Take Three: ‘Chimes at Midnight’

April 14, 2009 § Leave a comment

Editor’s note: Take Three is a occasional feature at Roundtable Pictures in which Gina Carbone, Mike Gillis and Lars Trodson review the same film.

How Ill YouTube Becomes ‘Chimes at Midnight’

By Gina Carbone

I hope for Orson Welles’ sake the medium is not the message. At least, not when it comes to watching “Chimes at Midnight” in its most readily available format: You Tube.

Welles’ 1965 film on Shakespeare’s recurring character, Sir John Falstaff (played by Welles himself with doughy bravado), is apparently mired in who-owns-this? issues and unavailable in the United States . You can get it as an import DVD/VHS or you can watch the 11-part hatchet job for free on You Tube.

While it’s a truly an applause-worthy treat to have the film Welles was most proud of available in the world’s video common room, there’s nothing from “Seven Samurai” to “The House Bunny” that can be withstand being viewed in 10-minute segments on a tiny screen, with commentary posted underneath it like a VH1 “Pop-Up Video.”

For example, the climactic scene where playboy Prince Hal/Henry V (Keith Baxter) has delivered a fatal blow to ambitious rival Henry “Hotspur” Percy (Norman Rodway) includes a moving as-I-lay-dying recitation by Rodway.

“O Harry, thou hast robbed me of my youth!

I better brook the loss of brittle life

Than those proud titles thou hast won of me….”

It’s a beautiful scene, even with a You Tube poster asking “At 9:47, is it a car passing by in the background at the very left?”

I’m easily distracted by things around me — e-mails popping up, something the cat is doing, those comments under the screen — and I doubt I’m alone, which is why going to a dark theater with a huge screen is still the best way to view anything.

I tried to blow the picture up to full screen, but the video quality — never good to begin with — just got more distorted with size.

Grateful You Tube posters sent their thanks for having this available online and I am glad it was there, too, but I can only wonder if Welles would appreciate this format. Does the end of a larger audience justify the means?

What would Sir John Gielgud — a rock of cold, lofty perfection as Henry IV — think of seeing his “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown” speech cut off mid-stream between parts seven and eight?

Even putting aside the medium, “Chimes at Midnight” has its issues. You can’t blame the out-of-sync dialogue on You Tube, but it’s also impossible to ignore as it turns scenes into badly dubbed Japanimation. Some of the dialogue is unintelligible, and paired with a disjointed format it makes following the film more difficult than it should be.

Despite the low budget production and imperfect medium, this is clearly the work of a director in his prime. The artistry is sumptuous and deserves a bigger venue than a computer screen.

No one frames a shot like Welles. No one uses light like him. The fluidity of movement. The angles, the symmetry, the beauty. Just having shadows and light form what looks like bars on the walls of a castle. Simple to do, but it takes a visual master to carefully plan such perfect contrasts. Credit also goes to cinematographer Edmond Richard, but the look is so Welles you could check each shot for his fingerprints.

The battle of Shrewsbury alone –- the film’s most famous scene –- is such a textbook lesson in how to shoot battle scenes it’s influenced every such scene since (most notably “Braveheart”).

The music, the mud, the shots from horses legs, the cuts fast enough to please Tarantino. And through it all, the humor, as embodied by Falstaff and his merry mates.

Welles’ R-rated Santa Claus is everything Hal’s forbidding father is not. At one point, Falstaff and Hal put on a show for their friends; wearing a cushion and a pot as crowns, they poke fun at the king.

During the battle, Falstaff in his full armor, plays dead — leading to his famous “The better part of valor is discretion” line — but still tries to take credit for killing Percy.

At the end of the battle you can see the conflict building in Hal. The draw of ambition that ultimately propels him to cut ties with Falstaff — like the stoner buddy dumped by the friend who finally gets a real job.

And what a cold parting they have. Poor Falstaff, gleeful at the death of Henry IV, is elated at the rise of his old friend Henry V, not knowing the change that’s come.

FALSTAFF: “God save thee, my sweet boy!”

KING HENRY V: “My lord chief-justice, speak to that vain man.”

LORD CHIEF-JUSTICE: “Have you your wits? know you what ’tis to speak?”

FALSTAFF: “My king! my Jove! I speak to thee, my heart!”

KING HENRY V: “I know thee not, old man: fall to thy prayers;
How ill white hairs become a fool and jester!
… Presume not that I am the thing I was;
For God doth know, so shall the world perceive,
That I have turn’d away my former self;
So will I those that kept me company.”

Ouch! Falstaff is banished upon pain of death — basically given a restraining order of 10 miles.

In the scene, King Henry is shot from below and Falstaff from above. The merry student has become the harsh master. Daddy issues get the best of ‘em every time.

So much of the story is about Henry IV and Henry V, it’s not really fair to consider this a spotlight on Shakespeare’s supporting characters — ala “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.”

And yet it is through the lens of Henry V that we see Falstaff evolve from a lazy hedonist to a brokenhearted old man betrayed by a hypocrite.

The end of the film leaves a sad, ironic taste in our mouths — Falstaff’s coffin is wheeled away as we hear the chronicler Holinshed (Ralph Richardson), praising Henry V:

“The new king, even at first appointing, intended to put on him the shape of a new man. This Henry was a captain of such prudence and such policy that he never enterprised anything before it forecast the main chances that it might happen. So humane withal, he left no offense unpunished nor friendship unrewarded. For conclusion, a majesty was he that both lived and died a pattern in princehood, a lodestar in honor, and famous to the world always.”

“Chimes at Midnight” is a film that deserves the high-quality Criterion treatment. If anything, this 11-part YouTube posting is a sad Sally Struthers commercial someone should send to the Criterion Powers That Be. For only 10 cents a day you too could save this Orson Welles masterpiece.

And it deserves saving.


Remembrance Of Things Past: “Chimes At Midnight” by Orson Welles

By Lars Trodson

Orson Welles was the most nostalgic of the modernists. He was recognized for the way he told a story, not for the stories he invariably chose to tell. “Citizen Kane” is pulpy, after all. It was elevated by the elegance and vision of the photography and acting, and the perceptions in the screenplay. But it’s not a terribly profound story. And then came “The Stranger”, “The Lady From Shanghai” and “Touch of Evil” — all of which are potboilers, and all of which have cinematic flair unmatched by almost any other filmmaker. Welles was creating a new vocabulary for movies, but almost strictly from a visual point of view. Welles was no threat to the censors.

Given that Welles had an affection for paperback fiction — don’t condescend to this, almost everyone does — it might seem at first glance that William Shakespeare would be the ideal collaborator for Welles. Maybe Shakespeare could energize his craft. If so, we could be treated to Welles’ visual feasts while enjoying the beauty of Shakespeare’s language.

