The film industry has changed more than any other of the arts-related businesses within the past half-century.
In my youth, if someone went to a movie and found that it spoke to him profoundly, his best hope might be to attend another showing or two, until the film left town on its journey around the country.
He had to see his film only at prescribed times and in a public setting, surrounded by the noises and movements of his friends and neighbors. Once it left town, unless he lived in one of our very largest cities, all he could do was remember it, and cherish the hope that the film might be sent again, around its circle of cities and town, if the studio which produced it decided that there were enough people who would fork over their 35 cents to see it again.
Michelle Williams and Eddie Redmayne play Marilyn Monroe and a young English admirer in the film ``My Week with Marilyn,' now available on DVD.
In the late 1960s, I attended college in a small college town, not far away, which had only one operating movie theater. The theater owner tended to book films which appealed to residents of a small, industrial town in Pennsylvania, rather than to the occupants of a liberal arts college campus, so his theater would show the classic ''Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,'' for 15 consecutive weeks, during which there would be nothing else to see in the community.
Today, of course, it's possible to see virtually every film which is made commercially, and see them in the privacy of our own homes, at any time of the day or night. It's even possible to watch for a while, then turn it off, eat dinner, visit with the family, make out a grocery shopping list, and eventually return to the film. One can even rewind it a bit, if one has forgotten what was happening.
I certainly remember when we used to drive to Erie or Buffalo to see films which weren't likely ever to play in Jamestown. Today, it's possible to own films and watch them as often as we might wish, for less than it cost to make the journey to see them once.
As a result, contemporary filmmakers have been challenged to attract the viewer dollars which might be spent from a huge possible audience for something they will see in relative privacy, while filmmakers of the past had to attract funds from the pockets of people who went out as a large audience at organized times, to see things once.
One might think that with more choices, there would be more outstanding films to be seen, but alas, the industrial element within the film industry has chosen to pursue the least common denominator among its audiences, making virtually an endless list of films which appeal to the largest audience elements, leaving relatively few films which seek to attract the support of audiences with trained ears for music, for example, or a philosophical passion for questions which shape our culture for decades.
I've recently watched a number of recent films, and this week, I'd like to discuss a few of them with you.
MY WEEK WITH MARILYN
One theme which psychologists tell us is very common among us is the belief that if someone we admire greatly could only get to know us, he or she would be thrilled by our mixture of great respect and affection, and our willingness to offer the hero or heroine entry into a world which their fame has separated from them, of home cooking and genuine friends, and the freedom of anonymity.
Director Simon Curtis has adapted two volumes of memoirs, written by an Englishman who in 1957, as a recent college graduate, worked on a film, made by Sir Laurence Olivier, called ''The Prince and the Showgirl.'' The young man's name was Colin Clark, and the highlight of his work on the Olivier film was a chance to become deeply and personally involved with the actor who was cast as the ''showgirl'' part of the title: Marilyn Monroe.
The internet is full of conjecture that Clark made up his fantasy of being the close companion of a beautiful and famous movie star, and perhaps he did. We can only judge the film as a fantasy. It's only a movie.
Cast as the ''Me'' from the title is young British actor Eddie Redmayne. Redmayne is not movie-star handsome, making it possible for the audience to identify him with the ''everyday guy'' who meets the blonde bombshell. He is, in fact, rather awkward, as though he hasn't quite grown into his long arms and legs.
On the other hand, he has the accent and the polished moves of someone who has attended Eton and Cambridge, as his character is said to have done. When Marilyn wants to visit a famous museum when it isn't open, Clark phones his uncle, who is a high-ranking employee of the museum, and they go right inside. No wonder she found the boy handy.
Obviously, the central figure is Michelle Williams, who plays Marilyn. She doesn't resemble her character that much, although the clothes and the platinum blonde hair help very much. But again, the issue is not specifically Marilyn Monroe, the issue is a famous blonde sex symbol, and Ms. Williams does that very handily.
I found it easy to believe that here was a woman who had learned in the school of hard knocks that the only thing she had to offer, in return for the things she wanted and needed from life, was her beauty and her sexuality, so she had studied hard how to get the needs by turning on and off the sexuality.
Ms. Williams deserved her Oscar nomination. If truth were told, her role probably took more acting than was required of Meryl Streep to portray Margaret Thatcher, but it certainly never occurred to me that playing an actress would trump a portrayal of a prime minister.
