Baltimoreans love to rent those hometown flicks



February 02, 2007|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,Sun movie Critic

It's official: Baltimoreans can't get enough of Barry Levinson, John Waters and David Simon.

That's right, we love our hometown boys.

According to Netflix, which tracks its rentals by the area of the country in which there's the heaviest demand, Baltimoreans are a receptive audience for one of their own - especially when they tell stories set and shot here. Among films especially popular here, Levinson's Liberty Heights and Avalon top the list, followed by Seasons 1 and 2 (in a combined boxed set) of the Levinson-produced Homicide: Life On the Street TV series.

In fact, all of Charm City's top eight uniquely in-demand DVDs are steeped in Bawla- merese. Besides Levinson's films, there's a film of Waters' stand-up routine (This Filthy World); The Boys of Baraka, a documentary about African-American boys from Baltimore sent to school in Africa; and three boxed sets from Sun alumnus Simon (The Corner, The Wire).

"It doesn't surprise me," Simon writes in an e-mail, adding that watching shows like his on DVD has advantages over watching them as they air. "I've come to believe," he notes, "that watching these narratives on DVD may be the optimum way to absorb, enjoy and consider storytelling like The Corner and The Wire. Waiting a week between episodes makes it harder to follow."

Our interest in all things Baltimore may sound awfully parochial - don't we ever tire of watching ourselves? - but, hey, at least we have hometown faves. When it comes to some local favorites in other areas of the country, it's hard to figure a rhyme or reason. Why is Season 1 of VH1's The Flavor of Love No. 1 in Philadelphia? Why is Croupier, a latter-day film noir about gambling, all the rage in Beverly Hills? Why does The Replacements, a movie about strike-breaking pro football players (that was shot right here in Charm City, by the way), top the charts in that presumed hometown of middle America, Peoria, Ill.?

Such questions are best left to sociologists. But it's easy to understand why we Baltimoreans watch what we watch.

"That's great," says Levinson, Forest Park High Class of '60, who lives in Connecticut these days but still remains firmly rooted in Baltimore - as anyone who read his piece in The Sun last month about his still-beloved Baltimore Colts certainly understands. "I'm especially happy about Liberty Heights, because it was a film that the studio sort of disregarded in many ways. They didn't think it was enough of a mainstream movie."

Hah, guess we're proving them wrong, huh?

A Netflix spokesman wouldn't say exactly what it means when members in one area are "renting these titles much more" than members in other areas. But he promised that the difference is substantial.

"We thought it would be fun to show what your neighbors and friends in your community are watching," Steve Swasey says. "It's just another cool data point ... another discussion point about the movies."

In case you think Baltimoreans are totally predictable, they aren't. No. 9 among our top films is The Honeymooners, in which Cedric the Entertainer takes over the role of Brooklyn, N.Y., bus driver Ralph Kramden, made famous by Jackie Gleason. And No. 10 is an urban romantic comedy called Who Made the Potatoe Salad?, set in Southern California.

Then there's No. 12: Masterpiece Theatre's Bleak House, a three-disc set that suggests there's room for even the tonier elements of English literature here. Where else, after all, could one find Charles Dickens and John Waters in such close proximity?

"If I hadn't been there, I would be insulted," says Waters, Baltimore's favorite rogue son. "Suppose they had Steven Seagal up there or something? I would have been depressed."

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