Wednesday, October 29, 2008

And then, one year later...

Well, it has been a year of trying to keep this blog up and running. It was started on the eve of a great seismic shift the moviegoing/film distribution landscape of Baltimore city. My goal was to keep track of the changes in my movie habits and the patterns of film exhibition around town.

Here we are one year later, and things are certainly looking a lot different. Perhaps the best example of this change is evident at the Charles. One year ago, the theater was showing films like Into the Wild and The Darjeeling Limited. Now it is showing films like Sex Drive and High School Musical 3: Senior Year.

Times have changed, in more ways than one.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


So... today's City Paper announced that High School Musical 3: Senior Year is coming to the Charles theater this Friday. It will replace films like Before I Forget, a French film about an H.I.V. positive gay hustler contemplating his mortality.

HSM 3 at the Charles is certainly not the first sign of the end times, but still a shocking development, at least at first.

After some time to compose myself, I could see some precedent. The theater did show the musical version of Hairspray, which co-starred Zach Ephron, chief heartthrob of the series. It is also true that the theater has an opportunity to show a popular film in a time when clearance keeps most films of that stripe far away.

Still, with Sex Dive opening the same day at the Charles, is this an indicator of things to come?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Film Exhibition in Baltimore- September 2008

This month I will concentrate on some scant data involving two local theaters.

Someone I work with in my main job mentioned that the Charles theater had been sold. I found this pronouncement baffling, so I decided to investigate. I found the following article, which explained the situation.

John Standiford has sold his share of the Charles to James "Buzz" Cusack. John remains on as a projectionist and a programmer of the revival series. As I am a dedicated follower of that series, this is great news.

It does not seem like a deal is imminent, but it does give one pause to consider the next life cycle for the place. Buzz and John have had a heck of a run with it, but it has changed hands in the past, and seems clear it will do so again. The idea of the theater joining a chain of other independent theaters sounds promising, as it would give them some muscle against the Landmark.

Certainly, business has picked up, and based on the Charles theater website, there are operas, ballets, and even a contemporary French film series on the horizon. Still, we are left with the question of what the future holds for the Charles, a question that is not being asked for the first time.

Over at the Senator, they recently celebrated their sixty-ninth anniversary quietly, running a series of ads in the newspaper. There were several lines that stuck out, at least to me. Here is the text as it ran in the Sun on Sunday, October 5th. I have emphasized the lines I find most interesting:

Today is the Senator's Sixth-Ninth Anniversary!

On October 5th, 1939 a gala was held to celebrate the Senator's opening. The new theater's graceful, art-deco design, state-of-the-art amenities & technical sophistication was praised by all. It was an inspiring vision of the future at a time when our nation's future was threatened and uncertain.

During its 69 year history of family ownership & operation the Landmark Senator has achieved reknown as "the people's theatre."

As we celebrate the theater's illustrious past, the Senator's primary mission is the continue to project a bright & shining vision of the future.

A transition is underway at the Senator.

As the Senator approaches its 7oth anniversary it will evolve & expand its capabilities & become the premiere entertainment venue in the region.

After reading this statement, along with another one that differs in some key ways that ran in the Saturday paper, it dawned on me that maybe the Senator isn't going to show movies anymore.

I have no factual basis for this claim. Still, you have to notice that there is no mention of films or movies anywhere in the write-up, even when mentioning the original opening. It is also implied that any changes that are made are in alignment with the original vision of the theater. We are also living in a time when "our nation's future is threatened and uncertain," and a theater like the Senator, which has been noted as being in debt so severe at to warrant an analogy with a terminally ill patient on life support, mentioning this is to me interesting as well. Certainly, if you can't make money after your competition has been pushed aside by clearance and you are running the No. 1 movie in America at all times. how can you make money in the movie exhibtion business?

In the Saturday ad, there were some differences in an abbreviated version of the text I consider worth examining.

As we celebrate the Senator's rich history, its primary mission is to evolve with the times & remain a futuristic, innovative facility.

An operational transition is in progress at the Senator...

Certainly, an operational transition sounds more intense than just a simple transition, but I can't put my finger on why. I also think that to evolve with the times you need to stop going to the movies so much and watch movies you stole on your laptop, like most people.

Certainly, the Senator would make a top-notch music/ event hall, and I think once you go in that direction, it is hard to maintain a regular screening schedule, as exhibtion contracts state you have to show such and such a movie on so many occasions a day for such and such a length of time (for proof of this, look at some of the movies limping along at a screening a day at theaters like the Muvico 24). How can you do that if Garrison Keillor is dishing out his homespun wisdom at your place for the weekend?

Time will tell. Certainly, the movies did very well during the last depression. We shall see how they fare this time.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Films Viewed (September 2008)

The Last Command
The Lady Eve

Tropic Thunder
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Extended Cut)
The Films of Kenneth Anger, Volume One
Who Gets to Call it Art?
Burn after Reading
The Palm Beach Story
Sweet Movie
Bombay Talkie
Helen, Queen of the Nautch Girls
A Girl Cut in Two
The Charles
The Senator/ The Rotunda
The Landmark
Other (DVD, On Demand, Suburban Multiplex)
Total: 13 features, 1 short film, 1 collection of short films (7 in theaters)

Notes: This month I got to see movies like The Last Command which was a silent film with live musical accompaniment from the Alloy Orchestra. I got to see movies like Towelhead and A Girl Cut in Two, which came and went without much fanfare (Towelhead clings to a screening a day at the Landmark). I got to see Burn after Reading which was funny and excellent once it got going (proximity to DC and exposure to that weird rarefied wealthy world may have helped a bit). I got to take in various Preston Sturges films at the Charles theater revival series. I got to rent a whole bunch of films from Video Americain, some wild, some woolly. In conclusion, these are the movies I got to see this month.

(The following was written in the style of my freshman composition students, who are currently struggling with the art of the paragraph.)