When Cedar Rapids ain’t good enough, light out for the territories

Posted by · 9:17 am · January 6th, 2009

Lina Leandersson in Let the Right One InI was going to include this David Frank Rope of Silicon op-ed in today’s round-up, but it’s just too good not to spotlight separately.  I laughed out loud a number of times because I understand this guy’s pain.  I’ve been there before.  And I’m sure plenty in the readership can relate.

The piece is a week old, so you may have already come across it, but the central idea is the annual top 10 list/best of the year online frenzy and how it makes Frank, sitting helplessly in 33-screen Cedar Rapids, Iowa (two hours away from Des Moines, the closest market for limited releases), want to pull his hair out.  He compares his annual out-of-the-know agony to being “[t]hat one guy at your college roommate’s sexy art student girlfriend’s party who hasn’t illegally downloaded the latest Bright Eyes album that everyone around him is raving about.”

Frank “gets it,” of course.  “Why give an auditorium to a movie that sells 5 tickets a day,” he asks, “when you can cram it full of old people who must see Marley and Me per their bucket lists?”  But eventually he comes around to the all-too-familiar “movie road trip,” that splendid ritual of trekking it however many miles it takes to see the films that simply aren’t making it to the multiplexes (or single-plexes) in those smaller markets:

To me, the movie road trip is how you earn your stripes in the film fiend brigade. You can say you love fine cinema and blah blah blah. But save it for Flowery Film Theory 101. The physical, monetary, time-consuming act of seeking out one small, great film in a far away land (like Des Moines) says a lot more about your dedication to movies than wordy adoration.

This brings back plenty of memories, because like I said, I’ve been there.  I certainly haven’t had these year-end prestige flicks at my disposal here in Los Angeles all my life, and if you have, consider yourself lucky.

I grew up in a little burg called Salisbury, North Carolina, maybe an hour or so north of Charlotte.  I remember making that journey in 1997 to see “Jackie Brown” and a year later to see “The Thin Red Line.”  The Manor art house theater over on Providence Road became a destination for the really small stuff, like “The Red Violin” or “Limbo.”

When I pushed off to college in Winston-Salem (another half-hour north) in 1999, there were times I’d still have to make that journey: “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” “Amelie,” etc.  And by that time I was already running a site, so the necessity went beyond desire.  But as I look back on it, I wouldn’t have it any other way.  It recalls those pre-jaded years when films were just films and the curtain had yet to be pulled back.

So I hear you, David.  Way to keep the spirit alive.  You’ve more than earned your stripes in my book.

What about you guys?  What’s the farthest you’ve ever traveled to see a film that wasn’t playing in your area?  Have you ever made the journey knowing the film would be in your town in a few weeks, figuring, ‘Screw it, I have to see this movie RIGHT NOW?”  Tell us your story in the comments section below.

→ 29 Comments Tags: , , , , | Filed in: Daily

29 responses so far

  • 1 1-06-2009 at 9:23 am

    Nick Plowman said...

    I thought I, living in South Africa, had it bad. Guess not. I’ve never gone out of my way to see a movie, because there is simply no where to go.

  • 2 1-06-2009 at 9:28 am

    Shawn said...

    This issue alone will force me to keep living in NYC for the rest of my life. Not that I’m complaining or anything.

    Even when I went to college, it was only an hour away and my college had regular screenings of small films.

    Much kudos to all of you who have to trek. Much kudos and respect.

  • 3 1-06-2009 at 9:32 am

    Bing147 said...

