Smell of Popcorn

film reviews & musings by Max Lalanne

What do all those sneak screenings really do for The Master?

Posted by Max Lalanne on August 22, 2012

Philip Seymour Hoffman in The Master.

When the news first got out that unsuspecting attendees on August 3rd, who had gone to the Aero Theater in Santa Monica expecting just a night of crazy Jack Nicholson in The Shining, had been treated to a secret 70mm sneak screening of The Master — I mean, come on. It was an honestly brilliant stroke of marketing and publicity genius on the part of Paul Thomas Anderson and the Weinstein Company.

What more, since it was a complete surprise, the only semi-respectable reactions were all enthusiastic tweets and comments (and plenty of envious forehead-slapping from the unlucky many), not full-length reviews from critics. The anticipation, or at least for me, was raised triple-fold for The Master‘s September 21st release in the US, and for those heading to the Venice and Toronto fests — where the film is playing in competition — it was undoubtedly an excitement booster as well. All is good, right?

What I don’t understand is why Weinstein didn’t just leave it at that. Instead, a public showing was announced and organized, also in the much-loved (duh) 70mm format, at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago on August 16.The reaction? Waves of raves for the 70mm, of course, and some polarizing if mostly positive opinions for The Master itself. On August 19th, the film reportedly had two unannounced sneak screenings in New York; one at the Film Forum and the other following a revival of Taxi Driver at Brooklyn’s Museum of Moving Images. And on August 21st, yesterday, The Master played in San Francisco, as well as in Philidelphia (and New York again).

There’s much chance, if it hasn’t already been confirmed, that these 70mm screenings, whether publicly announced or secretive, will continue nationwide until at least next week (where The Master will “officially” hold its world premiere over at Venice in competition). And while there’s absolutely no doubt that these screenings are an unexpectedly great thing for 70mm, what do they really, honestly do for The Master itself? I’m asking as someone who didn’t attend any of the screenings — but I swear I’m not bitter, really — and as a moviegoer to whom The Master was one of the most highly-anticipated films of the year.

That excitement, I’m afraid to admit, has diminished somewhat. This film was one that was shrouded in mystery just one month ago, it was either a masterpiece or a complete failure; no one knew what sort of film The Master exactly was and that added to the thrill of the whole thing. Now, the curtain has been lifted before the film hits festivals (at least one programmer has to be unhappy) and spoiler-y articles and early reviews are prominent in the blogosphere everywhere. Yes, the reaction has been good. For those who attended the screenings, I’m sure the visual experience was terrific, awesome. But I still believe, in the long haul and in future retrospective, that I won’t be the only one thinking these screenings may not have helped The Master as much as done some minor, yet notable damage.

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