Posted at 5:11 PM on June 8, 2006
by Euan Kerr
The "A Prairie Home Companion" movie will open on a jaw-dropping 39 screens in the Twin Cities this weekend. For an independent it's a pretty amazing number, comparable to X-Men or MI III.
It's going to be on another 12 screens in movie houses around Minnesota as well as theaters in Fargo, Sioux Falls, LaCrosse, Eau Claire and Bismark. There's a total of 500 screens nationwide.
(This is a good time to note that MPR's parent company invested in the "APHC" movie. Due diligence is done.)
For all the high praise which Altman pulls down, and the large number of films he's made over the years, he hasn't really enjoyed huge box office success, other than with "MASH," "Nashville," and "The Player."
During his recent visit to the Twin Cities for the premier at the Fitzgerald, Altman talked openly about how he feels he is working on borrowed time. He had a heart transplant over a decade ago, and he's not been in the best of health. He apparently used a wheelchair a few times on the APHC set.
The day I spent on set, I had one exceptionally creepy experience. After working for most of the afternoon the crew broke for a meal and to allow for a new camera set-up.
I was waiting to go do an interview when I happened to look back towards the back of the Fitz. There is a small sound-booth back there, which the film crew had converted into a small bar. In the movie "Axman" the corporate raider coming to shut down the show watches from the bars plush interior. (Tommy Lee Jones plays the role with apparent relish.)
A sofa sat in the little room, and during the day I'd been able to use the room to do the various interviews for a story I was doing on the movie. The row of spotlights above the couch made it look all the more dramatic.
Anyway, when I looked back I realized the room had another use. There lying on the couch, flat on his back, with a blanket tucked up to his chin, lay the great director.
He was taking a nap, as people of his age often do.
However with lighting, and the way the blanket shrouded his body he actually looked like he was lying in state.
I was under strict instructions not to take pictures on the set on pain of being turfed out, but I must admit I was greatly tempted just at that moment to slip out my camera.
I saw the Prairie Home Companion movie yesterday on its opening night. It was a disappointment. My wife pegged it when she called it "flat."
Now, I'm a fan of the radio show. I've been listening since 1978. And I even was an extra for one day during shooting in the Fitzgerald Theater. And I read the glowing reviews in the days preceding the opening. (Roger Ebert gave the movie four stars.) So I was predisposed to like the film. A lot.
But as I watched I kept waiting for something to happen. Anything. A spark of unscripted magic even, for which Altman films are famous. But there was nothing. Just a plodding, hackneyed script that was far less interesting than watching A Prairie Home Companion live at the Fiztgerald.
Sigh. I guess it was too much to hope that it would be a great movie. Ah, well. As Garrison Keillor so often says, we Minnesotans have learned to keep our expectations low. If we find ourselves happy, we just wait. It'll pass.
Thanks for your note. There seems to be quite a difference of opinion on the film. People who aren't fans of the show, or perhaps haven't heard it seem to like it more than the regular listeners.
It could be something to do with the power of the images fans have created in their minds listening to the broadcast, and the resulting confusion/disappointment when confronted with Altman's vision.
It will be intersting to see how this film is seen over time within Altman's career. It looks like it will do well at the box office, but may not be on the "must-see" list in the future.