Toronto Star critic Peter Howell went to a radio-promotion-with- a-smattering-of-critics screening of Flags of Our Fathers last Wednesday, and observed the following: “It was at the Paramount downtown, in a room with several hundred seats. I expected it to be a mob scene, as it often is at movie previews, but the theatre was practically empty when I arrived at 6:30 pm. When the movie started just after 7 p.m., the room looked only about half full. This for a movie that had been touted as a sure-fire Oscar nominee and likely winner.
“So what happened to the audience? The show had the usual radio-station push and free tickets. The only thing missing was the T-shirt giveaway, which would have been tacky for a film like this. I noticed a preponderance of people over age 40, including several elderly gents a few rows ahead of me who were quite likely WW II vets. The likely answer: Flags just isn’t grabbing young people.
“One other interesting thing about that screening. A good many people stayed in their seats to watch the credits right to the end, including those older gents. They were obviously moved by what they’d seen and wanted more time to take it in.”
At the same time Howell’s letter came in, an e-mail from a younger guy named Peter Rogers declares that Flags “did so-so business this weekend for the same reason Hollywoodland and The Black Dahlia bombed, and why The Good German, The Good Shepherd and Catch a Fire will fall. The paradigm has shifted and no one under 30 wants to see bygone-era movies anymore on the big screen.
“Moviegoing these days is all about events and genre films (Departed, Saw 3, Spiderman, etc.). TV and cable are the primary outlet for adult dramas. The sooner you accept this, the sooner you will write about stuff people actually care about.”
Wells to Rogers: I’m not saying you’re wrong about the under-30s, but I’d rather take cyanide than live in the movie world you’re describing. No offense, gentle sir, but you’re avatar-ing the philosophy of the unwashed digital masses and forecast- ing the death of culture and cultivation, and I don’t mean the culture that worships Upstairs/Downstairs.
“I love good slovenly downmarket entertainment as much as you do; it just has to be good. An example of this is The Departed, obviously, but I also love Joseph L. Mankiewicz‘s Julius Ceasar (due 11.7 on Warner Home Video), so no offense and due respect but you have spittle on your chin and pieces of fast-food chicken on your jacket. You’re one of Hannibal’s soldiers beating drums and throwing rocks outside the gates of Rome.