Friday, December 09, 2011

The Tyranny of Limited Release

As a movie buff, I have often chafed at the tyranny of limited release of certain movies. Until now I have suffered in silence but no more. I call upon all my fellow cinema-goers not living in New York and Los Angeles (always the only two cities where "limited release" movies are first , well, released) to rise in mass protest at this archaic, humiliating and downright stupid practice by studio honchos and their evil marketers.

My outrage has boiled over because I have to wait two more weeks before I can see "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" in San Jose, California, the soul of Silicon Valley.

Who decides which cities to release cerebral, unconventional movies first? There is absolutely no data to suggest that New Yorkers and Angelenos are among the most discerning of moviegoers. Nor is there any proof that, financially (the only criterion that matters to film producers and distributors), New York and Los Angeles represent the best markets. Yet this practice of limited release continues as if it is an infallible pillar of our democracy!

What I find most infuriating is the biting, insulting, condescending tag attached to a limited release movie: "Wider Release to Follow." Oh really? Thanks a lot for letting us know. We bumpkins should be grateful that our chance will come only after the sophisticates of New York and Los Angeles have had a chance to view the movie and discuss its merits and demerits casually over coffee.

Here is the "limited release" schedule for le Carre's thriller: "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy opens this week (December 9) in New York and Los Angeles; Dec. 16 in Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington; and Dec. 23 in Dallas, Denver, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland, Ore., St. Louis, San Diego, San Jose, Calif., Seattle and Austin, Texas, with wider release to follow."

I saw the magnificent BBC production of "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" in 1979. I watched it with my newlywed wife who had no stomach for thrillers but who fell in love with this one. George Smiley is as unforgettable in his way as Sherlock Holmes was when I discovered the genius of 221B Baker Street as a kid. I think le Carre is the supreme practitioner in his field. His portrayal of the dark and brutal underpinnings of the cold war is without parallel. Hence my infinite interest in seeing this remake of his masterpiece three decades later.

What brought me to my bursting point was le Carre's own take on the movie: "Once in a lifetime, if a novelist is very lucky, he gets a movie made of one of his books that has its own life and truth. This is the achievement of Tomas Alfredson and his team. Yet I have been asked if an American audience — accustomed to the speed and dash of most movie-making today — will have the concentration span needed to follow an intelligently paced narrative of some complexity? I believe that audiences are far better at doing this than film-makers give them credit for. This is a movie that entertains superbly and thrillingly at its own pace and rhythm — a hypnotic movie that takes you over completely. I don’t believe that any audience, once introduced to it, will be able to take its eyes off the screen.In profound ways, it is touching and often alarming. In less profound ways, it is exciting and occasionally very funny. Its complexities are a pleasure to share, and the more so since the movie gently explains them and delivers a satisfying dénouement.It is a work of art that stays with you, as good works of art do."

Can any movie buff remain still after this? Can you blame me, or any of my fellow sufferers in Silicon Valley, if we were to march down Main Street in protest at this outrageous injustice, this injustice of having to wait for two more weeks to see "TTSP" in our beloved San Jose?

"Why don't you go to San Francisco next week," you may say, "or even to Los Angeles for today's viewing, if you are such an aficionado? People drive to LA every day!"

We will do no such thing as a matter of principle. We will see movies in our own town and in no other. Going to see movies in other cities because it is not available in ours is the hallmark of an unfaithful and shallow human being.

But the producers and the distributors of movies have to shape up, and they better shape up quickly. We will launch mass movements if the tyranny of "limited release" is not lifted before the end of 2011. That's a promise.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Try seeing a decent film in Kansas. You'll wish you were in San Jose.