Kenneth Branagh was an important element of the film as Laurence Olivier. Olivier, by 1957, had lived his life among female actors who showed up on the first day of rehearsal with all the lines of Lady Macbeth memorized and researched, so that he could begin to meld those things into his view of the entire play. Needing to deal with Marilyn's game of refusing to produce the beauty and the sexuality unless he spoke to her and treated her as she wanted to be treated, was a threat to the man's entire life and career.
Dame Judi Dench does a nice cameo, portraying Sybil Thorndike, a highly respected dramatic actress who was cast in the film as someone's mother. When Olivier is ready to beat his head against the wall because Marilyn can't be ordered or bullied into doing what he wants, Dame Sybil reminds the director that he didn't hire Marilyn for her grasp of classic roles, so he needs to deal with the things he hired her to do.
The film isn't great art, but it can teach us things about the making of great art, and it's a very enjoyable experience.
''My Week with Marilyn'' was made in late 2011, and is available for rental and purchase, as well as an occasional late-run movie theater.
Horror films, and films created around extreme violence and physically impossible feats of action, have always operated outside of arts criticism. Naturally, however, there are always things to learn from the mental processes through which these films put their viewers.
Let me begin by saying that there have been a number of films named ''Priest,'' ranging from brilliant art films to tawdry shoot-em-ups. I'm afraid that I'm writing about one of the latter - the one released in 3-D in January 2011.
I've never really enjoyed watching people be shot, stabbed, tortured and otherwise destroyed, and I've always been curious about people who do enjoy such scenes.
''Priest'' is based - very loosely - upon some Korean graphic novels. It is set in a post-Apocalyptic world in which on-going wars between humans and vampires have made most of the world into an unlivable desert. A pre-film animation tells us that vampires in this narrative are faceless, soulless humanoids. Humans who have been bitten by them, but who survive, do not become vampires, but rather become Familiars, who work as slaves to the vampires.
We're told that the vampires were on the verge of winning the long war, when humans learned how to train a few brilliant fighters whose seemingly supernatural powers made it possible for them to overcome the vampires. These super-warriors were called Priests, and were immediately recognizable by the large crosses which were tattooed on their foreheads, and down the bridges of their noses.
Now the vampires have been exiled to reservations, and the human world has declined into a theocracy, operated by the bureaucracy of their religion, which is called only ''the Church.'' The Church has recognized the Priests as potential rivals to their power, and they have disbanded the order, isolated the individual priests, and ordered them to practice little-respected manual labor, at scattered sites.
Since the film's vampires can't tolerate the light of the sun, much of the film takes place in the dark. Further, the script adds the issue that the human cities have so polluted the air that people live in a perpetual environment of darkness. It's often difficult to tell the actors apart, because they wear large, loose hoods on their clothes.
The plot concerns a former priest, portrayed by Paul Bettany. At the beginning, we see a raid by the surviving vampires on an isolated desert outpost, where they kill the priest's brother and his wife, and they kidnap his daughter. The priest asks to be released from his vows of obedience to the Church, to go and rescue his niece, but a haughty monsignor, played by Christopher Plummer, denies permission, insisting that the war with the vampires is over and the priest will just get everything stirred up again.
Naturally, the priest disobeys his orders and sets off, eventually destroying a closed train in which vampires are traveling from city to city, avoiding the sunlight until they can attack human cities after dark.
The attraction of the film is the huge, gory battles, in which the priest singlehandedly or in company with his niece's fiance, played by handsome Cam Gigandet of ''Twilight'' fame, manages to stab, behead, slice in half, impale and otherwise painfully destroy literally thousands of foes. Then, he gets to go back and be arrogant to the leadership, as well.
To me, the worst thing about the film was the soundtrack. I found myself with the remote glued in my hand, quickly turning the sound far up whenever anyone was talking, if I had any hope of knowing what was going on, and then as quickly as possible, turning it far back down, to escape the screaming and explosions of the battles, and the blaring of the background music, which tries to turn every little fuss into D-Day.
I'm sorry I watched it. I wouldn't watch it again. If it's your thing, go for it. The film is sometimes listed as being released in 2010 and sometimes in 2011, but either way, it's recent, and you can find it fairly easily.
WE BOUGHT A ZOO
If you like films which have happy, predictable endings; that offer no surprises; and in which attractive people do interesting things, I can sincerely recommend ''We Bought a Zoo,'' a 2011 release from filmmaker Cameron Crowe.
The film concerns a young, recent widower named Benjamin Mee, portrayed by Matt Damon. According to the plot, the character is crushed by the early death of his wife, and he feels his children, a 7-year-old daughter and especially his 14-year-old son, slipping away, attracted to values and activities which he doesn't respect or desire for them.
