Friday, December 19, 2008

Changes at the Senator

It was announced via town hall meeting last evening that the Senator theater as we know it is coming to an end. I will post a link to this article for now, and will update and revise as time warrants with my notes from the meeting as well as my thoughts on yet another seismic shift in the film exhibition landscape in Baltimore.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Film Exhibition in Baltimore (December 2008)

You will note that I have decided to change the month by which I track this post, as it tends to reflect the current moment as opposed to the past. There shall be no November 2008 post.

Three things on my mind, currently:

Topic One: Is the Landmark Harbor East homophobic?

There has been an interesting change in the pattern at the new theater in town, the Landmark Harbor East. Apparently, they will show any film that will maximize their profit share unless it deals with homosexuality (and the attendant and ongoing struggle for equal rights in that community) in a frank and open way.

Once you discount the fluke of the success of Slumdog Millionaire, which no movie suit predicted (it was apparently headed straight to DVD at one point), it makes no sense as to why Landmark would not be playing Milk. It is right up their alley in every way. It is another film for Mark Cuban to swipe from the Charles as he laughs and blow smoke from a cigar lit with a hundred dollar bill in the theater's face.

I am certainly not accusing the Landmark chain of being homophobic, as to look at their national exhibition picture shows several arthouses that are clearly gay friendly. So, my question is: was the decision not to play Milk based on having too many hits to handle already, or is there a policy of some kind in place at Landmark Harbor East?

It is certainly also possible that letting the Charles have Milk is based on its location near the heart of Baltimore's LGBT community. But something seems odd about the whole thing to me. I guess we shall see the next time a film like this comes down the pike. In any case, the film is having a successful run at the Charles, and this is a good thing for the theater.

Topic Two: Does the Arthouse have a future in Baltimore?

As discussed in a prior post, the Charles has cut the nine o'clock screenings on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays from the schedule, prime time for college kids and those of the cineaste stripe among us to catch the films they want to see. This is outrageous to some, and another clear sign that the theater is catering to and getting more support from the greatest generation and the boomers than the youth of today.

It is extremely unfortunate that these screenings were cut, but financial concerns were involved. I wish that the next generation of film lovers were coming out to see these films in enough numbers to justify the screenings, but I know in my heart that the next generation of film lovers is moving away from the arthouse.

In conversations with young (and gen-x) lovers of film, it is clear that they get their movies on their laptops and Netflix most of the time, and do not understand the need to sit with a group of people in a darkened room and watch something projected on film more than a few times a year. Of course, I get a true and resonant enjoyment from this regular communal experience, but, to them, it is as antiquated a practice as reading a daily newspaper.

It is then only logical that a new paradigm is needed, as this is a business without a future. Perhaps the Senator's current move to non-profit status is an acknowledgment that the need now is for preservation as opposed to profit.

Topic Three: Why the heck are so many films opening on Christmas day?

I don't get it. How am I supposed to choose between The Spirit, Doubt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Reader, Valkyrie, and Frost/ Nixon, all scheduled to open in Baltimore on Christmas day? Outside of skipping out on my friends and family, I don't see options that allow me to take it all in over the holidays. Why is all this product is being dumped on this day into our market?

Of course, I must remember that some of these films will live on, being passed from theater to theater for months and months. Despite my warm memories of seeing the film back in August, I am beginning to think that Vicky Cristina Barcelona was about zombies, as it is clearly the film that will not die when it comes to Baltimore movie houses.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Films Viewed (November 2008)

Christmas in July
The Foot Fist Way
The Great Moment
Quantum of Solace
Falstaff (Chimes at Midnight)
Let the Right One In
Joy Division
Trouble the Water
Rosemary's Baby
Youth of the Beast
Synecdoche, New York
Slumdog Millionaire
Wu: The Story of the Wu-tang Clan
The Charles
The Senator/The Rotunda
The Landmark
Other (Enoch Pratt Free Library, Video Americain, Suburban Multiplex)
Total: 16 features (12 in theaters)

Notes: It is hard not to notice that I did not darken the doors of the Senator or the Landmark for the entire month. I guess I have a profound lack of interest in Christmas comedies and teenage vampires.

Pre-teen Swedish vampires, on the other hand, were well worth checking out. Let the Right One In was a surprising, disturbing, subversive good time even for someone who explores the horror genre sparingly. I guess when it comes to scary premises (and realities), I am more interested in films like I.O.U.S.A.

Two music documentaries, Joy Division and Wu: The Story of the Wu-tang Clan, both benefited from reams of interesting, rarely seen footage and a personal connection with the places from which the artists came. The latter, especially, as the filmmaker grew up in the "slums of Shaolin." Perhaps not just "for fans only", these two.

Synecdoche, New York
was a head scratcher of the first order. Movies that push like this are why I still show up, and I thank the Charles for squeezing it in between screenings of Slumdog Millionaire and Milk (now playing on two screens).

Otherwise, it was revivals and Bond movies, starmaking turns and ugly realities. Not a bad time at the movies, all in all.

Up next, some commentary on film exhibition in general.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Changes at the Charles (Redux)

(So much information to add that I felt it best to just re-post a revised version of the previous, with added CGI effects)

It should be noted that the nine o'clock round of film screenings on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays at the Charles has been cut. The screenings were cut for financial reasons, as too few patrons were showing up to justify keeping the theater open. The timing is particularly strange on this, as the theater has been especially busy recently thanks to the success of Slumdog Millionaire. A lively conversation on this controversial decision has been taking place over at Beatbots, which you may wish to join. Go here for more.

Also, Robocop, Back to the Future, and Home Alone have been chosen as midnight movies in an employee-led effort to bring this practice back. Each film will screen Friday at Midnight and Saturday at noon. Robocop will be projected digitally on December 5th and 6th. Back to the Future will screen on December 12th and 13th. Home Alone will screen on December 19th and 20th. I have heard there may be an actual print of one of the second two selections screened. I personally am hoping that the restored print of Home Alone, which the good people at the Criterion Collection have labored on so painstakingly, will make its way to Baltimore. For more information on their epic journey to save this classic film, click here.

Up next, my monthly films list for November.