Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Film Distribution Frustrations and Unfortunate Implications.

What do Invictus, Red Tails and 42 all have in common with my favourite mainstream movie theatre, Rainbow Cinemas? They were all films that were initially scheduled for that theatre, complete with posters displayed both on the frames at the outlet and on the website. Then, they are unceremoniously removed from the schedule before their release date by their distributors over the theatre management's objections and their main run is restricted to a handful of other theatres in the city.

They are also all serious dramas with black men being the lead characters of the stories. That is a relationship that feels all the more disconcerting and illogical considering they were supposed to be up for a wide release and you'd think going back on that would be obviously counter-productive. So, given that fact, the obvious possibility that comes to mind is a racist assumption that there is no point giving those films the widest release they can get. Even when I heard reasons like Invictus had to have a certain auditorium seating capacity in a theatre to be shown is ridiculous considering that a wide release would mean a selection of cinemas with a great combined seating availability.

I know there are deviations from this pattern; the 2011 Oscar winning silent film, The Artist, was similarly pulled from Rainbow's schedule and Ali, the biopic about Muhammad Ali ran there without a problem in 2001.  However, that does not take away from the fact that it seems the majority of films I notice that get this treatment have the above racial connotation. How much this observation of mine is actually real is a matter I can't prove considering I don't have a list of distributed films that were treated in this way. However, there is a saying, "Once is Happenstance, Twice is Coincidence, Three times is Pattern," and it's a pattern that is deeply frustrating for myself who want to see such films, and the cinema managements who want to show them.

It would make more sense if it was the standard platforming limited release pattern for art films that is designed to build buzz to attract the audiences for such a film.  I respect that pattern, if only it means that deserving films don't get jerked around like the above films. Even if they were shown only at The Hyland, at least it's at a cinema I can go to with reasonable ease with good ticket prices. The difference is that there are no false or thwarted expectations involved for films and we the audience are not treated as disposable. Even the logic of 42's early distribution baffles me: I can see some "arty" films being restricted to the higher class multiplexs like SilverCity, but why Empire on Wellington, the rattiest cinema in London with the worst major bus route section in the city, got one of the only 2 prints in the city with SilverCity defies all logic.

Fortunately, 42 is emulating its hero, Jackie Robinson, and is a major hit that is breaking through with a wider release starting this Friday, including Rainbow.  So, I will get to enjoy a decent drama film without the expensive bother of getting to SilverCity or Empire after enduring the usual early year movie dump months.   I just wish this kind of distribution practice would be replaced with something logical for once.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Roger Ebert: a Subject Retrospective

Roger Ebert had his funeral yesterday and I thought that a follow up on my personal thoughts about his
legacy would be in order.

For one thing, Ebert's website has now been completely redesigned with a search function that is finally working again.  On this site, you can enjoy all of Ebert's reviews, essays and blog updates that made him such a force in modern film culture. My only disappointment is that apparently of Ebert's Answer Man posts have been deleted which means I may likely never find the answers to my questions again that Ebert was kind enough to answer. Still, it is a fitting archive for such a great writer and I hope it stays up for years to come.

However, many of us first learned of Roger through his TV shows and I thought a few clips of some of his most interesting stuff would be order.

For instance, we know about his pans like for North, which he "Hated, hated, hated..." and Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo which he bluntly said as a Pulitizer Prize winning journalist that it "sucks," but how about we see a modern film which he loved in its initial release?  

Well, you can just take a look at his TV review of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, a masterpiece of animation with a nearly seamless integration of story and visual technique that was an unforgettable cinematic experience.  Just watching Ebert gush about this film is a treat as he praises a blockbuster film that deserved to be one.

However, I already said that I loved the special episodes that shed so much light on film and I thought posting a few on youtube would be called for.

For instance, "What's Wrong with Home Video" is a fascinating look at the early days of video film releases that is painful and hilarious watch for the utter incompetence we had to put up with on home video in the 1980s and how we have it better to a degree with DVD, Blu-ray with letterboxed films on widescreen TVs being the norm. 

