erik lundegaard

Milk Left Out

My father once said, about an article that didn’t get the response he thought it would, “It was like pitching a penny down a deep well," and once I began publishing I knew exactly what he meant. That was pre-Internet. Occasionally I long for that silence. These days, publishing (or posting) is like pitching a penny down a shallow well full of bees. You expect to get swarmed; you hope not to get stung.

But — that said — what a great group over at filmexperience! Nathaniel R. was nice enough to post the MSNBC quiz and dozens of his readers posted their results. I should immediately apologize for the Frank Langella question. Some actors in some roles make an early impression that never goes away, and, for me, Langella will always be Zorro. That’s how I first saw him. At age 11. Later when he became a star on Broadway as Dracula, I’d think, “Hey, it’s Zorro.” When he played the villainous chief of staff in “Dave” I went: “Dude: Zorro!” On and on. Nixon, too. Still, I should’ve made the answer easier. Because how can you not imagine him as Jack the Ripper?

No apologies to anyone who got no. 14 wrong. That was a gimme.

One reader, meanwhile, suggested no. 8 didn’t have much to do with the Oscars. For those who haven’t taken the quiz (and c’mon already), here it is:
At the time of the nominations (Thursday, Jan. 22), how many of the best picture nominees had been seen in more than 1,000 theaters in the U.S.?    
    A. All five    
    B. Four    
    C. Three    
    D. Two    
    E. One    
    F. None   

The answer is One, “Benjamin Button,” and for a second I agreed with the reader. A second later I thought: Actually this is the most relevant question in the quiz. It’s not some factoid only the most insane person would know (see: no. 2); it’s about how isolated our supposed best pictures have become. Again: read this.

I found it particularly instructive that many of Nathaniel’s readers thought “Milk” was one of the most-distributed nominees when, as of today, it’s the least. Its theater-high was 356. Hell, every best-picture candidate expanded the weekend after the Oscars except for “Milk,” which remains in its truncated state of 250. I’m no insider or businessman but... Does that make sense? Is there a plan here? Who’s running Focus Features anyway?

Only a handful of best-picture nominees this decade haven’t been distributed into at least 1,000 theaters: “Gosford Park” (918), “Lost in Translation” (882), “The Pianist” (842), and, the winner of the least-distributed best-pic nominee of the decade, “Letters from Iwo Jima” (781). If “Milk” doesn’t expand, it will more than halve that mark.

So what is Focus Features saying? That it can sell “Brokeback” but not this? That Americans are more willing to understand the people who bombed Pearl Harbor, speaking in Japanese, than the people who opposed Prop. 8, speaking in English?

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, and I’ll keep saying it until someone gives me a response I understand: How good can the studios be if they can’t sell quality?

No tagsPosted at 09:13 AM on Wed. Jan 28, 2009 in category Movies - The Oscars  
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