Some movies acquire `legs' at the Senator

Box office: Films that die at the multiplex sometimes thrive at the movie palace.


March 08, 2002|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Robert Altman's Gosford Park, which plants a spiral staircase of wit inside an upstairs-downstairs murder mystery, has been more long-lived and profitable at the Senator than most of the square, big-studio blockbusters the theater has showcased in recent years. Altman's picture now is set to play the Senator until the March 22 premiere of the refurbished print of E.T. The Senator's Tom Kiefaber says he's pleased, not surprised, adding: "Films like Howards End, Remains of the Day, The English Patient and Emma all had enviable legs at the Senator."

The concept of a movie developing "legs" - that is, sustaining interest in the movie-going public beyond the "gotta-see" of an opening weekend - disappeared from mainstream Hollywood last summer, when such movies as Jurassic Park III and Planet of the Apes popped up, twirled around and disappeared like tin ducks in a sideshow shooting gallery. (One reason the studios don't mind is that they clean up in one or two weeks, when the percentage they demand of the theaters' gross profits is most exorbitant.)

The same qualities that make Hollywood suspicious of films like Gosford Park - including dense plot elements and interrelated characters - are precisely what fuels repeat business "for a large single-screen showcase movie-house, with a legion of sophisticated patrons," Kiefaber says. These patrons often plan to see movies after the frenzy of opening weekends, resulting in a viewership that stays solid week after week.

FOR THE RECORD - An item in Friday's Today section listed an incorrect date for the Creative Alliance MovieMakers' Ides of March Animation Invitational. The event will be be held at 8 p.m. March 15. The Sun regrets the error.

And when impatient multiplexes drop a prestigious holiday release such as Gosford Park for more seasonal fare, a theater that sticks with it, like the Senator, can be a magnet for Altman fans and other kinds of movie-lovers, like the hardy souls who try to see every Oscar-nominated film.

Kiefaber's only regret is that his new project, the Rotunda Cinematheque, is not ready for business. If it were, he says, he'd move Gosford Park over there "on March 22, where it would probably run for another six weeks or more."

Like `Gosford Park'

Gosford Park-philes might want to try a Continental form of barbed master-servant melodrama when the Charles' Saturday revival series screens Luis Bunuel's 1964 The Diary of a Chambermaid. It stars French New Wave icon Jeanne Moreau as the smart Parisian woman who takes a maid's job at a country estate and gradually gets her bourgeois employers under her control. The movie screens at noon; admission is $5. For information call 410-727-FILM.

Cinema Sundays

Cinema Sundays at the Charles will preview Kissing Jessica Stein, a romantic comedy about a mixed-up New York journalist who answers an intriguing personal ad and finds herself on the same wavelength as a bohemian lesbian. The movie starts at 10:30 a.m., doors opens a 9:45 a.m., and the $15 admission charge includes coffee and bagels. Richard Gorelick, director of public relations at Center Stage, will conduct the post-movie discussion. For information, visit

Baltimore films in NYC

The number of Baltimore-connected films at the New York Underground Film Festival, March 6-12, underlines this city's burgeoning reputation for nurturing experimental work. The Charles Theatre's co-owner, John Standiford, will be offering a nine-minute, 16mm partially animated collage called Plain English; in Standiford's words, "two men wearing masks sit in a restaurant in Japan, and their conversation consists of excerpts from English language tutorial LPs from the late '50s."

Lynne Sachs' study of the Catonsville Nine, Investigation of a Flame, which opened last year's Maryland Film Festival, also is part of the schedule. (Sachs has since moved from this area). So are Monroe Bardot's Message to Bin Laden; Hillbilly Robot, by D.C. director and frequent Baltimore visitor Todd Rohal, featuring many locally filmed scenes, including one set in Memorial Stadium; and Resolution by Spencer Parsons, a former Baltimorean. Alex Roper's short, Revolutions Per Minute, will precede the opening-night feature. NYUFF has billed it as a world premiere, but Baltimore's MicroCineFest unveiled it in November.

The NYUFF Web site is

Animation tonight

The work of MicroCineFest founder Skizz Cyzyk will be part of Creative Alliance MovieMakers' "Ides of March Animation Invitational," which salutes seven other local filmmakers along with "one semi-famous expatriate and three out-of-town guests." The expatriate is former Baltimorean Martha Colburn, who is in the Netherlands on a long-term residency, according to the Creative Alliance.

Multiple e-mails on this event from CAmm repeat the word "fun!" It happens tonight at 8 p.m., at 413 S. Conkling St., Highlandtown. For information, call 410-276-1651.

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