    The closest place to me that gets anything small is a 2 hour drive each way, Grand Rapids. They get most of the ‘semi’ limited releases. They got Rachel Getting Married, Milk, Slumdog, Frost/Nixon which we haven’t gotten. They got Happy Go Lucky. They don’t get the really small stuff. They’ve yet to get I’ve Loved You So Long, Synechdoche, Let the Right One In. None of that. The closest any of those come is Detroit or Chicago. I’m at about the half way point which is 4 hours between the two. I’ve never made that trip for a movie. I have driven the 2 hours to Grand Rapids a number of times but almost never for one movie. There has to be a few that I want to see. I made the trip to see the combo of I’m Not There/Lars and the Real Girl. Again for There Will Be Blood/The Orphanage and I knew at the time that Blood would come to my town about 2 weeks later. I saw it again then. I also once in awhile will go for an IMAX movie, its the closest IMAX there is to me. I’ve done that 3 times, for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory/Beowulf/Dark Knight.

  • 4 1-06-2009 at 9:37 am

    N8 said...

    I took a 3.5 hour road trip from my cottage to the nearest town with a theatre one summer to see Napoleon Dynamite. I forced my dad to drive me and my sister because cabin feaver had set in and I was determined that we needed a movie. My dad grumbled and groaned for the whole car ride while me and my sister tried unsuccessfully to hype him up.

    The ultimate irony is that he ended up loving the movie and I hated it! Life’s not fair is it?

  • 5 1-06-2009 at 9:42 am

    Mr. F said...

    I live in Kansas and I there are two theaters within 5 minutes of my house, a first-run and a sub-run theather. However, they never play any “art” movies in the first-run theater. There is another one that is about 30 minutes away that shows them every now and then (right now they have Slumdog and The Reader) but they ususally keep them for one week. There are exceptions, however. This will be Slumdog’s third and final week, so I have to go out and see it.

  • 6 1-06-2009 at 9:46 am

    Edaz09 said...

    December 31st, 2007

    I travel with my friend Sean about an hour by train departing our small suburb community at 8AM. Destination: AMC Lowes Theater in Lincoln Center to see There Will Be Blood. We get there an hour before our show time and behold the film is sold out. At this point it was playing in about 5 theaters across the country.

    Unnaceptable. This was Paul Thomas Anderson’s newest film. This was the film I had been waiting for over a year. From production photos to the glorious trailer I followed this film impatiently. Using my detective skills I figure out in what theater the film was playing in and bought two tickets to Atonement which was conveniently in the theater adjacent to TWBB.

    At the entrance of the theater for Blood two employees were checking tickets. Damn. I tell my friend Sean “We are going to do this.” We walked right past the employees with our Atonement tickets out, grabbed decent seats, and experienced our favorite 07 film. Ironically I now go to college five blocks away this very theater.

  • 7 1-06-2009 at 9:55 am

    Bryan said...

    Yeah, college in a big city makes movie-going much easier, but before I had to drive two hours to Raleigh from another small NC hick-town. And I remember going to the railway museum in Salisbury. Talk about major entertainment.

  • 8 1-06-2009 at 9:57 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...


  • 9 1-06-2009 at 9:57 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    That’s for Edaz09, by the way.

  • 10 1-06-2009 at 9:58 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Raleigh has some good stuff. Colony, Rialto, etc. Not sure if they’re as hip as they used to be though.

  • 11 1-06-2009 at 10:01 am

    Zac said...

    When I lived in Grand Rapids, MI (Hi Bing!), a friend and I drove 2 1/2 hours to Southfield, outside of Detroit, to see Star Wars Episode II digitally. This was before all the Jack Loeks theaters made the multimillion dollar investment in digital projectors for all their theaters.

    Other than that, I’ve traveled from my current home in Muskegon to the IMAX theater in Grand Rapids, 45 minutes away, to see The Dark Knight. It cost me $42 (3 tickets) and gas money, but it was worth it for my sister, brother-in-law and I.

  • 12 1-06-2009 at 10:21 am

    Adam Smith said...

