The Long Road to Rumba

I love films, I love reading about films and I love hearing what people think about films. Far too much of my idle time is spent keeping up to date on what the so called legitimate opinion-makers have to say about a film. Trawling through the newspapers in a café considerate enough to oblige me with a few, is just about my favourite way of spending a Friday morning. ‘What’s misery-guts Bradshaw got to say about this week’s blockbuster?’ ‘How many borrowed French terms can Sandhu squeeze into his review of this latest Apatow comedy?’ ‘How many sentences will it be before Philip French actually mentions the film he’s reviewing?’
Half the joy is in knowing the quirks of the pay-rolled reviewers, almost anticipating how they’ll handle some tent-pole genre film which is inevitably going to rile them. Might they be won over? Might they harbour some unexpected respect for the feature? Some of the blandest opinion pieces invariably come from anonymous film reviews, where the publications’ ‘line’ comes before the individual’s opinion. After all, how can you trust an opinion which is on some level decided by committee?
Reviews are obviously a product of the huge clunky PR machine, and a consequence of this is the sometimes headachingly London-centric nature of the criticism. I’m sure it’s wonderful that the National Film Theatre in London has put on Hitchcock’s Notorious, and I’m sure if we’re lucky us hicks in the provinces might get a peek at it 3-4 months down the line as the one copy of it goes on tour. But do we really need all the critics to come chiming in that it’s a five star film? A re-issue of Great Expectations doesn’t need the critics to come out and tell us that it’s ‘A Literary Classic: 5 out of 5’ so why so with film?
Maybe picking up on Notorious is a petty example, and god bless the BFI and the NFT and everything they do. But the gap between criticism and distribution came crashing and screaming to the fore last week with the wide reaching coverage of Rumba. A ‘deadpan, vivid-coloured French comedy’ with ‘the spirit of Tati’ about a couple discovering life after a car crash. So the critics tell me.
The Guardian liked it, 500 words, 4 stars. The Telegraph didn’t, 50 words, 1 star. Time Out weighed in, as did the Observer, The Scotsman, Total Film, Empire, The Shitty Free London Paper, as well as Filmstar and Little White Lies. Even a mention on Radio 4’s The Film Programme. A resounding success in terms of blanket coverage, as this rather small film got picked up by such a swathe of non-tabloid press.
So what was its’ nationwide box office takings for the opening weekend?
£1158
Maybe you shouldn’t expect more from a film only shown on three screens, but man alive, a pinch over a grand? At a conservative estimate, taking ticket prices at between £6-£9, somewhere between 150 and 200 people saw this film. I know critics don’t pay for tickets, and won’t have contributed to the box office, but by those calculations about 1% of the total audience for this film was the press.
You might mistake this for a dip-into-the-cinema-before-an-almost-direct-to-video release, much as happened with the inwardly looking ass-kicking antics of JCVD earlier this year. A week in the art houses of London, and then nationwide on DVD. C’est la vie, as our man Jean Claude might say, nothing wrong with getting some press coverage of an action film otherwise easily overlooked. At least we still have the DVD.
Not so with Rumba. A week at the ICA seems to be it for this intriguing if irritatingly elusive feature. No word of a nationwide tour, no word of a DVD release. I could import it without subtitles from France, and maybe I’d manage to grasp this (by all accounts) slapstick heavy comedy. But €23+ is a lot of money for a film I can only partially understand. The internet gophers tell me that this film can be found on the usual channels of peg-legged contraband, and that some wonderful person has even gone to the trouble of making their own English subtitles for it.
Tragically that seems to be my only avenue for seeing this film, and I’m not overjoyed at the thought of undercutting a movie whose UK box office I could knock up 1% by going to see it in a cinema with a friend. For the time being I’ll pass on it, fingers crossed it might break out nationwide. Or at least near-me-wide. I’m glad the critics (by and large) enjoyed the film, and thanks for letting us know, but it begs the blunt if honest question: Why Bother?

