The Michigan Daily discovered in April 2005 that several articles written by arts editor Marshall W. Lee did not meet the newspaper’s standard of ethical journalism. Parts of these stories had been plagiarized from other news sources. Although the article below has not been found to contain plagiarism, the Daily no longer stands by its content. For details, see the Daily’s editorial.

Arts Department

As another shitty, cold winter settles over Ann Arbor, blanketing the sidewalks in treacherous snow and transforming State Street into an icy death-luge, I can’t help but wonder just what it is that makes this frigid season so fucking wonderful? But then, like a beam of yellow sun burning through the clouds, I recall the bright spots shining low over Hollywood. I imagine the measured grace and exaggerated curves of movie stars dressed up like movie starlets, sauntering across a crimson carpet and reveling in the glory of their bizarre lives. In short, I find my reason for the season: The Academy Awards.

If you’re like me, you anticipate the Oscars with bated breath and furious action — settling debts from last year’s pool, downloading Israel’s Foreign Language bid, hoping against hope that maybe the Academy will get things right this year and find a statue for Kaufman or Murray or Payne. But if, like me, you call Ann Arbor home, these glacial weeks between the Golden Globes — don’t get me started — and the Oscars are also a time of immense frustration, as production houses and distributors tease and taunt smaller markets with their maddening and incomprehensible release schedules.

Despite boasting six rather impressive theaters within a 10-mile radius of Central Campus, Ann Arbor is considered by major distributors such as New Line and Warner Bros. to be a minor market town. Big budget, big name titles such as Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby” and “Hotel Rwanda” with Don Cheadle (both critical darlings and major contenders come Oscar time) are suspiciously absent from the marquees of our city’s two famed art houses. “Bad Education” and “The Sea Inside,” acclaimed foreign flicks that opened wide in October, have just begun to eke their way across the Midwest, gracing a few theaters in Pittsburgh and Chicago while discreetly avoiding our mitten state.

While “Vera Drake” wows crowds in New York, the entertainment-starved masses of middle America shell out their hard-earned money to see such cinematic abortions as “Are We There Yet?,” in which Ice Cube plays — and I’m just guessing here — a young bachelor out trolling for ass, who gets roped into a hilarious and heart-warming misadventure. Was I right?

But for those few determined and restless film buffs with time to spare and a little extra cash on hand, there is a ray of hope: an excruciatingly bourgeois, intolerant and conservative ray of hope known as Birmingham. If you haven’t guessed it, I am one of the privileged few fortunate enough to call this sprawling suburb home.

Situated 30 miles northeast of Ann Arbor, this mecca of middle-class decadence is Oakland County’s new cultural seat and Michigan’s primary market for independent and foreign releases — “Million Dollar Baby,” which will open in Ann Arbor this weekend, has been playing there for nearly a month. Birmingham’s major theater, the Uptown Palladium 12, is a poorly planned, poorly run powerhouse that charges $6 for popcorn and funnels unassuming filmgoers through an insufferable three-story gauntlet of preteen gangstas and middle-aged trophy wives. The city’s “art” house — whose gilded marquee grandly announced the opening of “The Spongebob Squarepants Movie” in November — is an outdated and decrepit theater with fuzzy, muffled sound and a lot of bad seats. And yet, just like its extravagant baby brother up the road, the Birmingham 8 Theater continues to rake in cash from folks like me, movie lovers who find the maddening mechanics and politics of regional distribution utterly unendurable and who would rather drive 40 minutes on a Monday night than wait another month to see “A Very Long Engagement.”

So this is my formal plea to the powers that be: Please find a way to make the marketing people understand that withholding a film to build buzz is extraneous and unfair during awards season. Please show the suits that Ann Arbor is Michigan’s most vibrant and culturally relevant city; And please, please don’t make me go home again.


Marshall hates Birmingham, film distribution policies and “Are We There Yet?” Is there anything else he needs to add to his list? Offer suggestions to leemw@umich.edu.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *