O art, where art thou?

One night while watching D.H. Lawrence's The Fox, which was pretty much your average drop-a-tree-on-a-lesbian movie, my friend Jon couldn't help but notice that Patty Hearst—at the time America's most famed fugitive—was sitting in front of him with another woman and a black guy.

Though known for their bank robberies and shootouts, the Symbionese Liberation Army also had time for petty larcenies. A few minutes into the film, the guy turned to Jon and said, "Hey, man, I'm gonna go find a liquor store. You want anything?" Jon thought a bottle of Jack Daniels would complement the film nicely and gave the fellow $5.

The man returned some minutes later with no booze and no mention of Jon's cash. When he asked about it, Jon was told, "Why don't you just consider it a donation to a good cause?" Evidently more persistent than the FBI was at the time, Jon got his $5 back. In the next day's Register and Times, law-enforcement officials confirmed that Hearst and Co. had been sighted in Fullerton.

Even mainstream movie houses routinely carried films like Antonioni's Zabriskie Point—a revolutionary manifesto chock-full of desert hippie sex and exploding appliances—even though Orange County was then a far, far more conservative place. Despite the censorious attitude of that time, I think we're finding out that there may be no greater censor than the "free" market when it is in the hands of profit-maximizing executives.

Man, it is hard pulling out of a hippie flashback, but I have. If we may infer a point from it, it's that there was probably a higher percentage of challenging films on OC screens then than there are in our present glut of theaters. One thing we never imagined when watching 2001: A Space Odyssey back then was that in 2001, a movie that original might not make it to OC screens.

Much as I'd like to blame the Edwards "I never met a theater I didn't own" dynasty and its hundreds of screens, much as I'd like to blame empire-building city governments that help slap up megaplex-hubbed centers faster than they can go bankrupt—the blame is ours, too. There is many a movie that has appeared in the county that I haven't rushed out to see, only to find it gone when I did get off my lazy ass a few weeks later.

You know how Oprah Winfrey gets droves of people to buy books? Maybe what we need is someone—Greg Stacy, where are you?—to be our local filmic Oprah, someone to say, "Look, you go see this movie, opening night, tonight, or I am going to come to your house and sit on you while we screen the director's cut DVD of Heaven's Gate. Okay?"

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