But by the time the two met up, Welles had been kicked out of Hollywood and he no longer had any money to work with. In order to enjoy Shakespeare you have to hear the words. And Welles, having apprenticed in radio and who understood the need for clarity on the soundtrack, was saddled in the 1950s with a still active cinematic imagination but equipment that was too inferior to the task.

And so it is with “Chimes At Midnight”, Welles’ 1965 remix of the King Henry plays that puts Sir John Falstaff at the center of the action. The film is now available in its entirety on You Tube, which is becoming your friendly neighborhood arthouse.

No matter the technical limitations, “Chimes At Midnight” is a beautiful film. Welles did a magnificent job of pulling the threads out of five Shakespeare plays to create this portrait of the old, dissolute, lying and gentle-souled man named Falstaff, who may be the single most beloved character Shakespeare ever created. Welles was not even 50 when filming began on the project, but he had already been looking back for some time. It’s no wonder he gravitated to Falstaff — the “false staff”, the fake king — the inveterate storyteller, the charlatan, a man who accomplished little but floated by on his charms and his connection to those more richer than he. The parallels between Welles and Falstaff have been gone over too often to repeat here. But the connection in this instance makes the experience of watching “Chimes At Midnight” richer, not poorer.

If only because we realize that while Falstaff was never really royalty, in real life Orson Welles actually was.

Once. and now he is again. The king is dead, they say, long live the king.

“Chimes At Midnight” opens with two distant characters walking slowly on the snow-covered countryside, and we hear the pipes, and it is Falstaff and Justice Robert Shallow (Alan Webb), and they are already reminiscing. “Oh the days that we have seen,” says Shallow. And they talk about people they have known, including a woman once young, but who is now “Old, old,” according to Falstaff. As they settle in near a small fire, Swallow once again tries to lighten the mood about their past exploits, but Sir John Falstaff is having little, if none of it: “We have heard
the chimes at midnight,” Falstaff says. He is not rejoicing. Falstaff, who at this point may have already been banished by the newly crowned king he loved, knows his life is nearly over.

It is then the credits roll, with horses galloping across the frame — a strong motif throughout the film — and the thrilling music by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino begins. Welles uses the old John Ford trick of putting the earth very low in the frame to make the sky seem huge and the possibilities endless. The vista goes on forever, but it is a cold, misty, fog-bound vista, and it does not look friendly.

Ralph Richardson
, reading from Holinshed’s Chronicles, sets the scene — a kingdom torn by two pretenders to the throne. In the first scene after the credits, the old King, Henry IV (John Gielgud), banishes Worcester (Fernando Rey), Henry Percy, known as Hotspur, and their father, Northumberland (Jose Nieto). The scene for the confrontation is set, but Welles is more interested in Falstaff, the stuff of comedy and meditations on what it is like to be once known and loved, only to turn old and forgotten.

We soon meet Henry VI’s son, Hal, and his youthful partner, Ned Poins (Tony Beckley) after they’ve picked Falstaff’s empty pocket. They soon propose a jest: a robbery in the woods during which they will hide Falstaff’s horse, and after which Hal and Ned will dress as the victims. They want to see how “brave” Falstaff will turn a tale of cowardice into one of bravery. Falstaff agrees, and out to the woods they go.

“How longest Jack did thou seeest thy own knee,” Hal asks Falstaff as he helps the old man put on his disguise.

The scene of the robbery in the woods is beautifully shot (by Edmond Richard), and the stands of trees look like sentinels against the white snow. Hal and Ned do indeed pretend to be those raided upon, and they chase a fleeing and frightened Falstaff into the woods. Later, when Falstaff tells the story not knowing that Hal and Ned are listening in, he lies and says he repelled an attack by two — no four, no eight! — men.

But this series of scenes, even though comic, foreshadows Hal’s betrayal of Falstaff. He loves the old man, but only as a foil, as a diversion. Hal belittles Falstaff throughout, he’s a “huge hill of flesh” or a “horseback breaker” and our hearts sink because we know — Welles knew — that Hal’s renunciation of Falstaff was soon to come.

(In the play within the play at Mistress Quickly’s roominghouse, where Falstaff lives, Hal and Falstaff play roles. In their playacting, Falstaff pathetically tries to seek reassurance that his place with Hal is secure, but Hal assures him, if only in jest, that it is not.)

The subplot that leads to the action in the movie, the enormous, panoramic Battle of Shrewesbury, begins when the aggrieved Harry Percy (Norman Rodway) begins the plot to overthrow Henry IV. Percy and King Henry IV were once allies, but a broken pact has set them against each other.

The early scenes between Percy and his wife Kate (Marina Vlady) are playful and flirtatious, and they are memorable for the fact that it is here that Welles discovers sex — that is, adult, mature, healthy sex between two people who love each other. Once the scene is set for the confrontation, Welles returns to the messy life of Sir John, who also enjoys a lover, the beautifully named Doll Tearsheet (Jeanne Moreau), which gives you an idea of how energetic a lover she must have been.

And in the meantime we also have King Henry’s disappointment with Hal. He calls him an “effeminate boy” and laments the “dissolute crew” he keeps (which includes Falstaff) — while wishing that his own son was more like Percy, whose manliness and athleticism is defined by his nickname, Hotspur.

In his choice of locales, Welles makes it supremely clear just how cold and uninviting life in a castle must have been: shut off, surrounded by stone, cavernous and dank, and almost assuredly littered with garbage, smeared with shit, with pools of rancid water lying beneath the foot. Welles, as much as any filmmaker ever has, makes you realize that the royal life is one of compromise (at least in the 15th century).

The crowning achievement in “Chimes At Midnight” is the Battle of Shrewsbury. Long famous even before the movie could be seen. it was widely believed to have influenced the battle scenes in Mel Gibson’s “Braveheart” — and it is easy to see that Gibson wasn’t influenced by them as much as he ripped them off. The battle is an undisputed cinematic achievement. It’s astonishing, tense and dramatic, and full of believable action. Something, by the way, Gibson failed at — if you look at the back of the frame in Gibson’s “action scenes” some of the extras are barely moving.

Welles, however, had everything under control, and the battle moves fluidly and realistically. The viewer never loses his place. Men look like they die, and they look like they hurt.

I get disgusted when the people who heap praise on Steven Spielberg and “Saving Private Ryan” make you think no one had ever directed a realistic battle scene before. Samuel Fuller could have done it — and just as well and even more realistically — if he had money and computer effects. But he had no money when he made “The Big Red One” — and that movie has real more heart than “Saving Private Ryan” will ever have.

