Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Week of July 4 to July 10, 2008

What's On At The Tropic
by Phil Mann

The Tropic prides itself on showing “the best in new independent, foreign and documentary” films. That sounds pretty good. Sometimes people refer to them as “art” films, which I suppose can be taken as a compliment. But not Hollywood. The label out there is “specialty” films. Not “special,” which would imply something better or greater (as in “she's a very special person”). But “specialty,” which suggests something of limited or narrow interest (as in “her specialty was geriatric neurology). To put it bluntly, we're a niche market.

I've been around long enough to watch some profound changes in this market. When I was in college in the fifties, the movie theater world was divided into the downtown first-run theaters that we couldn't afford on a student budget, a mass of second-run (or neighborhood) theaters which offered cheap double features, and a few quirky little places showing Bergman, Fellini and Truffaut. I was hooked early on, and was proud to be challenged by The Seventh Seal, but when exam time came, the diversions of the the Hollywood double-features were the solace I needed. The world has changed a lot since then, and the niche market has expanded to almost a nook as American filmmakers have developed their skills.

But it's still a struggling little segment. The numbers are hard to pin down, but the best estimates are that maybe 10% of movie box office dollars go to specialty films. The future of that market is in flux as major studios have begun to close down their specialty divisions (arrivederci, Warner Independent; sayonara, Picture House). The independent films are still being made, in alarming numbers now that digital filming and home computers have chopped the costs, but without the marketing muscle of the studios it's hard to catch the public's attention.

The Tropic is up to this challenge. It is developing new sources of films and making sure it has the latest equipment to show digital media. But, in an adjustment that reminds me of my fifties exam-time slumming, they're showing a few major releases this summer. So kick back and enjoy the work of legendary filmmaker Stephen Spielberg (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) or TV's beloved femmes (Sex and the City), both showing this week.

If you'd like more meat on your cinema bones, the amazing documentary Up the Yangtze, picks up where last year's Manufactured Landscapes left off, taking you on a tour of the river and its environment that will disappear before the Three Gorges dam. Or check out the excellent new Monday night classics series. This week it's Orson Welles' The Stranger, about a sinister secret in a picture-perfect small town. Or, if you haven't seen it yet, catch an encore performance of The Return of the Key West Picture Show on Tuesday afternoon.

Full info at Comments always welcome at
[Originally published in Key West, the Newspaper --]

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