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Some guy in LA thinks you live in a hick town

From Jim Selvidge in Burlington, Washington:

You hit all the right notes in your analysis of 2011 movies and box office. I would add that the year intensified the "new censorship."

In the 50's and 60's I saw every Roger Corman film. "Attack of the Crab Monsters" remains top of my list of bad movies of all times (though "Apollo 18," "Paranormal 3," the Centipede movies, and "The Sitter" came close). But in the same two decades, I viewed (and exhibited) over 1000 foreign films. I opened the Ridgemont Theatre with a mailing list of 800 assembled when managing the Varsity Theatre (J. Arthur Rank and Eagle Lion).

When the "Golden Age" ended, my film quarterly (inspired by Pauline Kael, an acquaintance in those years) hit a total quarterly distribution of 20,000. (In the late 1960's, the Ridgemont was out-grossing New York City and San Francisco on many films. A theatre that had gone bankrupt in 1955 on Hollywood films cranked out grosses of $25,000 per week. The 63-week run on "A Man and a Woman" still holds the Seattle length-of-run record. In trying to book movies in 1956, New York foreign film importers universally regarded Seattle as a "farm town" - far removed from cosmopolitan. They were right. But, one theatre turned it around, and proved the degree that "an audience can be built.

After viewing lifetime over 30,000 movies, I now live in Burlington, Washington (the last 10 years) as a stroke-impaired senior citizen (now 83). Since retirement, I didn't alter my "movie marathons," hitting the multi-plex at 11-12 AM and exiting at midnight. No more.

Burlington boasts an AMC 14-plex. But, for years we get to see literally none of the legitimate Academy Award nominees. On complaining to their main office in Kansas City to the CEO, it was explained that their Los Angeles "booker" viewed Skagit County as potato farmers and itinerant workers. If anybody visited here, they would find primarily a bedroom community for Microsoft executives.

My primary day is Tuesday (bargain day) That means that for a Senior Citizen I can get by for $9.50 for 3D and an El Cheapo $6 for a 2D matinee. Of course, a small coke is $4.25 and I can spend up to $11 on some snacks. (I import my favorite candy bar by the case from "World's Finest Chocolates" in Chicago and sneak them in.)

Since mid-November, I have been able to see few movies. Long runs have involved multiple auditoriums on "Paranormal 3," "Twilight 3," "New Years Eve," "The Sitter," other drek, and assorted Xmas movies. I have over a dozen movies on my Netflix queue beginning with "Margin Call," which were well-reviewed by Moira Mac Donald in the Seattle Times. Films you ranked 3.5 or 4.0 stars, forget it. This, of course, doesn't include foreign films and documentaries.

My argument is that - with 14 screens, they could spare ONE for "film as art" movies. Candidly, I think they would have decent business for more than a week on "The Artist," but it will never play Burlington. I have discussed this with Moira, a longtime acquaintance. She has told me that this "industry censorship" extends to Seattle. Bellevue and Renton are prominent large population suburb bedroom communities for Seattle. Both have more than one multiplex. But, she receives constant complaints from readers because these circuits will also not book and play the higher quality films.

For 15 years I fought motion picture censorship - initially to keep the Ridgemont open, and then for Hollywood. I was pleased to be credited in the 1960's with blowing away coast-to-coast Censor Boards, via my lawsuit against the City of Seattle and the Seattle City Council and their "Seattle Board of Theater Supervisors." We won the suit in 1964 (after they tried to burn down the Ridgemont per "Point of Order" and banned Bergman's "The Silence" and threatened me with jail if I exhibited it).

In 1966, the Supreme Court ruled in our favor, 9-0. Actually, the Hollywood film studios picked up the legal tab via a "War Chest." I toured the West Coast for "Western Lectures and Concerts" defending Hollywood's "Joe" and campaigning against censorship. My brilliant attorney, William L. Dwyer, wound up on retainer to MPAA and the only Democrat appointed to the Federal Bench by President Ronald Reagan.

In a way, I view this "new censorship" as even more insidious. There's no way to fight it. I truly believe that the chains that presume the public as totally dumb - and have no concept of "building an audience" - may not only endanger grosses, but also shoot down many potentially great creative talents. I've mentioned my 12-year acquaintance with Jacques Tati, and saw directly what was done to him that ruined his productivity.

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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