However, you can see their more serious topic episodes, such as violence against women in film, which is included in the video clip here No other movie reviews on TV would have done this where a serious artistic discussion takes place that respects her. I haven't have cable TV for years, but so I don't know if anyone bothers now. 

Finally, you can see Ebert and Siskel on their anniversary show at the height of their success, enjoying a long reign that still had plenty of years to go. 

It is all a collection of memories and commentaries that we can treasure today and can inspire other to emulate a great talent like Ebert.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Roger Ebert: Goodbye and Thank You.

Yesterday, the movie world lost a revealing light in its vista and I lost an inspiration.  Roger Ebert finally lost his battle with cancer that claimed his voice and later his life, but never his spirit.

I first really began to follow him in the mid-1980s.  Before him, movies were predominately those boring long TV shows that ran constantly on the syndication TV stations I watched like WKBD in Detroit that too often seemed to have nothing to do with me except for newer films like Star Wars and Superman. The fact that I lived for years in the country and small communities like Strathroy and Comber, miles from any cinema, made the whole concept terribly remote to me.

However, after getting a preliminary taste with PBS' post-Siskel and Ebert Sneak Previews with  Jeffrey Lyons and Michael Medved, I discovered the real thing when Detroit's WXYZ ran Siskel and Ebert's commercial show on early Sunday evenings at 6:30 pm.  It was like the clouds of muddled perceptions about film had parted from my eyes and the pair showed me what I should have enjoyed from the beginning.

Roger Ebert espoused his love of cinema in ways I could understand as a teenager and broadened my horizons to introduce me to a world of art that was far beyond anything I could have dreamed.  I especially loved his special topic shows like his attack on film colorization as explained in the attached video here. With clips selection as the truest of cineophiles could do, Ebert showed a whole new perspective about film that transcended my superficial kid notions into a deeper appreciation I never thought I could have. Just understanding the silvery beauty of Casablanca's black and white cinematography, and the larger art of it, is a gift I will always treasure from Roger.

I dare say that he raised my tastes and allowed me to stretch out and enjoy film in ways I never dreamed possible without his influence. I still remember a Saturday night in 1988 in Goderich when I was home alone, bored with nothing on TV, but knowing that the drama film, The Accused, was at the Park Theatre. Roger's opinion was not directly on my mind at that time, but surely he was the reason why I ran all the way to the box office and see it and deeply enjoy the deeper philosophical issues behind it.  However, I do know that Roger's review, at least indirectly, did finally push me to see The Nasty Girl, my first subtitled foreign language film in 1990 at The Bookshelf Cinema in Guelph and a wider cinematic world opened up for me.

Since then, I came to love cinema and Roger Ebert's writing played a lot in building that passion. His insights, his knowledge and his long rich career inspired me to review performing art myself, whether it's on the stage or on the screen in London.  Although I have drifted more to consulting Rotten Tomatoes' general scoring for my moviegoing choices and reading the reviews themselves later, the film experience I love is became so much more with Ebert's help. The fact that he even took the time to answer the occasion question I wrote to him was a magical thing in of himself.

While I didn't agree with all Roger's reviews such as with Pixar's Cars 2 which he liked and I loathed as Pixar's betrayal of its artistic integrity or his relatively lukewarm review of How to Train Your Dragon, which I regard as one of the greatest animated features of all time, his opinions were something always to consult and value.

Now, I restart this blog to express my own thoughts about film and I just wanted to have this one last thought for my journalistic hero:

Thank you Roger, you guided me into seeing a powerful art in all its glory and embarrassments.  I go to my art house cinema, The Hyland whenever I can as well as the multiplexs and enjoy the movies, an art you helped me understand and love a little like you did. There will never be a writer and a critic like you and I hope I can achieve one tenth of the insights you had.  See you at the movies in spirit while I sit in that darkened room, and hope I can be something of what you became for us all.