Friday, July 11, 2014

Boyhood -- Not Coming to a Theater Near You

Viewers and critics are crazy about a new movie that is being released today but will not be available to those of us in the hoi polloi for weeks to come.

It is Boyhood, a 12-years-in-the-making film that depicts the fictional growth of a young actor, told through his own eyes, starting when he is five years old and ending with his freshman year of college.

Critics are uniformly positive.  Here is the start of Joe Morgenstern's review in the Wall Street Journal:

"On rare occasions, a movie seems to channel the flow of real life.  Boyhood is one of those occasions."  The review goes on from there with superlative after superlative.

Manohla Dargis, the New York Times' perpetual-film-student/critic, writes, "Even after seeing it three times, I haven't fully figured out why it has such a hold on me, and why I'm eager to see it again," and concludes that the film "isn't fighting time but embracing it in all its glorious and agonizingly fleeting beauty."

I'm sold.  This sounds like a great movie.  I want to see it.  I want to see it now.

Tough luck for me.

Unfortunately, Boyhood is a "small" film, also called an "indie."  This means that it gets "limited" distribution, no matter how many people would crowd into theaters to watch it this weekend.

Bow Tie Films, which owns the cineplex in my town, has 63 multi-screen theaters in eight states.  But it is showing Boyhood only at one theater in Manhattan.  As near as I can tell, the movie cannot be seen anywhere in New Jersey, nor in any of the other six states where Bow Tie operates.

This strikes me as crazy.

My impression is that distributors of big-budget, well-publicized movies require large theater owners to guarantee a certain number of screens in order to gain access to "major" releases.

So today you can go to virtually any cineplex in the country and watch Transformers 4, in 2-D or 3-D and on multiple screens.  But Boyhood is pretty much unavailable anywhere.

It calls to mind the old days when grocery stores sold two kinds of apples (red delicious and granny smith) and one kind of lettuce (iceberg).  Nobody would shop at such a limited place today.

But that is what we get from movie theaters.  No wonder so many new and interesting dramatic concepts are starting on television instead.

Boyhood's maker, Richard Linklater, already has proved he is bankable.   His first release, Slacker, in 1991, cost $23,000, grossed $1.25 million at the box office alone and became a cult classic that inspired a slew of imitations.  A few years later, Linklater made the hilarious Jack Black vehicle,  School of Rock, for $35 million; it earned $131 million at theaters and, no doubt, much more from rentals and television rebroadcasts.

Eventually, Boyhood is likely to show up at a rather unpleasant Bow Tie cineplex about 30 minutes from my house.  So there is that.  And, if I am very patient, I am sure I can find it in a few years on a cable TV channel.

But why should I have to wait that long?  And why would distributors wait that long?  Why not release the film broadly now, while the positive press is in people's minds?  Isn't there a risk that many potential viewers will have forgotten about Boyhood by the time it reaches their burgs?

Other Linklater Films

Richard Linklater made another longitudinal film project, three movies about the romance over 20 years of two people played by Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette (who also play the parents in Boyhood.)  The first, Before Sunrise, was released in 1995 and followed by Before Sunset in 2004 and Before Midnight last year.  Pretty good, and easy to find and watch on your big-screen television.

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