FILM / Rushes

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The Independent Culture
Art for art's sake: While the summer blockbusters hog the limelight, US art house cinemas, stimulated by the surprise success of The Crying Game (dollars 62m grossed and rising) have quietly been doing major box office. Miramax, Game's happy distributor, has the lion's share of the market, fielding Like Water for Chocolate (dollars 9m box-office to date), Strictly Ballroom and Map of the Human Heart. Sally Potter's Orlando is building its take, as are The Long Day Closes, For a Lost Soldier and American Heart. Even the indifferently reviewed Wide Sargasso Sea and Sofie are faring well, while The Story of Qiu Ju, Indochine, Leolo, For a Lost Soldier and Olivier, Olivier seem to be heading for long, profitable runs.

Does this signal a shift in urban audience taste? Disney thinks so. After Miramax's muscular flogging of Enchanted April and other foreign fare, Uncle Walt's storm-troopers bought the company. Fox and Universal are said to be shopping around for similar purchases.

The derivative, polished emptiness of contemporary Hollywood output is one obvious reason for this rising business, the sort art houses haven't seen since the Sixties, when the French New Wave and hip campus clubs broadened the cinema-going habits of the baby boom generation.

'American movies today are increasingly pre-sold,' says Jonathan Romney, deputy editor of Sight and Sound. 'Audiences know the plots - they know what they're getting. Art house films sell a flavour of something. There's an element of surprise.

'There's also a Spielberg quote about European art films being 'well made, like old guns'. Part of the attraction for Americans is the idea of European art films being sort of hand-made, on the same level as, say, Italian extra-virgin olive oil . . . Mind you, in that context it's odd to think of Romper Stomper as doing the art circuit.'

Perhaps Merchant / Ivory could solve the contradiction by shooting Where Hell's Angels Fear to Tread.

Film stock: Russia's Mosfilm Studios, the country's largest media production facility, is to be privatised, bringing to an end the era of celluloid propaganda and 70 years of government rule.

September sees the first phased stock offering, which will allow studio employees to buy up to 50 per cent of the 300 million shares available (at 1,000 roubles a share). Prices are to be kept artifically low to stimulate interest. Come October, national citizens and foreign investors will be allowed to buy 25 per cent of the remaining stock each, exchange rates and market forces permitting. The Russian treasury hopes to realise 210 billion roubles from the sale. Interested overseas parties contemplating their take-up rate in the new venture are said to include Samsung, Japan's Toho Towa, independent producer Dino de Laurentiis and Roger Corman's Concorde-New Horizons outfit.

Cut down to size: Television is traditionally considered low-rent by silver screen movers and shakers. This could account for the slappings down the medium has been handing out to recent dabblers. Oliver Stone's noir sci-fi Wild Palms was ill-received last month while Barry Levinson's rapturously acclaimed Homicide: Life on the Streets sits at the bottom of the ratings. Wes Craven's The People Next Door lasted all of four episodes, Penny Marshall's A League of Their Own was greeted with yawns and Rob Reiner's Morton and Hayes sank. And David Lynch, whose Twin Peaks began the trend, has just seen his Hotel Room pilot for HBO rejected.

Quotes of the week: Variety can't quite make up its mind about Arnold Schwarzenegger's Last Action Hero. 'A joyless, soulless machine of a movie. . . Enough to make one nostalgic for Hudson Hawk,' writes critic Todd McCarthy. 'I thought it was okay, and worth the price of admission, if only to hear Arnold pronounce 'premature ejaculation', ' says gossip-meister Michael Fleming.

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