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Rob Edelman: The Biz of Show Biz

Here is a story that mirrors what one might describe as the business of show business.

One afternoon during the Toronto Film Festival, I planned to attend a press-and-industry screening of GIRLHOOD, a French-made coming-of-age drama. I knew nothing about GIRLHOOD, but the film sounded interesting and film festivals are ideal venues for discovering and savoring under-the-radar titles. But when I arrived at the festival screening room, I was told that the GIRLHOOD screening had been postponed until later that evening. The reason was that THE JUDGE, the new, high-profile Robert Downey, Jr./Robert Duvall film, needed to be shown instead. Apparently, THE JUDGE had been scheduled for unveiling to the press earlier in the day in one of the festival’s larger venues but, for whatever reason, that screening was postponed. It was rescheduled into four smaller theaters. One was the venue in which GIRLHOOD was supposed to be shown.

On one level, all of this was understandable-- and one cannot fault the festival for making the switch. For after all, the press turns out in droves in Toronto and THE JUDGE not only was Toronto’s opening night film but has an October 10 U.S. release date. Surely, plenty of critics needed to see it to meet their deadlines. Meanwhile, GIRLHOOD-- like virtually all foreign-language films these days-- is a second-tier commodity. It may be a wonderful film-- I do not know, as I did not get to see it-- but it ultimately is a “little” film, if only because it features no star power as well as actors who speak in a foreign language.

Upon learning of the switch, the various other films that I might have chosen to see already had started and I now had a couple of hours to kill. So I decided to take a look at THE JUDGE and, while waiting for the film to start, I conversed with the woman sitting next to me who also had come to see GIRLHOOD. She, too, was disappointed by the screening switch. Unfortunately, because of a prior commitment, she would be unable to attend the rescheduled screening.

One of the complaints I’ve heard over and over from cineastes is that the Toronto festival has become too “conventional.” These days, it is overridden by the presence of A-list celebrities who show up en masse, pose for the paparazzi, and hawk their high-end product. But the majority of Toronto moviegoers are not complaining. They seem to be celebrity-obsessed, and they savor the presence in their town of hot Hollywood commodities. One afternoon, a bunch of A-listers were arriving at the Prince of Wales theatre for a public screening. A crowd had gathered outside, and out of the masses came a voice that screamed: “Oooooh, that’s Kristen Wiig from SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE.” A bit later, another loudly declared, “Aaaah, there’s Will Ferrell.” This announcement was followed by the observation that he “always plays the idiot.” Then there was the woman, speaking into her cellphone, who asked: “Guess who I’m looking at-- RIGHT NOW?”

This is what you regularly stumble upon at the Toronto Film Festival. Still, if you look hard enough, you’ll find a range of non-mainstream films screened. There are oodles of foreign language films, documentaries, short films, American independents with non-celebrity casts, and so on. The celebs may grab the headlines, but the festival still offers a smorgasbord of cinema.

For sure, the high-end product will usurp all else, as was the case with the rescheduled screenings of THE JUDGE, and the film lover in me wishes that I’d had the opportunity to see GIRLHOOD on that afternoon rather than THE JUDGE. But these days, the festival is all about star power. It still may showcase world cinema but, in the end, the business of show business is what rules.

Rob Edelman teaches film history at the University at Albany. He has written several books on film and television, and is an associate editor of Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide.


The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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