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Paying the Price

Flick Chick


Published June 23, 2004 at 4:00 p.m.

An era has passed: We can no longer use the term "cheap seats" when referring to the Ethan Allen Cinema in Burlington. A few weeks ago, the theater switched over to a first-run policy. Tickets now cost more there, albeit a bit less than for the same new releases at other movie houses in the area. But in a world where nothing nice seems to last, local folks can't catch a flick for pocket change anymore -- unless this is just a passing fancy.

"I guess it's permanent," says Merrill Jarvis III, whose family business operates the four-screen North Avenue venue along with three others in Chittenden County. "A lot of people are telling me they miss the old prices, though."

The reason for this change, he adds, is that "other theaters are keeping their new films so much longer that there's no life left in them."

Could the Ethan Allen upgrade also be compensation for a potential scenario of fewer first-run screens? After all, Merrill's Showcase in South Burlington might go musical as the Higher Ground replacement venue. "It's looking very good," Jarvis acknowledges. "But, hey, we just opened another cinema down the street."

That would be the Majestic 10 at Williston's Maple Tree Place, which from the Showcase is actually a bit of a hike.

Another link in the Merrill chain continues to attract really edgy and thought-provoking films from outside the mainstream. On July 2 the Queen City's downtown Roxy will open Control Room, which was recently in Waitsfield for one night only.

To examine conflicting perspectives on the invasion of Iraq, Egyptian-American filmmaker Jehane Noujaim became a fly on the wall at two key Qatar sites: the U.S. military's media center and Al Jazeera's newsroom.

An apparently decent young press officer named Josh represents the American armed forces. He defends the Pentagon party line, yet displays sensitivity toward unfamiliar cultures.

The satellite channel, which has 40 million viewers, shows war damage that CNN, NBC and BBC often overlook. At one point, a distraught Baghdad woman standing in front of a bombed-out building screams: "Welcome to my house, Bush. Where is your humanity? Where is your conscience? Where is your God?"

Donald Rumsfeld is seen denouncing Al Jazeera for what he deems propaganda -- such as images of dead Iraqi children. When Saddam loyalists release footage of U.S. soldiers in captivity, our irritable Secretary of Defense calls it "a violation of the Geneva Conventions."

That's a chilling statement in light of subsequent revelations about torture at the Abu Ghraib prison. The same goes for Dubya's comments as TV cameras roll: "I expect our POWs to be treated humanely, just like we're treating the prisoners that we have captured humanely."

Al Jazeera journalists appear philosophical. One even observes "the Arab world blames everything on Israel, instead of our own incompetence." But he also ridicules the Shock-and-Awe approach to uncooperative Middle Eastern countries: "Democratize or I'll shoot you!"

To help influence the presidential election, Art Bell just shot a 30-second ad aimed at the current occupant of the White House. It's among three short projects that the Burlington digital-video auteur tackled while studying 16mm techniques at the Maine Workshops in Rockport a few weeks ago. His premise is "a takeoff on the old egg/this is your brain," a commercial that discouraged drug abuse.

Via email, Bell describes the piece with an insider's visual shorthand: "Opening shot, early a.m. Guy walks into a kitchen. Takes eggs out of the fridge. Turns on stove. Big black fry pan sizzling. Reaches for perfect egg. Overtitle: THIS IS YOUR COUNTRY. Low shot up: Egg gets cracked. In slo-mo we see it falling to the fry pan directly below. Amazingly, it misses... Splats on floor. Overtitle: THIS IS YOUR COUNTRY ON BUSH. Guy cleaning up mess. Cut to black. Then slam edits. DON'T DO BUSH."

He now plans to show it to "the Dean team, as they have expressed some interest." Bell has the requisite connections since making a persuasive promotional documentary about the former Vermont governor before the infamous Iowa scream unraveled his candidacy.

One of Bell's other Maine efforts is a brief homage to The Night of the Hunter, a 1955 classic written by James Agee. In the original, Robert Mitchum portrays a psychopathic preacher, described by critic Pauline Kael as a "murderous, sex-obsessed, hymn-singing soul-saver with hypnotic powers." We can only imagine what sinister tribute Bell hath wrought.