Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Movie Wasn't Funny, but Its Makers Were

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," taking a break from breaking news for a little funny navel-gazing.

Do you go to the movies? I do. I don't mind going alone to see a film, so if I've got a few hours to squander, I'll take in a flick. In that way I saw "The King's Speech," which is about as good as movie-making gets.

This past Thursday evening, Mr. J and I went into Philly to an advance screening for a new movie. The producer and screenwriter were both in attendance at the screening. The idea was to create a "buzz" for the picture, since apparently they had the dough to hire Robert Redford to direct it and a cast of fairly well-known actors and actresses to appear in it, but not enough left over for a media campaign.

I'm not going to name the movie, because I only saw about half of it. I'll get to that in a minute.

First let me say that this screening did have some heavy-hitters in the audience. A mayoral candidate was there, as was Mark Bowden, the author of Black Hawk Down. (Mr. J has known Mr. Bowden for 30 years.) There were also swells from Penn and the local history museums, since the film in question is a costume drama about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

With one thing and another, Mr. J and I didn't get inside the theater until the movie was just about to start. The place was packed. Also, it was an older-style art house without the fancy seats and stadium layout you get these days at the Cineplex. Mr. J and I were forced to sit way down in the front, so that we had to lean back and practically stare straight up to see the film.

I suffer from motion sickness. No sooner had the doggone thing started than I began to feel queasy. About an hour into it, my choices were either to make a scene in the theater by becoming ill, or just getting up and going out into the lobby. I chose the latter.

The thing about motion sickness is that, as soon as you remove the irritant causing it, it goes away. But this queasiness didn't go away. It got worse. Turns out I was in the beginning phases of a light bout of stomach flu. Thank goodness I didn't have to run for the bathroom, but I also did not return to the theater.

Anyway, I was sitting in the lobby, just me and the two dudes who were selling tickets and popcorn. All of a sudden, out came the producer and the screenwriter, and they ensconced themselves in seats that were near me.

You would think that they would leave well-enough alone, especially considering the fact that there were two other movies being screened in the art house at that time. But no. These two swells started up a chat with me. The first thing the producer said was, "Oh my. You didn't like the film?"


I replied, "Oh no, I liked the film, but I was sitting in the front, and I got motion sickness." Trying to put a good ol' spin on it, I added, "So you see? You've already sold a ticket, because now I'll have to go back and pay to see how it ends."

(This is the moment that separates the Hollywood A-listers from the Hollywood wannabes. An A-list producer would have given me his card and instructed me to call his office for free tickets for myself and my friends. This guy's eyes lit up. Aha! A sale!)

Then I asked, "There's a really nice art house over in New Jersey. It's called The Ritz. Will this be showing there?"

The producer said he didn't know. I said, oh well, I could always look on Fandango.

To which the producer looked at the screenwriter and said, "Wow, we ought to look into being listed on Fandango."

It's hard to break into the Hollywood scene, as any Sundance finalist will tell you. But one would think that this producer would at least have consulted his A-list director to find out the basics of distribution. And one would also think that a producer might have a BlackBerry or other palm device that he could consult to find out exactly where his film would be opening in major metropolitan areas.

Then they began to ask me politely whether or not I'd liked what I saw, to which I politely replied in the affirmative, even though it's hard to get excited about a movie when you feel like you're going to throw up in the middle of it.

Apropos of nothing, the screenwriter asked me, "Do you know much about the Civil War?"

Maybe it's just me, but I thought that question was impertinent. What sort of American would answer in the negative to that?

I replied, "Do I know much about the Civil War? Oh, I suppose I know as much as anyone would who grew up five miles from Antietam Battlefield."

Don't you admire my restraint? I said nothing about the two great-great-great uncles buried in the red Georgia clay at Andersonville, nothing about working in Harper's Ferry when I was a teen, nothing about close friends who do extreme re-enactments, nothing about multiple school field trips to all the area battlefields where I grew up, nothing about the regiment, unit, and division of my four direct ancestors whose service I have documented from the National Archives, nothing about my membership in the nearly-defunct Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic, nothing about the two biographies of Stonewall Jackson I read in 2009, nothing about my re-tracing Jackson's forays in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, nothing about my signed copy of Maryland Civilians in the Antietam Campaign, nothing about my financial support to the successful efforts at keeping shopping centers from being built at the boundaries of Antietam Battlefield, nothing about my favorite blog post, "Pickett's Slots," about the travesty of a casino being built in Gettysburg, nothing about my special invitation to the premiere of Gods and Generals in Hagerstown, nothing about my dear mama asleep with the Confederate dead, and nothing about passing lines of fake cannons, monuments, and tour markers every time I took a bike ride growing up.

I also did not tell this young fella that I've read the entirety of Shelby Foote's history of the war in question. Because that would be a stretcher. I stopped midway through Volume Three.

Nor did I tell him that upper class people in the 1860s did not say, "Uh huh," as they do in his film. Nor did young people kiss in public, as they do in the film. Nor did people get wounded in the war and then stride about exuding Hollywood health. Nor did dungeons have enough light for people to actually see into them. Nor did dirt roads look like mulched roads (they usually get this part of it right in Civil War movies). Nor did Marylanders ever speak with broad Southern accents, even those Marylanders living on the Eastern Shore.

Ah, but those are minor quibbles. The kind that will get this movie picked to pieces by all the re-enactors out there who will go to see it.

You would never know it to read this blog, but I'm a fairly likable human being. The way I go about being likable is to encourage other people to talk about themselves. So that's what I did with these two. I just started asking innocuous questions. All the while thinking to myself, "I can't believe he just asked me if I knew much about the Civil War."

I, Anne Johnson, will neither praise nor pan a movie that I have not seen in full. But this I will say. The brain trust behind this costume drama (it's the first full-length film for the production house) does not seem to me to be ready for prime time.

If you want someone to buzz your movie, you damn well should know exactly where it will be showing in the area.

If the person you're speaking to is apparently literate, you should not ask if they know much about the Civil War. Especially if your special invitees run high to Philadelphia's most prominent historians and curators.

So readers, if you want to support independent cinema, my advice to you is to click on my sidebar and contribute to the maker of Glen Rock Fae. He, at least, is not going to ask you if you know anything about faeries.



I just whistled Dixie for you and cheered..

Anne said...

SO not going to go see this movie. Thanks for the heads up!