Rumba film leftRumba film rightI love films, I love reading about films and I love hearing what people think about films. Far too much of my idle time is spent keeping up to date on what the so called legitimate opinion-makers have to say about a film. Trawling through the newspapers in a café  is just about my favourite way of spending a Friday morning. ‘What’s misery-guts Bradshaw got to say about this week’s blockbuster?’ ‘How many French terms can Sandhu squeeze into his take of the latest Apatow comedy?’ ‘How many sentences before Philip French actually mentions the film he’s reviewing?’

Half the joy is in knowing the quirks of the pay-rolled reviewers, almost anticipating how they’ll handle some tent-pole genre film which is inevitably going to rile them. Might they be won over? Might they harbour some unexpected respect for the feature? Some of the blandest opinion pieces invariably come from anonymous film reviews, where the publications’ ‘line’ comes before the individual’s opinion. After all, how can you trust an opinion which is on some level decided by committee?

rumba02Reviews are obviously a product of the huge clunky PR machine, and a consequence of this is the sometimes headachingly London-centric nature of the criticism. I’m sure it’s wonderful that the National Film Theatre in London has put on Hitchcock’s Notorious, and I’m sure if we’re lucky us hicks in the provinces might get a peek at it 3-4 months down the line as the one copy of it goes on tour. But do we really need all the critics to come chiming in that it’s a five star film? A re-issue of Great Expectations doesn’t need the critics to come out and tell us that it’s ‘A Literary Classic: 5 out of 5’ so why so with film?

Maybe picking up on Notorious is a petty example, and god bless the BFI and the NFT and everything they do. But the gap between criticism and distribution came crashing and screaming to the fore last week with the wide reaching coverage of Rumba. A ‘deadpan, vivid-coloured French comedy’ with ‘the spirit of Tati’ about a couple discovering life after a car crash. So the critics tell me.

The Guardian liked it, 500 words, 4 stars. The Telegraph didn’t, 50 words, 1 star. Time Out weighed in, as did the Observer, The Times, The Scotsman, Total Film,  as well as Filmstar and Little White Lies. Even a mention on Radio 4’s The Film Programme. A resounding success in terms of blanket coverage, as this rather small film got picked up by the bulk of British non-tabloid press.

So what was its’ nationwide box office takings for the opening weekend?

£1158

Maybe you shouldn’t expect more from a film only shown on three screens, but man alive, a pinch over a grand? At a conservative estimate, taking ticket prices at between £6-£9, somewhere between 150 and 200 people saw this film. I know critics don’t pay for tickets and won’t have contributed to the box office, but by those calculations about 1% of the total audience for this film was the press.

Rumba01You might mistake this for a dip-into-the-cinema-before-an-almost-direct-to-video release, much as happened with the inwardly looking ass-kicking antics of JCVD earlier this year. A week in the art houses of London, and then nationwide on DVD. C’est la vie, as our man Jean Claude might say, nothing wrong with getting some press coverage of an action film otherwise easily overlooked. At least we still have the DVD.

Not so with Rumba. A week at the ICA seems to be it for this intriguing if irritatingly elusive feature. No word of a nationwide tour, no word of a DVD release. I could import it without subtitles from France, and maybe I’d manage to grasp this (by all accounts) slapstick heavy comedy. But €23+ is a lot of money for a film I can only partially understand. The internet gophers tell me that this film can be found on the usual channels of peg-legged contraband, and that some wonderful person has even gone to the trouble of making their own English subtitles for it.

Tragically that seems to be my only avenue for seeing this film, and I’m not overjoyed at the thought of undercutting a movie whose UK box office I could knock up 1% by going to see it in a cinema with a friend. For the time being I’ll pass on it, fingers crossed it might break out nationwide. Or at least near-me-wide. I’m glad the critics (by and large) enjoyed the film, and thanks for letting us know, but it begs the blunt if honest question: Why Bother?

Rumba04

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