But Welles, God bless him, invented a battle scene with almost no cinematic equal with no money and no effects. He just had a supreme cinematic eye, a gift for editing film, and a passion for art.

The scenes of battle are a magnificent achievement. They should be studied, they should be emulated, and they should be justly praised. But they also need to be acknowledged.

Then, after the battle, and threats to the throne have been vanquished, the old King dies. Hal ascends to the throne as Henry V. Falstaff and his friends rejoice — friends in high places, after all.

But Falstaff has not been paying attention to what Hal has been saying. He has not heard the contempt, and the ridicule. Welles makes the audience both see and hear the forthcoming betrayal all through the film. The storytelling here is masterful — in each scene we want to yell to Sir John, “Wake up!” Welles has made Shakespeare intimate — like a chamber play, a few characters playing before a tiny group of sympathetic friends.

But Falstaff has not heard Hal’s cruel rebukes. No doubt drunk, Falstaff breaks up the new king’s procession in an effort to praise his friend Hal. It is here that Hal — well, no longer Hal, but a King, after all — says “I know thee not, old man.” The humiliation is complete. Falstaff holds out a false hope: “I shall be sent for in private to him” — but the dream is over, the days are done. The only thing now before Falstaff is a barren, wintry landscape.

It is then we finally learn how truly sad the opening scene is. And it is only then that we realize how masterfully Welles has crafted the story.

We now know that it is only Justice Shallow, as he and Sir John slowly move through the snow in that first scene, who yearns for the days that the two of them have seen. It is only Justice Shallow who believes they were good days, the best days. “Jesus, the days that we have seen!” says the high-pitched Shallow. But John Falstaff never answers the memory directly. “Old, old,” he says. And then, when Justice Shallow prods his memory once again, Falstaff, looking into the embers of a fire too distant to warm the distemper in his soul, doesn’t acknowledge what Justice Shallow is saying. Falstaff only knows that the good old memories are over. “The chimes at midnight,” are no longer a celebration of what has happened, but come now more as a gentle, if firm reminder, that the day is done.


“Chimes at Midnight” Rings True

By Mike Gillis

Let me get this out of the way first: Watching a film on You Tube, in 11 parts and of low quality, is a chore. Even more so if the audio is out of sync and the video’s pixels warble like vision one too many stiff drinks into the evening.

A few fuzzy minutes into “Chimes at Midnight,” Orson Welles’ remarkable Shakespearean fusion, I was ready to throw up my hands and power down the computer. But then something rare happened: Except for having to click subsequent parts every 10 minutes, I largely forgot I was watching a movie on a tiny screen.

For now, You Tube is one of the few places you’ll see “Chimes at Midnight.” The film, shot in Spain between 1964 and 1965, is still of questionable ownership, no doubt because of how Welles raised the money to finance the production. DVD copies can be had, from Brazil, I believe, if you’re willing to shell out upwards of $50.

I’m not aware of any efforts to restore “Chimes at Midnight” so I can’t be sure the version on You Tube isn’t a doctored or cobbled print –- syncing issues seem to plague many of the prints that still exist –- and that’s shame. “Chimes at Midnight” deserves to be seen on a big screen and in better shape. Why not Criterion to the rescue?

I admit I’m a little tired of Shakespeare these days. It seems everyone is looking to rewrite Shakespeare for the modern world, changing settings and characters or transplanting Shakespeare’s dialogue to a contemporary setting. Welles himself said setting doesn’t matter much when staging Shakespeare. “There are, for instance, a thousand Shylocks: grim patriarchs, loving fathers, cunning orientals, and even comics with long noses. Remember that every single way of staging and playing Shakespeare — as long as the way is effective — is right,” Welles wrote in “Everybody’s Shakespeare.”

That may true, if not a little overwrought after a while, but Welles had a special gift when it came to Shakespeare. “Falstaff: Chimes at Midnight” is the clear distillation of that gift. The film, which is carefully threaded with plot and character from a handful of Shakespeare’s plays, most notably Henry IV, parts 1 and 2, is a remarkable tapestry of Welles’ considerable talents as a filmmaker and actor and some of the best dramatic elements of Shakespeare. The object of Welles’ affection and attention is Sir John Falstaff, the old, obese knight who opines to a young and impressionable Prince Hal in Henry IV, 1 and 2, and is forsaken by Hal once throned as Henry V.

Watching “Chimes at Midnight,” even on the smallest of screens, I was first struck by Welles, who plays Falstaff with such incisive balance: humor, wisdom, joviality and unexpected charisma. It is, to me, a career-capping performance, the culmination of a life’s dream and work. With Falstaff, Welles also makes his first leap off the pages of the play and carves a new path. Welles’ Falstaff, whether gregarious or pathetic, comic relief or prosaic soothsayer, is real in a way seldom seen. I suspect that has more to do with Welles, who in “Chimes at Midnight” seems to be reflecting on the nature of friendship, above all, and that connects Falstaff with the viewer far more effectively.

As expected, there are many fine performances in “Chimes at Midnight,” including John Gielgud as Henry IV and Keith Baxter as Prince Hal and Henry V.

Apart from Welles as Falstaff, the real pleasure and departure in “Chimes at Midnight” is Welles’ unwavering eye. This is the world he has always wanted to populate with celluloid characters and locations. Welles, so well known for the deep focus of “Citizen Kane” or the open spaces where his camera relaxes and lets life unfold, finds real purpose in “Chimes at Midnight.” There are magnificent exteriors, of castles and battlefields, and well-made interiors, from the bawdy house and tavern where Falstaff spends much of his time, to the keep of Henry IV. Welles knows when to keep the camera still, as he often does in the confined spaces he often prefers, andwhen to push it with great effect, as he does with sweeping shots inside the raucous bawdy house or outside the castle walls. This is Shakespeare come to life.

There is another treat for me. “Chimes at Midnight” is often recalled for its Battle of Shrewsbury. I’d never seen it but remember hearing that Mel Gibson watched it in anticipation for “Braveheart.” The Battle of Shrewsbury, which tops five minutes, is brutal and masterfully shot, stained with the graphic damage of war, caked in mud, blood and smoke. Apart from being what has to be one of the most gripping battle sequences I’ve seen, Welles focused on the horror of war, which isn’t often the point in Shakespeare adaptation. It dispenses with political observations and patriotism, such as can be found in Laurence Olivier’s battle sequence in his version of “Henry V,” and shows war for what it is. I find it interesting that film like “Saving Private Ryan” is recognized for underlining the horror of war by making it bookends in a melodrama, where Welles uses the stark horror of war midway through his film, and seemingly out of place for its violence, for greater effect.

