IT'S MOVIETIME AT THE INWOOD
By Tom Sabulis
It’s late August, and you want to see a movie. Only you’ve had it up to here with Hollywood and its weird science projects. You want a vacation from boobytrapped movie vacations. Instead of real geniuses, you’d like a story about real people. Or maybe something underground, just a bit off-the-wall. Maybe you’d even like – perish the thought – to think.
At times like this, you want the Inwood.
For sophisticated foreign films and precocious comedies, celebrated art movies and the latest documentaries, small independent productions and fattening concession-stand candy, the Inwood is indispensable.
Other theaters may have bigger screens and equally fine sound systems, but few of them feel like the Inwood, Dallas’ only first-run art film emporium. It has a remarkable sense of place. The name even exudes a neighborly’ ambiance. And with its art moderne doors, high-tech lighting and marine mural motif, the lobby may be the coolest place in town. If it isn’t, the Inwood Lounge is. The convenient off lobby bar was built three years ago (at a cost of $200,000), yet it looks like part of the original establishment that opened in 1946.
But while the Inwood has been a fashionable hangout for serious film buffs for years, it only recently became an economically successful movie house. Since the theater opened as an art theater in June 1981 – it was one of the city’s most popular mainstream theaters during the ’40s and ’50s – growth has been slow. During the first few years, the Inwood lost money or broke even, said Bob Berney, the theater’s general manager and film buyer.
Last year, however, things began to turn around. Over the past 12 months, the Inwood has done its best business to date. Smash engagements of films such as “A Private Function” ”’Stop Making Sense” and ”Choose Me” have turned the theater into a moneymaker. And today’s long-awaited opening of the controversial Brazilian film, “Kiss of the Spider Woman/’ should continue the new trend of long lines, packed houses, and high grosses. “The last year has proved that Dallas is a pretty good art-film town” Berney said. “We’ve had real solid hits. It has been difficult establishing the theater. But now I feel Dallas has become a real viable market.” At the same time, the Inwood’s success has seemingly worked against the theater. Other theaters, such as the UA Cine and General Cinema’s Galleria, have proven to be tough competitors for top art film products. (The Galleria is the only other theater in the area showing “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” while the Cine has featured area premieres of “Das Boot” and “Mephisto,” among others.)
Suddenly, the competition is getting even thicker. Last week, American Multi-9nema (AMC), the nation’s third-largest movie chain (after General Cinema and United Artists), announced plans to devote three screens in the area solely to ‘specialty’ films.
AMC’s jump into the art film business should increase local competition for the Inwood, but Berney feels that the bijou program won’t hurt the market unless there is a shortage of good films. “I don’t think they’re going to pull any of our people away,” he said.
Neither does AMC, which plans to develop its own audiences apart from the Inwood crowd. The first bijou opens. next Friday at AMC’s Prestonwood 5 in north Dallas with the area premiere of “Streetwise,” an acclaimed documentary about street kids in Seattle. Other bijous will operate at new theaters that are under construction in Fort Worth and Mesquite.
Competition for films is nothing new to Berney, 32, who worked three years as a theater manager for AMC in Austin and Houston.
“We’ve always had to be aggressive going after films,” he said. “You have to get the big art pictures to make the theater work. For a while, we had trouble, but now we are getting them. We have a track record. Producers and distributors have come to know the Theater. They know it can get grosses. They know their pictures will be treated right here.”
Berney cites the coveted “Kiss of the Spider Woman” as an example of the Inwood fighting for – and getting – the “big” art picture. Berney saw the movie earlier this year at the Cannes Film Festival and knew he wanted it for the Inwood. But other exhibitors, including General Cinema, also wanted to show “Kiss of the Spider Woman” in Dallas. As it turns out, Berney had to “stretch” to get the film. “We really had to go on and on to get “Spider Woman,” he said. “We had to guarantee more money than we ordinarily have to. We paid probably twice as much as we’ve ever paid (for the rights to show a film). But I never doubted it would earn that back. I really wanted it, and I think the distributors knew it had to go here.”
If the Inwood has earned the power to exhibit the most prestigious art films in town. Beqiey credits the “general constistancy” of bookings at the three-screen theater for making it a profitable alternative movie house, With a lot of good products available, he likes to keep the balance of feature films mixed preferably running one obscure film with a major art product and an offbeat American film.
The current triple bill is an ideal example of that desired versatility. Along with “Spider Woman” the Inwood is currently featuring “The Shooting Party,” a dry, superbly acted British film about the decline of the aristocratic class in the days preceding World War I, and “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure,” the comedy starring Pee Wee Herman and his bicycle.
The soft-spoken Berney seems excited with the lineup. Regarding “The Shooting Party”, he said, “There’s a real market here for quality British films, and this one has that ‘Masterpiece Theater’ feel to it. There’s an older audience here that really wants to see sophisticated British films.”
As for “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure,” he feels it’s actually a “specialty” film and not a mainstream Hollywood movie, which is the way it’s currently being marketed . To prove his point, Berney said that of the 10 theaters in town showing “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure,” the Inwood had the biggest individual showing on the first weekend.
Despite the emergence of the Inwood as a major, moneymaking art house, there are always big movies that Berney cannot get because of what he calls “distribution patterns and industry politics.” For example, Berney has tried to land every new Woody Allen film, but hasn’t gotten one of them. “Amadeus” was another movie he desperately wanted to show, but couldn’t.
“Although we get major art films, they usually come from independent distributors. It takes longer to get established with major companies because not all their films would play at the Inwood.” On the other hand, the chains play most of their movies, so they usually get first crack at the few the Inwood would like to have.
While the major art films get most of the competitive attention, some
smaller, lesser-known films turn out to be pleasant surprises for the Inwood. “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” is one; Berney substituted it for “Streetwise” when it turned out that AMC had its exclusive rights in Dallas.
The British comedy, “A Private Function,” is another. It closed Thursday after an extraordinary 16-week run that grossed over $100,000. Berney says the satiric, sometimes scatological comedy did well because it offered a strong alternative to Hollywood’s Spielbergjan summer products.
He hopes “Kiss Of The Spider Woman” runs just as long. He feels it will, but refuses to guarantee its success. “I never get too cocky,” he said. “I’ve been disappointed before.” But those disappointments seem to be less frequent now. And the theater’s long-term prospects are shaping up rather nicely in the eyes of the Inwood innovator. On Sept. 6, the Inwood will premiere “Insignificance,” the new film by Nicholas Roeg, and on Sept. 20, the Inwood opens “Dance With a Stranger,” a movie being billed as the next big art film of 1985.
“I’m really confident of the future,” Berney said. “We’ve got a long lease, we’re all dedicated to keeping it going, and the market’s really good.”