have sold us’. By ‘buggers’ he meant Philips, one of Holland’s largest companies. Philips owned approximately 75 per cent of PolyGram and had been selling light bulbs and other stuff for the last 100 years from their base in Eindhoven in the Netherlands. More about them in due course.

It was pretty clear that things were bad. When a company owns another company with such a large shareholding and decides to sell it, there’s generally no way to stop them. And so began futile, but strenuous efforts on behalf of the management of PolyGram, myself and Alain Lévy included, to try to save PolyGram from annihilation. Rather predictably, this effort failed and what had been a wonderful European company is now no more — perhaps only existing in the memory of those people who spent their careers building it up and creating fabulous values for their shareholders.

This story does not concentrate so much on the greater part of the PolyGram story — the wonderful collection of assets that at one time comprised music publishing catalogues such as Chappell, classical music . . .

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