Below you can watch part one of “Chimes at Midnight.” Click on the video after part one for parts two through eleven. It’s not the ideal way to see this picture, but it’s a start. So thanks to You Tube for giving “Chimes at Midnight” a chance to find an audience.

I do hope to one day see it, as intended, on a screen just a bit bigger.


“Chimes at Midnight” Part 1




It’s OK to Hit a Girl? Yes!

March 7, 2009 § Leave a comment

‘Watchmen’ offers lesson in equal (ass kicking) rights

By Gina Carbone

Watchmen” was written in the 1980s but it just hit the silver screen on March 6, 2009.

And when I say “hit,” I mean it. Punches, kicks to the gut. Men on women. Women on men. Equal opportunity smackdowns.

Sounds like progress to me.

Time was –- actually, time still mostly is -– a man couldn’t hit a woman without being the lowest of the low. Verboten. You never hit a woman! It’s shorthand for “real bastard.”

But why? Is it a size thing? If so, then it should be verboten to hit little Rorschach. He’s just a slip of a thing, but he’s also a masked superhero and the main “Watchmen” badass who breaks the hands of a man least three times his size.

Is it a caveman thing? Men traditionally hunt, women gather. They are tough and strong, women are nurturing and need protection.

Like “Taken.” “Taken” plays into that 100 percent. The kick ass father who must find his helpless virginal teenage daughter, who has been abducted into the foreign slave trade. Hits every “oh no they DI’INT” button.

There seems to be another one coming out. “The Last House on the Left,” a remake of the 1972 film which was itself a remake of “The Virgin Spring,” is about two female friends who are kidnapped and raped by a prison escapee and his crew. One of the girls finds her way back to her parents, but her attackers also take shelter there. At least in this one, the daughter may be attacked, but I think the mom gets to fight for her too.

We love watching the underdog, the little guy, fight back. And we certainly have enough “girl power” films out there like “Charlie’s Angels” or “Kill Bill” where gorgeous ladies get tough.

But you don’t often see a fair, realistic man-on-woman fight. It’s usually played up in one side’s favor — the bastard beating a helpless, innocent woman; the tough chick knocking out a whole slew of bad men who never saw it comin’.

In “Watchmen” a female superhero punches a man — a big strapping man — so hard he falls over. Since he’s trying to put a move on her, we cheer. But then he gets up. And hits her, punches her, knocks her over and bends her over for an attempted rape. It’s brutal and pretty shocking. (Especially since the two apparently, uh, make up later.) We don’t often see a man hit a woman like he’d hit another man. Of course, we also don’t often see a man try to rape another man when he’s done hitting — except maybe in prison.

Later, the woman’s daughter is shown fighting off a dozen guys, alongside a fellow (male) superhero. Sure, she’s a hot chick wearing a stupid skimpy outfit, but her partner is also hot and wearing an equally stupid outfit — it just happens to cover more flesh. (We do see his ass later.) Toward the end of the film, she gets a solid kick to the gut from a former (male) friend.

No one is holding back. And it’s OK. Doesn’t make it fun to watch, but if two consenting adults want to kick the crap out of each other, who are we to deny them their joy?

As long as it’s a fair fight. I’ve read about guys who’ve silently suffered as their girlfriends/wives hit them. Some women are really strong. And crazy. And know how to throw things hard. That doesn’t mean they should get away with it.

But some men are too embarrassed or ashamed to speak out when they’ve been abused by a woman. Makes them seem weak. Their friends would look down on them. But what’s the alternative? Hit back? That’s verboten!

On film, it’s turned into comedy. Angry wife throws plate at bewildered husband. Hits his head. He says “oww!” We laugh.

In my world, the man either picks up another plate and throws it back or calls the cops on her. Probably the latter is the best move but not as satisfying. Then again, “The War of the Roses” is my favorite romantic comedy.

Gina Carbone may be twisted, but she’s willing to open the door for anyone and doesn’t get huffy when men want to be chivalrous. She can be reached at gina_carbone@comcast.net.

Long Live The Tudors

February 10, 2008 § Leave a comment

Henry VIII and clan seize the pop culture throne … again

By Gina Carbone

There are a lot of big titles on my small bookshelf: “Crime and Punishment,” “Anna Karenina,” “Catch-22,” “Nine Stories,” even some holdouts from my Ayn Rand phase. Nestled around these classics — and the only thing as dog-eared as the Harry Potters — is “The Other Boleyn Girl.”

Written by British author Philippa Gregory and published in 2002, “The Other Boleyn Girl” is historical fiction told from the perspective of Anne Boleyn’s sister, Mary, who was King Henry VIII’s mistress before ol’ Greensleeves got to him. It’s a shamelessly trashy little bodice-ripper — and inaccurate on many points of Tudor history. But I love it. Love it. Eat it right up within a weekend every time I find myself returning to it. What would Dostoyevsky think if he knew he was sharing shelf space with someone who writes dialogue like, “She’s a Boleyn and a Howard. Underneath the great name, we’re all bitches on heat”? (At least it sits next to “The Idiot.”)

“The Other Boleyn Girl” was wildly popular beyond my shelf and it sparked something of a cottage industry for Gregory. She continued Tudor-era historical fiction with “The Queen’s Fool,” “The Virgin’s Lover,” “The Constant Princess” and “The Boleyn Inheritance.” None of them were as good. None of them had the story of Henry overthrowing the Catholic Church so he could get busy with his famous multi-marriage career. None of them had the necessary mix of sex, sibling rivalry, treachery, witchcraft, danger, betrayal and head-chopping.

Which is why the film adaptation of “The Other Boleyn Girl” starring Scarlett Johansson, Natalie Portman and Eric Bana, opening Feb. 22, will clean up at the box office. Yes, that’s two Americans and an Aussie retelling England’s history but the Brits had their shot with a TV adaptation back in 2003. Now it’s our turn to do it the Hollywood way.

The Tudors are fascinating. They always have been and Hollywood has obligingly shown its favor over the years.

In 1939, Bette Davis and Errol Flynn got dramatic as Elizabeth I and her ambitious lover in “The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex.

In 1966, “A Man for All Seasons,” like “The Other Boleyn Girl,” approached the Tudors from the supporting side, focusing on Henry VIII’s advisor, Sir Thomas More (Paul Scofield).

In 1969, Genevieve Bujold wore the necklace with B for Boleyn in “Anne of a Thousand Days.”

In 1972, Vanessa Redgrave told the racy story of Elizabeth I’s cousin and chief rival “Mary, Queen of Scots.