He gives up his glamorous and high-adventure job and decides that a move to a rural area might give him a better opportunity to become closer to his children and might separate them from the environment which seems to be turning them away from him.
He ends up buying a small zoo in rural California. Naturally, there is a colorful staff which can warm our hearts, headed by a hot blonde zookeeper, played by Scarlett Johansson. Naturally there are various non-surprising forces working against him, including a fussy state inspector with a grudge against one member of the colorful staff, as well as bad weather, escaping animals, etc.
I would guess that nothing which is happening at the end of the film would come as a surprise at the beginning of the film. Still, Damon casts aside his action hero persona and plays placid and strong, with great charm.
Johansson does ''beautiful and yet completely competent'' with full commitment. The colorful staff, interested townspeople, and the other members of the cast are realistic and believable.
The soundtrack is comfortable, including a number of background songs from sources such as Tom Petty, Neil Young and Bob Dylan. It was pleasant to watch, and it was certainly something one could watch with one's children or grandchildren without embarrassment for either of you. Just the fact that it's a believable story, based on a true situation which took place in England, is refreshing.
It won't curl your toenails, but it will pass some time pleasantly.
To summarize, I enjoyed ''My Week with Marilyn.'' Although it wasn't great art, it was enjoyable and beautiful to look at.
I did not like ''Priest,'' and regretted the time I spent watching it.
''We Bought a Zoo'' isn't my cup of tea, but it's good at what it sets out to do and would be a good film for a family group.
All three films are available for rental from local and online sources, and for free borrowing from the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Library System.
The newly formed Buffalo Flute Club will present their First Annual Flute Fair, today, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Amherst Community Church, in Snyder, NY. The address is 77 Washington Highway, directly across Main Street from Daemen College.
Special guest artist will be flutist Keith Underwood. He is a resident of New York City, who teaches at the Mannes School of Music, New York University and Queens College. He has performed internationally as a soloist, with various orchestras, and on recordings with Celine Dion, Kathleen Battle, Rod Stewart and a host of similar names.
I understand that this is short notice, but this is the earliest we could get it into print, after receiving their news release. I'm printing it all the same to alert flutists in our area to the club's existence. You can email them for additional information or to join the organization at email@example.com, or see their Facebook page at Buffalo Flute Club.
Young filmmakers who are able to travel to Buffalo to study are offered an outstanding opportunity.
Squeaky Wheel, the Buffalo-based Media Resources Organization will be holding their sixth annual Buffalo Youth Media Institute, in July and August of this year. Participants will receive the opportunity to make a seven-week-long video project, in which they produce a documentary film about Buffalo Area History, during which they get instruction and advice from professional filmmakers and get the loan of professional quality equipment. The best film from the project will win a $500 agreement for making Buffalo-centered documentaries.
The application deadline is Friday of the coming week, so prompt action is necessary. Check Squeaky Wheel's website at www.squeaky.org or phone them at 884-7172. If you wish to email a staff member for answers to questions or advice, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jay Lesenger, artistic director of the Chautauqua Opera Company, will be directing a rare performance of John Corigliano's opera ''The Ghosts of Versailles,'' at the Manhattan School of Music, on April 25, 27, and 29.
The opera had its debut at the Metropolitan Opera House, where it was performed by two separate orchestras and a cast of approximately 300. Because of the opera's demands, it has only rarely been performed, and this composer-approved reduction is now making the opera available to the rest of the world, outside the Met's rarefied circumstances.
Tickets to this production are only $20 for the general public and $12 for students and senior citizens. More contact information is available at www.msmnyc.edu or by phoning 917-493-4428.
Patterson Library in Westfield offers an exhibit of the work of two area artists in their Octagon Art Gallery, through May 4.
''Still Lives'' is the exhibit of works by Amy Greenan and Jan Nagle, both of Niagara Falls. There is no admission charge, although donations are very welcome.
The gallery is located below the main reading room of the library, at 30 S. Portage St., in downtown Westfield.
The musical ensemble ''A Musical Feast'' will perform Friday evening at 8 p.m. at the Burchfield-Penney Art Gallery on Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo.
Compositions by Martinu, Stravinsky and Schoenfeld will be performed.
Also at the gallery, on Sunday, hear the final lecture in their Writers and Poets series, presented by Irving Feldman. It begins at 2 p.m.
For additional information about these events or about the gallery itself, phone 878-6011.