Our annual sneak preview of the movies amounts to considerable reading this season, as witness Page 16 and the several pages thereafter. We counted 356 films. And 66 photos of some of same.
This'll keep you busy until next year.
A lot of the films are exciting to contemplate. Many of us movie-mad people will inch through the list searching for the diversions that will be the pattern of our lives for 12 months.
A lot of the films will strike us as incredibly familiar, which is some sort of comment on plot invention in movies today.
Another lot of the films will tax imaginations: How do such movies ever get made? Who will pay money to see these movies? Where do these people come from? Should they be apprehended and locked away and the key thrown into the Pacific Ocean?
Not everybody greets this report with jumping up and down. Like most of the movie publicists. To find just the right analogy . . . they seem to welcome this occasion as one might welcome the return of the plague.
Not all were enormously forthcoming with information. There were, of course, good excuses . . . but the analogy that comes to the mind's eye is our reporters running around, snapping at their heels, trying to herd all the wayward publicists into the pen.
A few straggle off and we have to go barking after them.
We don't mean to apply the same sheep-dip onto all the publicists. After all, to mix more analogies, publicists invariably are caught between a hard place and a hard place.
We just wanted a little run-down on the movies, a little bit of plot, the director, the cast, etc. Nothing very much.
All that the Warner Bros. folks would say about "Empire of the Sun" was . . . "Steven Spielberg's newest film."
This is not to suggest that Mr. Spielberg is especially fearsome for a lower-level publicist needing a sentence or two on what he's doing. But this also is not to not suggest that Mr. Spielberg is not fearsome. Mr. Spielberg is known to prefer quiet. In this case, trouble is, the movie's based on a book and it's hard to hush up the plot.
(Of course, in the case of "The Color Purple," Mr. Spielberg wasn't entirely loyal to the plot in the book anyway, as some critics suggested.)
One publicist at Universal could not get permission from director Robert Redford to release any sort of sentence about the plot of "The Milagro Beanfield War." The publicist acknowledged that this might seem some sort of silly, given that Calendar already had done a cover story on the film!
Our Pat Broeske and Dave Pecchia were charged with this assignment. Pat did this last year and knew about the logistics. In the interim months, she read up on Eisenhower and how he handled the Normandy job. She was prepared. For Dave, this was his first time in the trenches, and he approached his mission with the zeal of a young marine ready for action.
They launched the first assault in late November. They alerted the studios and production houses that Calendar is coming, Calendar is coming . . .
They re-alerted them and did it again. In the case of one major producer, Dave, by now bloodied and older, made 16 calls for information.
Photographs started dribbling in. Some zillion-dollar movies were represented by one or two pictures out of focus; some shots never got to us because their stars never got around to "approving" them.
Tri-Star wanted to get in a photo of Sylvester Stallone to represent "Rambo 3"--for which shooting hasn't yet started: "Can we send you art from 'Rambo 2'? He'll probably look the same."
On some films, we were supplied impressive dossiers. But those were exceptions. Few people wanted to say precisely what their movies were all about. They used a lot of grand obscurities.
Some summaries were caught in a sticky web of cliches. People were "caught in a web of deception" or "caught in a web of corruption" or "caught in a web of danger."
At length, Pat commanded them, "Please, absolutely no more webs of any sort!"
Our team kept chasing and chasing. We heard rumors of "Fletch 2," then "Silent Night, Deadly Night 2," then "Dirty Harry 5." But we couldn't confirm that the deals were done.
We heard word of "Back to the Beach," in which Frankie and Annette go (where else?) back to the beach. Finally, at 10:30 at night, inching toward press time, the Paramount rep called Pat at home to confirm. I'm sure she gave a whoop.
Fact is, despite the inconveniences of gathering the information, we who watch movies and the people who make movies find ourselves relishing the assignment.
Think of it this way . . . .
Somewhere in this list are a few films that will produce enormous fortunes for a few people. But most producers will lose their pants or their skirts.
Friends will become enemies.
Entertainment lawyers will sue a lot of people and become wealthy some more.
For actors and directors, careers will be made . . . or not.
Somewhere in this list are movies that will waste our time and our popcorn. We'll be mad as hell and wish we'd have stayed at home with the cats.
But somewhere in this list is a great movie, a spectacular movie, on which all of the wondrous skills of the people who make up our illusions will converge. . . .
But we don't know which of the 356 movies it'll be. . . .