More than 25 years later, in 1998, Shekhar Kapur brought the Tudors back to the Oscar table with a newcomer called Cate Blanchett as “Elizabeth.”

After that it was only a matter of keeping the ball in play. The Brits got back in the game in 2003 when Ray Winstone played a rough-tempered (think modern football hooligan) monarch in the “Henry VIII” miniseries co-starring Helena Bonham Carter as Anne Boleyn and a young Emily Blunt as his fifth wife (second beheaded), Catherine Howard.

In 2005 HBO produced Helen Mirren and a boatload of awards with its own miniseries, “Elizabeth I.” Suddenly the ante had been upped.

Last year Showtime — which is becoming the new HBO — launched “The Tudors,” a sexed-up MTV version of history starring hot young Irishman Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as Henry and hot young Brit Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn. It’s more “O.C.” than Merchant Ivory but it’s still popular in its second season and Sam Neill and Jeremy Northam add a touch of class.

But last year also gave us a major Tudor turkey — “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” Shekhar Kapur’s disastrous follow-up to the 1998 masterpiece. Cate Blanchett may be the first woman ever to be nominated for an Oscar for playing the same character twice, but it wasn’t worth having to suffer through wooden, high-school level puffery from the normally fetching Clive Owen.

Soon “The Other Boleyn Girl” is heading to your local theater. Later this year filming should begin on another “Mary Queen of Scots,” this one starring Tudor veteran Scarlett Johansson (who is completely right as Mary Boleyn and completely wrong as Mary Stuart).

What’s the attraction with this little sliver of history? And why return to it now?

Well, from a dramatic standpoint, history doesn’t get much better. It all started with The War of the Roses between the Yorks and the Lancasters, which ended with Henry VII — the first Tudor — in power. Then HenryVIII (1491-1547) shows up and marries his dead brother’s widow. He has a daughter; dumps the wife and the Catholic Church in one fell swoop; marries a woman he later declares a witch and beheads but not before having another girl — conceived before the wedding; marries another young girl who has the son he wants, she dies, he has an arranged marriage to a foreign woman he finds repulsive and divorces within days; marries a teenager who cheats on him and he then beheads; then marries a woman who had been married twice before him and once again after he dies.

His son ends up dying as a teenager, leaving his first daughter — Bloody Mary — leading a Catholic rampage, only to be replaced by his unwanted second daughter Elizabeth, a Protestant who turns out to be the greatest monarch in the nation’s history.

On top of that is Elizabeth’s own decades-long pissing contest with her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots — a more beautiful and passionate scandal-maker — which ends in Mary’s beheading. (They are the cover girls of “Great Feuds in History,” which also lives on my bookshelf.)

It’s the best soap opera ever and it’s true!

Why now? Because royals are hot business. Here in America we think paying kings and queens just to be kings and queens is silly, but we’ve been weaned on Disney princess films and we’re enraptured by the aristocracy.

When Princess Diana died in 1997 the entire world went into mourning, yet feverishly followed the gossip. When “Elizabeth” came along in 1998 it was devoured by an audience hungry for more real-life royal intrigue. The Windsors probably made it easier for “The Other Boleyn Girl” to get published and for “Elizabeth I” and “The Tudors” to get green lights. Each new story about Charles and Camilla, William and Kate, Harry and Chelsea or any other randy royal makes the Tudors that much more marketable. It’s today’s headlines, but with the safe distance of history.

And I love it. Can’t get enough. A newcomer to my bookshelf is “Elizabeth’s Spymaster: Francis Walsingham and the Secret War That Saved England,” which was published in 2006. It’s no “In Cold Blood” but it keeps my Tudor fixation sated until “The Other Boleyn Girl” film comes out. If I’m lucky they’ll make a film version of “Spymaster” with Geoffrey Rush reprising his “Elizabeth” character. If I’m not, I’ll just reread the books. I have a shelf of them.

Gina Carbone likes how Henry VIII wanted a son to secure England but ended up with a daughter who outruled him and let the bloodline die. History is fun, kids.

60 is the New 20

January 26, 2008 § 1 Comment

Hollywood’s age fixation is getting old

By Gina Carbone

A fourth “Rambo” just came out. It follows “Rocky Balboa,” which 61-year-old Sylvester Stallone released in 2006. In 2007, 52-year-old Bruce Willis found his fourth wind with “Live Free or Die Hard.” Later this year, 65-year-old Harrison Ford will crack his whip again for “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” Also a fourth movie.

These men should read the Bible more often — three is a good number. Powerful number. Four is just one more. As in one more movie with past-their-prime actors reliving old glories. Fun for them, maybe, but what’s in it for us?

With an estimated budget of $24 million, “Rocky Balboa” went on to gross about $74 million stateside and a lot more overseas. The overseas angle is the only thing I can think of when I ask myself “Why another Rambo?” Stallone still has star power in this country but even more when you cross the border. The curiosity angle may movie some tickets, but are there that many die hard Rambo fans still kickin’ around?

Maybe. Box Office Mojo asked its users, “What is your top choice to see this weekend (Jan. 25-27)?” The top choice, with 31.6 percent of 1,128 votes, was “Rambo.” “Cloverfield,” a repeat from the week before, was the closest second with only 16.5 percent. Only 5.1 percent of voters chose “Untraceable,” the mainstream new release starring Diane Lane, and 3.6 percent expressed interest in the spoof “Meet the Spartans.”


Perhaps the baby boomers are speaking. Someone elevated “The Bucket List” to the top film at the box office for its opening weekend, No. 3 last time I checked. Star power still works, even when the storyline is depressing and the stars are both 70. Hollywood is traditionally youth-obsessed, but maybe now that the country is getting older we’re ready to watch our favorite celebrities battle our own issues.

Look at 66-year-old Julie Christie in “Away from Her,” a beautiful small film about Alzheimer’s effect on a marriage, as directed by 29-year-old Sarah Polley. Christie is a frontrunner for an Academy Award this year — and, for once, it isn’t because she’s an icon. (Sorry, Ruby Dee, but your nomination was just for that.)

Looking back over 2007, many of the strongest performances can be credited to the geriatric crowd. Max von Sydow, 78, stole hearts in “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” Albert Finney, 71, was boss in “The Bourne Ultimatum” and “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.” And nothing can touch the poetic sadness of Oscar nominee Hal Holbrook, 82, in “Into the Wild.”

Not everyone is on the “gray is the new black” trend. The top films of 2007 were “Spider-Man 3,” “Shrek the Third,” “Transformers” “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” and “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.” I don’t think we can credit Aunt May or Dumbledore for those blockbusters.

