For The Cinema
I maintain a strict policy of not voicing my own personal
opinion on the content or quality of any particular movie.
In this column I hope not to deviate from that position.
Given the very unique nature of two pictures this year,
however, and what they portend for this industry, I think
it appropriate to discuss their role in the cinema.
Each case demonstrates how theatrical release
of movies holds a primary position in the plethora of information
and entertainment options available to consumers. Neither
of these movies would have had the same impact had they
been made for television, straight-to-video or any other
version of “at home” entertainment. In significant
part, these movies had an impact because they were released
first in movie theatres.
When Mel Gibson first announced that he
intended to make a picture about the crucifixion of Jesus,
have its actors
speak in Aramaic and Latin, subtitle the picture in English,
and release it on the big screen, Hollywood seemed to respond
with a collective yawn. Mel was not deterred. He was determined
to make a movie about a subject that was very important
to him, and to put it in cinemas where people could experience
his vision collectively with all the technological prowess
of the modern motion picture theatre.
As the release of the picture approached,
great controversy surrounded it. I don’t need to repeat the issues
because you are all well steeped in that debate. But I
do want to emphasize the great success this picture had – in
the cinema. As I write this column, “The Passion
of the Christ” is zooming past $300 million in domestic
box office receipts. Regardless of your views, you have
to respect those numbers. More important, we have to respect
the choice of forum in which the picture was exhibited. “The
Passion” stimulated intense dialogue and strong opinions
in large measure because of its very public and communal
nature. Christians, Jews, and people of other religious
persuasions saw the film together, debated the film together,
and hopefully learned from each other together. There will
now be more pictures produced on religious themes. The
nature of the cinema, and the type of patron coming to
your theatres, has been changed forever.
On a much smaller commercial level, but
perhaps equally important for the future of the cinema,
I also champion
the theatrical release of Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The
Dreamers.” Fox Searchlight could have demanded edits
in the film to secure an “R” rating, but they
did not. Instead, “The Dreamers” was released
un-cut with an “NC-17” rating, as it should
Each rating within the system has a purpose.
The validity of the entire system cannot survive without
use. Moreover, the artistic vision of filmmakers will always
be in jeopardy when studios attempt to force their creations
into a particular rating box.
Many commentators have perpetuated a myth
that theatres won’t play NC-17 pictures and that newspapers won’t
accept advertisements for such films. The release of “The
Dreamers” has dispelled both of those myths. Theatres
played the picture and newspapers advertised it. My compliments
to Steve Gilula and his colleagues at Fox Searchlight for
understanding this, for protecting Bertolucci’s artistic
vision, and for using the rating system as it was intended.
I strongly encourage other studios to follow their lead.
These two pictures could not have been more
different. And yet they both stand out for the important
that the cinema is an open forum. As theatre operators,
you stand at the forefront of a First Amendment that is
alive and well. In this country, and in all the free countries
of the world, people make films about important and controversial
topics. They “put it out there.” And they put
it in theatres first.