Most feature-length films find their way to Baltimore sooner or later

People often ask why it takes so long for a film like "The Commitments" to reach Baltimore? Or why it takes so long for a movie like "The Pope Must Die" to reach the city when it opens elsewhere around the country weeks before.

Well, the answer is complex.


According to a spokesman for one of the local agencies that handles major studio accounts, openings are based on time, availability and the film itself. And in some cases, it's because Baltimore is not New York, Washington, Los Angeles, Chicago or Philadelphia, all of which are better movie towns than Baltimore.

Baltimore, in fact, ranks about 22nd on the national scale, which means that when a "big" film like "Terminator 2" is released across the country, we will see it the same time other cities do. But special films are given special treatment. In some cases, the TC distributors prefer that Baltimore wait until other cities have seen a movie. Which is the case with "The Commitments," a film that opens here tomorrow but has already been showing -- and well-received -- in other cities.


Timed release dates such as this are called "platforming." What producers are looking for is word-of-mouth praise. So that by the time a film reaches Baltimore, the potential audience is already there.

The agency spokesman, who declined to be named, added that some films suffer because Baltimore does not have enough film houses. Distributors are not always able to place certain films in houses where they would do best. And in some cases, local exhibitors are reluctant to rid themselves of titles that are still making money to make way for other films.

In other cases, special films are destined to play only at the Charles, and here, too, the distributor must wait until there is a slot available. The Charles plans its schedule several months in advance.

Baltimore does, however, get most films, though those that die quickly in the bigger markets may not reach here. In this case, the distributors think it unwise to throw good money after bad, as the saying goes.

There are also cases in which the distributor, hoping to book his film in the more commercial theaters, will hold off until it is too late. In such instances, these films never make it here because by the time the distributor is willing to agree to lesser terms, the theater owners are no longer interested -- the moment has passed.


One of those more special films is currently on view at the Charles, where it will remain through Sunday. It is "An Angel on My Shoulder," a film made in New Zealand and directed by Jane Compton.

The film, two hours and 40 minutes long, is based on the autobiography of Janet Frame, poet and novelist, who was born in the South Island in 1924, to a family of seven -- mother, father, three sisters and one brother. They had more than their share of tragedy. Two sisters drowned, the brother was an epileptic and Janet was diagnosed as being schizophrenic.


In the film, she is sent to a hospital where the doctors are considering doing a pre-frontal lobotomy. Happily, she is spared when her work as a poet and a novelist begins to win prize after prize.

Released from the hospital, Frame travels Europe where she has an affair, learns her illness had been misdiagnosed, then returns to New Zealand where she is recognized as a woman of accomplishment.

The film covers Frame's life from early childhood on, and in a word, it's fascinating. It is interesting to see that the New Zealand school system had the same kind of problems American schools had during those pre-World War II days -- insensitive teachers and bullies.

Frame's parents, however, were marvelous people, understanding and patient; Frame is lucky to have had them, and we are lucky to be able to see this film. The worst thing you can say about it is that it is occasionally sketchy. But it is still engrossing. Kerry Fox is Frame as a young woman. She is superb.


The cast recording of "The Will Rogers Follies," currently playing the Palace on Broadway in New York, is now available at record outlets, and if you don't want to invest in the album, you can buy one of two singles, the first such to be released in 20 years, according to the producers of the show.


The singles are "I Never Met a Man I Didn't Like" and "Look Around," both of which are sung by the star of the show, Keith Carradine.

It's a beautiful show. Tommy Tune directed, and he has come remarkably close to reproducing the routines Busby Berkley did in all those Warner musicals of the '30s. Others have have tried, but Tune has done it.


If you are a "Baldwin spotter," there's one in "Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man," currently showing in area theaters. He's Daniel Baldwin, brother to Alec ("Hunt for the Red October") and William ("Backdraft"). Daniel plays one of the uniformed goons who dresses in black and prowls the streets, hoping to dispose of the lead characters, played by Mickey Rourke and Don Johnson. Baldwin is the one with the piercing blue eyes.