The Movie Pushers

Behind the scenes at the Dallas Film Exchange: What they like is what we get.

A FEW YEARS AGO A movie I had been waiting quite a while to see finally arrived at a theater in Houston. The day it was to open I had to leave town and wasn’t able to make it back for two weeks. I opened the paper and was greatly relieved to discover that my movie was now entering its “ THIRD SMASH WEEK.” That night, a Friday, convinced there was going to be trouble getting tickets, I goaded a friend into limiting her dinner to a single harried bite of cheese, then careened, my car nearly out of control, to the theater. We were the first people to buy tickets, and we waited for 35 minutes, ears assaulted all the while by chintzy muzak, while the night’s nine other patrons drifted in one by one. I was wrong about the movie, too, as my friend pointed out through tightly clenched, cheese-encrusted teeth.

Unfortunately, that’s not the end of the story. A month or so later she wanted to go to a particular movie. I had driven by the theater the night before and seen a line from the box office to the Gulf of Mexico. “Don’t worry,” I told her. “Remember that dud that was here for three weeks? This one’s going to be playing for years.” A few days later, not even pretending to eat this time, I burned through most of the tread on my tires getting to the theater only to discover that her film had been replaced by a minor opus starring Fabian, an actor, she informed me through those same clenched teeth, who was not among her favorites.

A while later she had the good sense to go start a movie-less life on a homestead in Alaska, and left me wondering, among other things, what perverse logic made movie theaters and distributors do the things they do. Not long ago, I tried to find out.

SID PAGE IS TALKING A lot without saying much. As he talks, he smiles. If you think it’s easy to smile while you talk, try it. Sid Page can do it effortlessly. After 25 years in the movie business, he’s had plenty of practice. Right now he works in Dallas for National General Theaters.

Sid is tall, sleek, about 50. Though friendly, he’s not particularly warm; though smiling, not especially jovial. Except for his silver hair, he resembles Milton Berle right down to his slightly protruding front teeth. A large diamond ring sparkles on his left hand. He has settled in behind his desk after assuring me that he is ready to tell me anything I want to know.

How do movies get distributed? “Well, now that,” Sid says, “is a very complicated business.” There was a time, he explains, when it was simpler. In the good old days, when there was just a handful of important studios, the studios owned their own theaters and played their films there. The studios

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