Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Beacon No. 56: The "Matrix Revolutions" of Moscow


In "Russia Steals the Scene," the L.A. Times' Kim Murphy announces that the moribund Russian movie biz is back from the dead. The legendary Soviet-era Mosfilm studios, so abandoned that packs of dogs roamed the halls, are increasingly in demand to make movies like Night Watch, a surprisingly popular vampire-hunting flick:

... Last summer, "Night Watch" opened simultaneously on an unprecedented 325 screens and earned more money in Russia than "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," "Troy" and "The Day After Tomorrow." It outdrew the American film with which it is most often compared, "Matrix Revolutions," by more than a third.

It apparently wasn't a fluke. In February, an improbable historical adventure set during the 1877 Russo-Turkish War, "Turkish Gambit," broke box office records, bringing in $19.2 million and edging out the latest "Star Wars" installment as well as "Alexander." Not bad for a war most Americans have never heard of.

The figures aren't big compared with domestic receipts of American blockbusters, which just get started at $100 million. What is unexpected is that these films are out-earning American blockbusters in Russia. Receipts were negligible for domestic productions just a few years ago.

Audiences in places as disparate as Russia, Poland, Hungary and Turkey are beginning to signal an occasional preference for domestic fare, cast with familiar faces in recognizable locales, over films from Hollywood.

Murphy also reports a rising preference for Russian fare in the culturally similar Ukraine, while the Czech and Turkish film industries are also showing their products to record domestic audiences.

The odd thing, Murphy notes, is that the current Russian cinema-building spree may be traced to Rochester, N.Y.-based Kodak's decision to open a glitzy, stupefyingly pricey theater in downtown Moscow in 1995. Even charging $15 a ticket, it drew huge crowds and Russia's movie business has been on the upswing ever since.

Note that Night Watch will be released in the U.S. later this year after an enthusiastic reception at New York's Tribeca Film Festival, and Fox Searchlight has already optioned a potential Night Watch 2.

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