    Kris: What about Greensboro? Yeah, they’ve got a couple of big multiplexes, but they also tend to get some interesting stuff among the expected blockbusters and such. At this very moment, in the same multiplex that’s showing Bedtime Stories and Yes Man, they’ve got Rachel Getting Married, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and Let The Right One In. When I was younger, this is where my family would go every year for my birthday to see at least two movies that we couldn’t see in Danville (*shudder*). I remember seeing stuff like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, In The Bedroom, The Royal Tenenbaums, Gosford Park, Amelie, Closer, Memento, Mulholland Drive, Sideways, Lost in Translation, A Very Long Engagement, and probably some more I’m forgetting (given, these all weren’t at my birthday, but these were some of the movies we saw when we went to Greensboro). I also remember that my brother and I made the trip to Greensboro so we could see the first showing of (don’t laugh, please) Fahrenheit 9/11. The line was practically around the block. My favorite part was that someone in the line actually assumed that all of those people were in line to see the other movie that had opened that day: White Chicks.

    Occasionally, my family would also hit up small theatres in Durham and Chapel Hill to see some stuff like Far From Heaven, Brokeback Mountain, Good Night and Good Luck, etc.

    Strangely enough, you know what film actually had a short run in Danville? City of God. Never would have seen that coming. And this was before the Oscar nods.

    The lesson to be learned? Sometimes Danville’s cool, but mostly not.

    Also, the only thing that kept me from driving to D.C. to see There Will Be Blood in its limited preview was that I believe I was already in Italy at that point.

  • 13 1-06-2009 at 10:33 am

    Chris said...

    The closest cinema to my home town in Luxembourg is 35 mins away, but we usually get anything considerably big within 1-2 months of the US releases. We usually have to wait for any smaller stuff for much longer though. “Capote” for instance was released in May, 3 months after the Oscars. But on the other hand we do get French, German and Italian films pretty much as soon as they’re out.

    So I do understand the feeling of having to wait for ever and ever to finally see a film. Luckily I study in Glasgow now, where American films are usually released earlier than in Luxembourg (apart from Woody Allen films).

  • 14 1-06-2009 at 10:40 am

    Bryan said...

    The Rialto and Colony are still cool (showing Milk, Slumdog, and Doubt currently), but the real prize is the Galaxy in Cary because it has six screens, all for arthouse (and a few Bollywood) films.

  • 15 1-06-2009 at 10:40 am

    mike said...

    I work in Times Square and live in Hoboken, NJ so my farthest tripis usually a bus/subway trip.

    But I did travel about 45 min to a Regal Theater near Rutgers to see the theatrical showing of the ‘final” Phish concert (Conventry) in 2004…

  • 16 1-06-2009 at 10:53 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Adam: I assume maybe you’re talking about the Carousel? That’s Eastern Federal, the same company that owned North Point 5 in Winston (closed now), so generally, if it was playing there it was in Winston. Eventually the art stuff would get to those two towns, but if I wanted it sooner, I’d have to go to Charlotte. Generally it was a matter of maybe one or two weeks, but for some stuff, I just HAD to go.

    Also, I was at one of those first “Fahrenheit” showings in G-Boro. Funny.

    I knew an effects guy from Danville. Worked on a movie with him. In a nutshell, Danny McBride’s “Tropic Thunder” depiction isn’t that far off the mark.

    Bryan: Is the Galaxy fairly new? I can’t remember if I’ve been there or not. I seem to remember seeing “The Believer” somewhere in Cary. Or maybe it was “Bend It Like Beckham.” Probably the latter.

  • 17 1-06-2009 at 11:06 am

    Homero said...

    I usually do the 40-45min. drive from my house to downtown Houston to either Landmark or Angelika to watch all the good films that get limited releases, but it makes me appreciate them that much more.

    I remember when I first saw Let the Right One In, Vicky Christina Barcelona and Doubt on the same day a few weeks ago and being one out of five total people in the theater. It’s a great feeling and you can tell they probably appreciate film (almost) as much as you do.

    I do the drive because the theater I work at (Studio Movie Grill – Copperfield), mostly shows family films so we can make money off hungry kids and whatnot. Even though we’re getting Gran Torino on Friday, I still have to do the 45min. drive to watch Revolutionary Road at Landmark.

  • 18 1-06-2009 at 11:35 am

    JC said...

    I live in a suburb of Vancouver, BC (which has a multiplex that usually only plays mainstream fare) and have pretty much travelled 90 minutes (by transit) to every one of the limited release films I’ve seen this year, in downtown Vancouver.

    I did a triple-header of Synecdoche, Rachel, and Happy-Go-Lucky one week; Milk, Tell No One, and Let The Right One In the next week; Slumdog and Frost/Nixon the week after that.

    The only other time, a few years ago, that I did a triple header was with The Life Aquatic, Sideways, and House of Flying Daggers. It’s exhausting.

    Anyways, I notice my local multiplex has a poster for The Wrestler up, but who knows when it’ll actually show up on the screens. I’m hoping to win two passes to the Vancouver premiere this Thursday…in downtown Vancouver, of course.

  • 19 1-06-2009 at 11:46 am

    Zan said...

    I live in Atlanta and go to Emory, so the small films are always at my disposal. They usually are released here about a week or two after they come out in NY/LA. I also have a website that has every new release from leaked DVD screeners.

    Probably not a great thing to habitually get into, but I couldn’t wait until February to see “Wendy and Lucy” and “Frozen River” (on DVD), so I just watch a lot of them on here. I always pay for the movie though if it’s playing nearby.

  • 20 1-06-2009 at 11:54 am

    John K said...

    I lived in NYC most of my life and only recently moved to a smaller metropolitan area that gets its indie movies two whole weeks – two! – after they’re released in New York. Your stories make me feel bad about complaining.

  • 21 1-06-2009 at 12:31 pm

    Bryan said...

    I don’t know how recent it opened;


  • 22 1-06-2009 at 12:55 pm

    JC said...

    Well, it looks like I’ll be doing a triple-header of The Wrestler, Doubt, and The Reader this weekend…and I won’t even have to go all the way into downtown Vancouver this time.

    Come for the broken down fighter and Catholic guilt, stay for the gratuitous Winslet nudity.

  • 23 1-06-2009 at 1:53 pm

    MichellK said...

    Funnily enough…I drove to Winston-Salem from Sparta, N.C. to see One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. In fact, we had a car load.

    It’s not about mileage as the road is straight down and straight back up a mountain! It was snowing so it took us two hours to get there and three to get home!

  • 24 1-06-2009 at 3:33 pm

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    I got 3 multiplexes to which I own an unlimited-viewing pass. Best thing in the world. Best thing besides is the city where my Uni is, Amsterdam, has three more of those babies so I get to see pretty much everything. But occassionally I go to some of the festivals to see newer stuff. I’ve even been checking for the recent London Film Festival but it turned out it wasn’t too practical for me to go.
    So basically I don’t have to travel except when there’s a festival.

  • 25 1-06-2009 at 7:31 pm

    jp said...

    I convinced my buddy to drive us nearly 2 hours to go see Diving Bell last year. The movie was well worth it and the drive ended up being a pretty good time…

    (ps: i now go to Fordham right by Lincoln Center AMC Loews. as sick as it is, part of the reason i wanted to be in the city was so i could see all the good movies when they came out)

  • 26 1-06-2009 at 8:58 pm

    Matthew Lucas said...

    You grew up in Salisbury!? I live in Salisbury, and I used to live in Winston. Most of my art-house movie watching is either there, Greensboro, or in Charlotte.

    Thank god I’ve progressed on to press screenings. “Synecdoche” is just now opening here.

  • 27 1-06-2009 at 9:01 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Which High School?

  • 28 1-06-2009 at 9:12 pm

    Matthew Lucas said...

    I went to West Davidson…I lived in Lexington for a while, which is why I still review films for The Dispatch. I’m a student at App State now but my family is in Salisbury.

  • 29 1-07-2009 at 9:24 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Gotcha. I was a West Rowan guy. Cow pasture in the front yard of the school. Oy.