Column - Movies dreams answeredWhen I read the “Thumbs Up” editorial in the March 3 Echo Press, I found myself nodding faster than a movie-crazed bobble-head. The Thumbs Up was suggested by Annette Carolyn Ely, a writer who retired part-time in the Alexandria area.
By: Dennis Dalman, Alexandria Echo Press
When I read the “Thumbs Up” editorial in the March 3 Echo Press, I found myself nodding faster than a movie-crazed bobble-head.
The Thumbs Up was suggested by Annette Carolyn Ely, a writer who retired part-time in the Alexandria area. Ely was bemoaning the fact that theaters in Alexandria almost never get movies about the lives of literary people, such as the recent film called The Last Station, which is about the tug-of-war between author Leo Tolstoy (War and Peace) and his wife, Sofia.
Ely checked with the theater owner, who said such films don’t attract a wide audience in rural areas. She then called the Marcus Theatre manager in St. Cloud, who obtained the film so Ely could see it in St. Cloud.
Ely was grateful for that manager’s obliging manner. Better, she said, to drive 65 miles from Alexandria to St. Cloud to see The Last Station than 180 miles to the Twin Cities to see it.
Oh, I could relate to every word Ely wrote. While growing up in St. Cloud, I too felt that frustration. So many foreign movies or “literary” kinds of movies never came to the city’s three theaters. And, don’t forget, that was in the pre-video era.
Sometimes, I got lucky. One of the movies would win Oscar as Best Foreign Movie of the year, in which case it would likely come to town. That’s how I was fortunate enough to see one of my all-time favorites, Federico Fellini’s 1963 masterwork, 8-and-1/2.
One day, I took a Greyhound bus to Minneapolis to see Bergman’s Cries and Whispers. I just knew it would never come to me, so I had to go to it. A stunning movie. As the Greyhound pulled back into downtown St. Cloud in the wee dark hours, I looked up, yawning, and there, right next to the Greyhound bus depot, on the marquee of the Hay’s Theater, were big black letters stating, “Cries and Whispers – Opens Friday.” Go figure.
I was also very lucky – later – because, starting in the mid-1960s, Atwood Theater, a small auditorium on the St. Cloud State University campus, would feature worldwide classics every quarter, one film once a week, free. I lived just a few blocks from the campus, and that is where I acquired a veritable cinematic education, seeing so many amazing movies that had never come to St. Cloud’s commercial theaters; films by directors like Francois Truffaut, Orson Welles, Fritz Lang, Vittorio DeSica, Michelangelo Antonioni, Luchino Visconti, Jean Renoir, Ingmar Bergman, Jean-Luc Godard and so many other giants of cinema.
The theater managers were basically right, though. Very few people would have attended those films. Too few people had ever heard of those directors or the wonderful actors in their “artsy” movies. Films then, as now, were Americo-centric, as least in this country.
But don’t get me wrong. I love American movies. In fact, about two-thirds of my all-time favorite films happen to be American-made ones, and most of them did come to the theaters, including all of Alfred Hitchock’s, still my favorite director of all.
But, still, it was such a constant disappointment to me, when week after week, I’d get the Minneapolis Sunday paper and rip it open to the movie section where there were posters of films playing in the Twin Cities – movies I could only dream about seeing, maybe someday, at the college.
Even after video stores became common, it was almost impossible to find most movie classics, foreign or American.
But, nowadays, thanks to companies like Netflix, it’s as if all my childhood hopes and prayers were answered. If someone back then would have told me I would one day have the chance to watch any film in the world, old or new, sound or silent, and on a flat-screen TV 37 inches wide in crisp black-and-white or color, I would’ve laughed that person out of the room. Ain’t gonna happen.
Well, happily it did. Of course, I would rather see any movie on a great big screen in a real theater with the smell of popcorn wafting through the air. But you can’t always get what you want. As long as I can see great movies in my home for only $10 a month, I am quite content, thank you.