Mel Gibson already made his fourth “Lethal Weapon” 10 years ago — when he was still in his 40s — and Arnold Schwarzenegger is absent from the “Terminator” resurgence. He made “Terminator 3” back in 2003, when the 60-year-old governor was a frisky 56. Now there’s a new TV show, “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” with a hot young female robot played by 26-year-old Summer Glau; plus the inevitable fourth film, “Terminator Salvation: The Future Begins,” starring 33-year-old Christian Bale.

And the top TV show — strike or no strike — is “American Idol,” which has an age cap.

Still, it’s refreshing to see some wrinkles and slower gaits on the silver screen. Why older actors feel the need to show us they’re still action-ready is a mystery, especially when they all insist on adding “I’m getting too old for this.” (Hilarious stuff!) But it’s heartening to see names we thought were washed up under the tide of Zac Efron return for one last stand.

Over on the Internet Movie Database message boards, some 2008 “Rambo” fans discussed the lingering popularity of Sylvester Stallone:

First user: http://boxofficemojo.com. Top five people right now are

1. JJ Abrams
2. Matt Reeve
3. Will Smith
4. Russell Crowe
5. Sylvester Stallone

Second user: He was # 3 a few days ago

Third user: Wow! Who would have thought, in 2008, that Sylvester Stallone would be in the Top 5 of anything?? That’s pretty cool.

Since there’s a fourth of everything these days, I’ll play fourth user: Pretty cool indeed. Show ’em how it’s done, old man.

Gina Carbone is technically in her early 30s but her mother said she was born about 40 years old, so that makes her slightly older than Jack and Morgan.

‘Titanic’ at 10: Our sappy hearts go on and on

December 19, 2007 § Leave a comment

By Gina Carbone

Rose was true to her word — she never did let go. Ten years later, “Titanic” is still the top grossing film of all time. $1.8 billion overall. The only one who came close — “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” — was $700 million shy. $700 million. That’s the entire international gross of the “Transformers” movie which, you may recall, did pretty well this year.

Remember when the tabloids jumped all over the budget? $200 million! No big-name stars! No sequel potential! Who let James Cameron chase gold-plated windmills? What wanton hubris!

Ha ha ha. Of course now the Monday morning quarterbacks could give you 100 reasons why “Titanic” sailed off with the prize and has yet to be beaten by any number of stars, special effects, hobbits, wookies, pirates or wizards.

But I don’t care. I just know how much of a total arse I made of myself the first time I saw it, the five subsequent screenings, and every time I watch my DVD and dance to the Irish music during the “real party” in steerage. Yes, it’s my fault it’s the No. 1 movie of all time. Me and several million 13-year-olds.

I first saw “Titanic” on Dec. 21, 1997 — two days after it opened. I know because I transcribed the painfully earnest experience in my diary. The theater in my then-hometown of Lowell, Mass., was sold out. I was 21 but didn’t have any friends then — or now — willing to see “Titanic.” So I went with my mom and her friend.

Movies, books, TV shows, commercials — they all tend to make me emotional, but something hit me inexplicably hard that night. I started my “Titanic” tear-flowing when the little third-class girl corrected her father that it’s a ship, not a boat. (FYI, that was within the first half-hour, before anyone even left land.) By the time Old Rose died peacefully in her sleep (she seemed to expect it, so why did she bring the fish and all that other luggage?), the teen girl to my left was delicately dabbing the mist from her eyes and I was hyperventilating, heaving sobs, dripping from my eyes, nose and mouth as my mother asked me if I was going to make it. Unfortunately I did make it home alive in time to begin that night’s diary entry with “Never let go!”

It pains me to admit this. I only do so because I know I am far from alone in my hindsight of shame.

After that fateful night I watched “Titanic” two more times in this country. I worked at a movie theater in Burlington, Mass., so when not seeing movies in Lowell I saw them for free 20 minutes away. But I did manage to waste unrecorded amounts of money on stories, photos, gossip — anything on Leo and Kate or the real Titanic. Sometimes even a story on Billy Zane would do, if nothing else was around. Since these were the halcyon days before mainstream Internet, scouring newspapers and magazines was my best bet.

In February of 1998 I started my five month study abroad in Perth, Western Australia. I stayed in something of a Smurf village with about 30 cottages, each with eight students inside. It was “Real World: Australia” in my house with three Americans, three Australians, a Korean and — depending on the month — a Malaysian girl or a Chinese professor and his assistant. Australia is about three months behind the United States in getting movies. So when I arrived Down Under, my Aussie and Korean roommates and some neighbors from Japan and Malaysia hadn’t seen “Titanic” yet but were dying to. So I saw it three more times. My Korean roommate fell as hard as I did and swore her boyfriend back home looked just like a Korean Leonardo DiCaprio.

Half-way through my study in Australia I had to fly to Florida for my brother’s wedding. It takes a full 24 hours just to fly from Perth to Tampa, not counting layovers. I had four days in Florida. I made sure one of them included a trip to the Titanic museum in St. Petersburg. I bought the Titanic mug I am drinking tea from as I write this.

When I was back in Australia I made sure to buy Aussie magazines with Kate and Leo on the cover. And, sure, Billy Zane. I loyally stayed up to watch “Titanic” win 11 Academy Awards, one after another, as my roommates dozed off, one after another. (The Oscars aired very, very early in the morning in Perth.)

The last time I saw “Titanic” on the big screen was outdoors — also the last time I saw a drive-in movie. Three Australian friends and I drove to a place in the middle of nowhere, set up a picnic blanket and watched a “Titanic”/“Full Monty” double feature. It was perfect.

Ten years later, I don’t have a “Titanic” special edition DVD. I don’t plan to buy the new commemorative one. I have a cheapie I bought with some measure of chagrin a couple of years ago and have only watched in pieces. It pales on the small screen. I find myself criticizing things I had long given a knee-jerk defense. I have no patience for Bill Paxton — though I love him — and any of his modern story. I roll my eyes at Billy Zane. I wince anew at the Picasso reference and the spitting. I squint with dispassion at Rose’s suicide attempt and wonder if maybe Kate Winslet did look a little heavy in that scene.

A couple of years ago I read an article in Psychology Today about how people connect more strongly over things they dislike than things they like. So the “Titanic” backlash movement must be a band of brothers by now. The Web site “Why People Hate Titanic” quotes Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times: “… the flip side of ‘Titanic’s’ ability to draw hordes of viewers into theaters is… (that) in its unintentional underlining of how narrow an audience net most movies cast over the American public, ‘Titanic’ is not an example of Hollywood’s success, it’s an emblem of its failure.”

