It took a "Heart of Gold" to capture the lead spot in this week's indieWIRE Box Office Tracker (iWBOT), as the Jonathan Demme-directed Neil Young concert film opened far more strongly than the typical pop-music documentary. (The iW BOT is based on per-screen average.) At the same time, Rialto Pictures - the cinephile distributor - scored another opening-weekend success with its re-release/rediscovery of Carol Reed's 1948 "The Fallen Idol," a precursor to 1949's "The Third Man" with a screenplay by Graham Greene adapted from his own story. Opening at New York's Film Forum on a blizzard weekend, it nevertheless finished second on iW BOT with $9,030.
[View the indieWIRE:BOT Box Office Table for this week's films here.]
Picturehouse's "Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story," the iW BOT leader for the last two weeks, expanded a bit in its third weekend and fell to third with a $8,018 per-screen average at six screens last weekend, down 40% from the previous weekend's $13,568 average at three screens. Expanding into New Jersey, it collided with the blizzard. In L.A., it did spectacularly at the upscale Arclight 15 in Hollywood -- $15,359 according to Nielsen EDI -- but less than half that business at Santa Monica's smaller Monica 4 art house.
Paramount Classics' "Neil Young: Heart of Gold" debuted in exclusive runs in New York, Los Angeles, Toronto and San Francisco and averaged $13,477 for a cumulative gross of $53,908. San Francisco was the softest of the four cities.
Demme filmed two nights of a 2005 special performance by Young at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium, during which the 59-year-old singer-songwriter debuted songs from his autumnal, reflective "Prairie Wind" album and then did such older folk-rock songs as "Heart of Gold," "Old Man" and "The Needle and the Damage Done." Coming soon after Young's surgery for a life-threatening brain aneurysm, the emotional concert had a triumphant yet melancholy feel.
"It's a fascinating point in Neil Young's life as an individual as well as a musician, and Jonathan Demme saw that and captured that," said Rob Schultz, executive vice president of distribution/specialty films at Paramount Classics. "That made it more than what concert films have been. You get insight into why this music is important to this artist at this point in his life."
This weekend, "Neil Young: Heart of Gold" widens in New York and Los Angeles and opens in Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Seattle, Vancouver and Washington, D.C.
New York-based Rialto previously scored one smash success when its 35-millimeter re-release of Gillo Pontecorvo's 1965 "The Battle of Algiers" came out during the war in Iraq. That has played some 70 markets and grossed more than $1 million. But it also quietly has been finding older pre-1960s art films that, for whatever reason, have been overlooked or underappreciated by Boomer and younger film-buffs. These have included Louis Malle's "Elevator to the Gallows," Claude Sautet's "Classe Tous Risques," Georges Franju's "Eyes Without a Face" and Jules Dassin's "Rififi."
Bruce Goldstein, Rialto's president who also handles classics bookings at Film Forum, hopes the British "Fallen Idol" - a quiet, understated black-and-white movie - is another success. "'Fallen Idol' was original considered an art film. It had kind of disappeared; shown only on 16 millimeter," Goldstein said.
He believes "Fallen Idol" will do even better this weekend at Film Forum, where it's playing until Feb. 23. "The weather kept it down a lot," he said. "We had packed matinees on Saturday and at 6 p.m., when the weather started to turn around, it was full. The later show was quiet. And Sunday is usually a great art-film day in New York because people come in from out of town. But they couldn't get around, except by subway."
"Fallen Idol" has an April 7th opening at Landmark's NuArt Theatre in Los Angeles and then will play Boston, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington. It will go wider slowly if there's demand.
While weather was a factor, three Best Picture-nominated indie/specialty films still in theatrical release slowed down last weekend as distributors started to pull back on their theater counts. Focus Features' Ang Lee-directed "Brokeback Mountain" reduced its screens by 123 - to 1,966 from the previous weekend's 2,089 and saw its per-screen average decline by 29% to $2,047 from $2,874. It finished 23rd on iW BOT.
Coming in at 35th on iW BOT was Bennett Miller's "Capote" from Sony Classics, which shed 309 screens - to 930 from 1,239 - and slipped from 25th to 35th on iWBOT as its per-screen average declined 26% to $1,362 from $1,849.
George Clooney's "Good Night, and Good Luck" from Warner Independent Pictures dropped 244 screens - to 685 from 929 - and finished at 37th on iW BOT. Its per-screen average of $1,273 represented a 55% decline from the previous weekend's.
All have done exceedingly well for ruminative, performance-driven art films with downbeat themes and risky creative choices - "Good Night" was filmed in black-and-white, for instance. And "Brokeback," in the Top Ten nationally, is at $66.46 million in total gross and still adding $4 million a week. (A fourth nominee, Steven Spielberg's "Munich," also is slowly fading. The fifth, Paul Haggis' "Crash" from Lionsgate Films, is on DVD.)
But none is another "Lord of the Rings," nor is any riding its Oscar nomination to the peak of mainstream popularity as "Million Dollar Baby" did last year. So there is growing discussion about what impact they will have on the ratings of the March 5 Oscar broadcast, especially after "American Idol" pummeled the Grammys last week.
"It's not a quality issue, it's just the issue of appealing to the same broad audience that gives 'The Pink Panther' a $20 million opening," said Kim Hollis, a contributor to the Monday Morning Quarterbacks column at BoxOfficeProphets.com. "If you look at 'Capote,' $20 million is great. But it's not that great compared to the typical Oscar nominee."
Overall, the 69 films on iWBOT grossed $12.28 million on 6,812 screens last weekend, compared with the Feb. 3rd weekend totals of $19.21 million on 7,877 screens. The average per-screen gross dipped to $1,803 from $2,439. There were 118 films in the marketplace last weekend, grossing $120.73 million. On the Feb. 3rd weekend, 113 films grossed $105.64 million.
(Steven Rosen is a Los Angeles film writer and former movie critic at The Denver Post.)