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The Tentacle


March 7, 2006

Oscar's Big Fear

Roy Meachum

If you watched Sunday night's Oscars, you likely missed the source of my Friday morning frustrations on WFMD. Most weeks I am forced to give down-beat answers to upbeat Bob Miller, one of those truly remarkable human beings who can find the least trace of sunlight in the darkest jungle.

Keeping in mind his Morning Express's middle-of-the road audience, I attempt to seek out a movie that matters to that crowd. No prior-censorship comes into play. Neither Bob nor the Clear Channel nabobs get into the game when I try to figure out where you can spend your movie dollar.

Regular as clockwork, the local theatres change their bills for impending weekends; many a time and oft, their screens have less and less appeal to the likes of you, and me. They offer material for highly selective strands of a particular demographic segment.

But that's not the face Hollywood put on public display Sunday.

Odds-on favorite Best Picture nominee, "Brokeback Mountain," crashed in the face of the megabucks promotion staged for "Crash." The estimated $15 million campaign more than doubled the cost of the movie itself: an official $6 million.

"Crash" flitted through theaters in May, leaving behind barely a trace, chased away by indifferent reviews and ticket sales to match. It takes no genius to understand, egos aside; all that dough went to boost sales for the DVD version, released as long ago as September. O ye of little faith!

Nobody lifted a hand (or voice) during the televised ceremonies to lay claim to shoveling millions out the door; the expectation of using Hollywood's highest honor to clean up at the box office went out the window.

It may have had something to do with the fuss among the flick's producers. Cathy Schulman and Paul Haggis, the pair that picked up statues, are on the outs with Bob Yari, who is credited with putting together the cash to get the production made.

That fits the basic definition of a producer, at least in my book. But Hollywood's powers-that-be twice rejected the money man's appeal to be listed in the credits so he might take away an Oscar if lightening struck. It did!

Mr. Yari may or may not have been watching when Ms. Schulman and Mr. Haggis picked up their prizes, leaving him a Mr. Cellophane, a total zero, the man who wasn't there.

In the event, with contracts in hand, the whole gang together with distributor Lions Gate will line up for DVD sales and rentals, which have become a major source of movies' revenues.

That's not what we heard Sunday. Oscars' president Sid Ganis led a cheering section that promoted the notion that movies must be seen on the big screen; reducing size, they claimed, sacrificed quality and impact.

I've heard a version of that refrain before: Fifty years ago faced with deletion's rise, Debbie Reynolds and Carleton Carpenter became traveling salesmen for the slogan: Movies are better than ever. They weren't, of course.

This time around we are being fed the line: You can't really see a full-fledged flick on the small DVD screen. Given today's ticket prices, the ubiquitous nature of machines and the convenience of having private screenings for family and friends, it's a losing proposition.

And the industry knows it.

There's no way else to explain theatres' week-after-week bookings, destroying any remaining sentiment that Hollywood retains a hold on general popularity. It doesn't. Well, rarely.

What's left provided the substance for this week's program broadcast they claimed to a billion viewers around the world. Maybe.

On the local scene, we continue to suffer from the chains' reluctance to offer Frederick anything but sure moneymakers.

Judith Dench's "Mrs. Henderson Presents" came to town only last Friday; it figures to be gone before the next Saturday rolls around. She put on a splendid show but lost to Best Actress Reese Witherspoon's June Carter Cash in "Walk the Line."

We managed to grab Philip Seymour Hoffman's singularly brilliant turn as "Capote," thanks to what appears to have been a booking fluke that left a single screen open for but seven days. Still I am grateful. I wouldn't have missed Mr. Hoffman's turn for the world. He richly earned his Oscar.

We will probably receive a repeat screening of "Crash," but expect only a limited engagement.

Meanwhile, we're off tonight to catch Billy Joel's musical, "Movin' Out." It's at Baltimore's Hippodrome Theatre. We'll tell you all about it Friday morning, on Bob Miller's Morning News Express, on WFMD-930.

We'll drop by shortly after 8:30. Be there!



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