Snob. Whatever. At least he watched it. I feel a mix of sadness and frustration for my friends who pride themselves in never having seen “Titanic.” Go ahead and hate it for the schlock it certainly is (The script! Celine Dion! Leo’s hair! Billy Zane!) but see it first so you can load the right ammunition.

No amount of time or cynicism can diminish my love for “Titanic” or pride in having been a part of something larger than myself. Just the fact that I bonded with people from around the world over love for this movie warms the cockles of my heart. Cheesy as it is, that’s a memory I’ll never let go.

Gina Carbone used to write film reviews for the Curtin University newspaper in Perth. She can be reached at gcarbone@seacoastonline.com.

‘Knocked’ sensible

December 12, 2007 § Leave a comment

Katherine Heigl struck honest oil with ‘sexist’ comment — so don’t back down now, girl

By Gina Carbone

Here’s a whopper of a secret: Hollywood is sexist. And it’s making a success of it.

I trust you haven’t fallen off your chair.

And yet, when Katherine Heigl decided to call out her own summer sleeper — “Knocked Up” — for keeping to Hollywood’s unofficial cash code, Tinseltown and even some Average Viewers collectively gasped and clutched their pearls.

“It was a little sexist,” Heigl said in Vanity Fair’s January cover story. “It paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys. It exaggerated the characters, and I had a hard time with it, on some days. I’m playing such a bitch; why is she being such a killjoy? Why is this how you’re portraying women? Ninety-eight percent of the time it was an amazing experience, but it was hard for me to love the movie.”

Personally I loved the movie. But I couldn’t agree with her more. Of course it was sexist. In exactly the manner she describes.

More of my thoughts later. First, the trial by public opinion, which was swift and polarized.

The Hum gossip column at E! Online wasn’t sure where to begin.

“Ouch! This leaves us in an awkward place. Should we praise her for being so honest and frank—or scold her for lashing out against what made her successful?”

Some of the column’s readers were more open.

• “Katherine is a awful actress and she don’t know when to shut-up,” wrote one. “If she hated the movie so much why did she film it. In short she’s saying she would lower he standards for the dollar. Her career will be short lived I can’t stand her.”

• “Katherine rocks — it is refreshing that she is so honest,” wrote another. “I really think some people have over reacted — if you read her full quotes she isn’t slamming anything just point out a few things she didn’t like about the characters. I think she made some very valid points. Thank god she is a celebrity who actually has something to say and can actually speak without having to hide behind a publicist. Love the girl.”

From Huffington Post readers:

• “I’m glad she didn’t call Knocked Up completely sexist, but I think she’s still wrong in her assessment here. The guys in the movie, while being ‘lovable, goofy, [and] fun-loving’, were also immature, selfish and crass… which is the typical stereotype for men in movies and tv shows. Both sides are represented with alternatingly stereotypical and atypical characteristics, which is what makes the characters and their interactions seem more real than 99% of Hollywood romantic garbage. Stereotypes are drawn from common experiences and while using them to pidgeonhole real people is wrong, lampooning them in entertainment is pretty much the very heart of comedy.”

• “Vacuous. What an idiot. Must have stayed up all night with her publicist to come up with something to say. Another example of ‘fame does not equal brains,’ like Shaq, George Bush et al.”

And from Defamer:

• “’Knocked Up’ may not exactly be realism city, but it’s certainly no less credible than ’27 Dresses,’ wherein Katherine Heigl is upset because she’s not pretty enough to get a date. Strictly in terms of the message being sent to young impressionable women, I would definitely say ‘Dresses’ is far more pernicious.”

• “The movie was a flippin’ COMEDY! It was supposed to be as outrageous as it could possibly be. That’s what made it so successful. It was about the most unbelieveable scenario possible. I have no doubts that there are many men that live day-to-day just like Seth Rogen’s character. Just like I have no doubts there are just as many women out there like Katherine’s. Would they ‘hook up’ & end up any different than the characters in the movie? Doubt it! If Hollywood put out movies that were as predictable as our day-to-day lives, they wouldn’t be doing much business.”

• “I think what she might be getting at is that, if the movie was about a fat ugly stoner chick with a heart of gold who marries a god played by, say, Christian Bale, everyone would be all ‘THAT SHIT WOULD NEVER HAPPEN’. Yet we totally buy Apatow’s reverse version. And I’m totally ambivilent about Heigl. I just get where she’s coming from.”

Speaking of Apatow, he’s turned these potential lemons into lemonade. New York Magazine asked the director about Heigl’s comments and he told them this:

“I think the characters are sexist at times, but it’s really about immature people who are afraid of women and relationships and learn to grow up. If people say that the characters are sexist, I say, yeah, that’s what I was going for in the first part of the movie, and then they change.”

When the magazine asked if he’s had his feelings hurt, he blamed Vanity Fair for twisting her comments. “I’ve done a lot of interviews, and when you’re promoting a movie, you talk for hours and hours and hours, and so it’s very easy for something to be taken out of context. I’m just happy people are talking about ‘Knocked Up’ six months after it came out.”

Then he made his masterstroke: “You know we’re on the cover of Vanity Fair. It reminds people that they need to buy ‘Knocked Up’ on DVD and judge for themselves.”


But Apatow didn’t quite come out and defend Heigl with the full truth — she wasn’t bashing her movie. She wasn’t even coming up with an original thought. She was just enjoying a day without the veneer of better-be-polite-than-truthful codswallop that most people — especially actors who want to stay in business — plaster over their emotions all the time.

Unfortunately, that was probably Heigl’s last honest day. Even now her PR machine seems to be backpedaling.

As she told People magazine last week, “I was responding to previous reviews about the movie the interviewer brought to my attention. My motive was to encourage other women like myself to not take that element of the movie too seriously and to remember that it’s a broad comedy.”

Her “clarification” tour seems pointed at reiterating how “Knocked Up” was one of the greatest experiences of her life. Well, yes, she did allude to that in her original quote. She also made a bold statement few actresses would dare to say about their own films and she should be proud. Go for the legacy, Katie!

For the record, here’s the paragraph that preceded her “sexist” quote in Vanity Fair.

“Heigl is equally forthright about the movie that catapulted her onto the A-list. Many critics raved about ‘Knocked Up’ but quite a few discerned an underlying misogyny that made female characters into unappealing caricatures while romanticizing immature and irresponsible male behavior. Heigl counts herself among those who were perturbed.”

