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FILM REVIEW ‌ If It Ain't Brokeback...

With film distribution's trickle-down effect, the waiting's the hardest part

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Finally, after a long and painful month of reading glowing reviews and hearing all about it from lucky, insensitive friends in big cities, Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee's adaptation of an Annie Proulx short story, about two rugged cowboys who find love in the isolated environment of a Wyoming mountain but are forbidden from ever acknowledging it, has arrived in our little corner of the world. And where else would the stampede of gay guys and lovesick teenage girls head but to the Terrace Theater on James Island, Charleston's only cinema dedicated to showing a wide variety of independent film?

Terrace owner Marcie Marzluff originally expected that she wouldn't be able to open Brokeback Mountain until Jan. 20, so it came a surprise when she found out from the distributor that the movie would not only open here Jan. 13 but it would also be an exclusive run in Charleston.

"I've been in this business for nine or 10 years and haven't seen a movie with this much hype," Marzluff says. "This seems to be a movie that speaks to a lot of people ... the phone's been ringing every 10 minutes, and I'll get eight or nine messages a day — and this has been going on for several weeks. People want their tickets now!"

Marzluff points out that the theatre hasn't received any negative phone calls regarding Brokeback, an interesting fact considering that when the Terrace hosted Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, she got a number of calls from people swearing they'd never visit the Terrace again.

At the 8:50 p.m. show on opening night, the sold-out theatre was packed with, yes, homosexuals of all ages, but also plenty of older, straight couples, mixed groups of young people, even a clergyman. Regardless of the demographic makeup of the crowd, everyone in the theatre was palpably excited before the show, engaging in happy, anxious chatter.

In fact, according to Marzluff and Terrace manager David Grunstra, Brokeback Mountain sold out every opening weekend show (except the 11:45 a.m. ones, which were nearly full), leading to one of the best opening weekends the Terrace has ever had (although it saw close successes with Sideways and My Big Fat Greek Wedding).

So why did it take so long for the film to open here? Ultimately it was up to the distributor, Focus Features, to decide. Movie distribution works a bit like trickle-down economics: Charleston is an "E" market, Marzluff says, meaning that for certain, smaller films, the distribution company only makes a certain number of prints, then releases them in the bigger A (New York, L.A., San Francisco), B (Atlanta), C (Charlotte, Raleigh) markets to test the film's earning potential before sending prints to the riskier small markets.

"To get good movies, you have to get good grosses," Marzluff says, "it's sort of a Catch-22. There are a lot of little films I'd like to play, but they don't draw an audience, and when there's no audience, there's no money."

It appears that won't be a problem with Brokeback. Marzluff predicts that the Terrace will have the movie for at least two or three months — "with this sort of turnout, you can sort of gauge what's going to happen," Marzluff says. "This is the kind of thing that gets my blood running, a movie like this."

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