I am among those “quite a few” critics. As I wrote in a three-star review: “Although I loved this movie, I’m getting tired of the ‘King of Queens’ world where attractive, capable women fall in love with/end up mothering shlubby, childish men. (Apatow also produced ‘Anchorman,’ which epitomizes this set-up.) Alison and, especially, Debbie are not just the more mature, eye-rolling halves of their respective pairs; they’re often shrewish, nagging, neurotic, vain and awful to be around. The men, on the other hand, are just good-hearted blokes who like to have fun, tell jokes, play fantasy baseball and take it easy.”

I don’t deploy the sexist card as a knee-jerk reaction to every slight. I’m no man-hater and apart from a few days a month I live without penis envy. Still, I won’t deny jealousy is at the root of many of my Hollywood complaints.

I’m down for a “Fight Club.” I’d gladly be Mr. Pink in “Reservoir Dogs.” I want to face the peril with Monty Python. I’ll learn “The Way of the Gun.” Where do I sign up to be Jason Bourne?

I’m not the only girl who lives vicariously through boys’ adventures. As Debbie whined to her husband, Pete, in “Knocked Up,” “I like Spider-Man.” Yes, and I’d rather see it with Pete than Debbie. Not because he’s a guy, but because he’s as cool as my female friends.

What Hollywood STILL doesn’t seem to get is that women are just like men. We are all different people, not a series of flawless clones sharing a single Borg-like identity. (Oh, and when I say flawless, I mean physically – lack of intelligence is fine. Ugly chicks can stay on as sidekicks to make the real girls look even more attractive. They can even make witty comebacks, but they’ll never get the guy.)

This is the year of the mega-nerd. From “Knocked Up” to “Superbad” and TV’s entries of “Chuck” and “Reaper,” being a young awkward man has never been so rewarding.

Not that it was going through a dry spell. Back in “The Graduate” a directionless Dustin Hoffman — hardly a Redford — landed a lovely Katharine Ross. Remember “American Pie”? And the sequels? (Can we finally put a moratorium on the male coming-of-age-story?)

What do the women get? Tepid romantic weepies, vapid BFFs getting drunk and screaming “woo!” in some twat’s version of “empowerment.” And “Ugly Betty.” “Ugly Betty,” which stars the beautiful America Ferrera and includes an early episode where the atypical protagonist I’m supposed to be so proud of dresses up and is greeted by catcalls on the New York sidewalk. “Really?!” she gasps, pointing to herself. “Thank you!”

Yeah, that’s a good representation of me and my friends. Thanks for that.

Hard to say if “Juno” is going to chip away at if not break the mold for women since it’s still in limited release (which translates to “nowhere near Portsmouth, N.H.”). Fingers crossed.

Ironically Hollywood’s most refreshing look at a male/female relationship in years came from Apatow himself: “The 40 Year Old Virgin.” True the irresponsible, immature men were still present, but so was the sweet, loving Andy (attractive Steve Carell) and his funny, patient, more experienced girlfriend, Trish (equally but not more attractive Catherine Keener). A balanced, sensitive, adult take on humanity — and it still managed to be hilarious. Huh.

If more characters like that were written into Hollywood’s scripts instead of tired fanboy stereotypes, Katherine Heigl wouldn’t have to resort to actual honesty in a major magazine. She’d probably appreciate the break.

Pay More for a Good Movie? Sure!

November 14, 2007 § Leave a comment

By Gina Carbone

Movie studios and theater chains don’t want anyone moving their cheese. Even if you move it to a better spot.

Last weekend I drove more than an hour to catch the nearest showing of the Coen brothers’ new film, “No Country for Old Men.” I gladly got their three hours early to pay $9.25 for a sold-out evening show, plus parking and gas.

At the same theater are films like “Wristcutters: A Love Story” and “The Price of Sugar.” They are not selling out. Not mandating a line. Not requiring weekend planning. And yet tickets cost the same for all.

At my local multiplex, “Bee Movie” is playing every five minutes. It’s selling well. Also at my theater, but not showing quite as often or doing nearly as well, is “Gone Baby Gone.” Guess how much tickets are for both?

A recent Detroit Free Press article by Terry Lawson argued the one-price-fits-all model is outdated. I agree. I would add that the set-showtimes and free-for-all seating models are also outdated.

There’s no need for a sweet PG movie and a torture porn R to be sharing the same basic schedule. Odds are, the 10 p.m. “Bee” and 11 a.m. “Saw IV” are going to be echo chambers.

And when’s the last time you actually enjoyed watching a movie from the front row? It either killed your neck or made you nauseous or both. You could be the first in line for tickets, but if you decide to help sustain your local theater by buying an overpriced popcorn and get to a seat after your cheapskate neighbors, you may be split up from your friends and family. What’s the problem with setting a seat number when you buy a ticket — like every other major concert or theater venue — with the first two rows as the true cheap seats?

In the Free Press article, Lawson references Radiohead’s decision to release their album “In Rainbows” online at whatever price fans wanted. (Including nada.) According to the story, the album was downloaded more than a million times with the average buyer paying about $8.

Acknowledging that Radiohead doesn’t have the same corporate responsibilities as movie studios and theater chains, Lawson puts forth a proposal: “Consider the fate of a couple of great movies that no one is seeing, ‘Into the Wild’ and ‘Michael Clayton.’ What if the distributors of those movies advertised reduced ticket prices for these films, say on one Sunday? Or on weekday nights when theaters are empty, anyway? How about cheaper prices for those small, truly independent and foreign films that have been muscled out of the art houses by the studio’s boutique divisions? Would that entice audiences and distributors to take a chance?”

This is hardly redefining pi. Most of the world already sets prices by demand. Parents are eating each other alive to get tickets to Hannah Montana’s sold-out shows — in any unsqueaky clean way possible. A local band’s concert at the local concert hall is not going to go for the same as the Police’s latest reunion tour. Chances are your community theater’s production won’t require the hundreds you could dish out for a high-profile Broadway show.

Granted, you can’t see “Wicked” at any theater across the country; naturally it’s going to cost more when more people are vying for the same seats. But at least on Broadway you know what seat you are going to get. You and your friends can book the orchestra for X amount, if you are treating yourselves, or be content with a restricted view in the back of the balcony for less.

Movie theaters are long overdue to match this common sense price setting. The actual cost could be left to the discretion of the theater owners. If “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” is opening tonight, chances are about 100 percent it’s going to sell out. So you raise the price — a lot. It’s not like Dad would risk patricide by staging a boycott. Meanwhile, you offer a cheap, art-house sweetie like “Once” next door for less — a lot.

Spillover audience? Doubt it, but the law of averages would likely leave theaters in the black. They don’t make the bulk of their money from ticket sales anyway. They get you on the humungous popcorns, sodas and overpriced M&Ms. And you should pay, happily, or they’ll just start charging $20 for everything.

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