Roadshow theatrical release

Roadshow theatrical release

The roadshow theatrical release (also commonly known as reserved seat engagement) is a practice in which a film opens in a special limited number of theaters in large cities like Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco for a specific period of time before it spreads to nationwide release (also known as general release and wide release), and is shown only once or twice a day, usually with an intermission halfway or two-thirds of the way through the picture.

Unlike the common modern-day limited release, roadshow films were shown to audiences who had had to reserve their seats and were given or able to purchase program books, as they did with live theater productions. Most films shown in this format were movies that were two-and-a-half hours or longer in length, and admission prices were more expensive than those films shown as regular attractions. Many of the films given roadshow releases were subsequently distributed to regular theater houses. This was called a general release, and was akin to the modern day wide release of a film.


Road shows from the Golden Age of Hollywood

The road show format has been used since the days of silent films, but it especially took hold between 1955 and 1972. Films shown in road show format before 1955 included the silent film "Chicago" (1927) (based on the play that later inspired the Kander and Ebb Broadway musical), "Show Boat" (1929) (based not on the stage musical but on Edna Ferber's original novel), the 1929 version of "The Desert Song", "Rio Rita" (also 1929), Cecil B. DeMille's "The Sign of the Cross" (1932), and the classic films "Gone with the Wind" (1939), "Fantasia" (1940), and "The Song of Bernadette" (1943).

Large-scale epic films would open in larger cities in an engagement much like a theatrical play or musical, with components such as an Overture, the First Act, the Intermission, the Entr'acte, the Second Act, and the Exit Music. (The Overture should not be confused with the Main Title Music. The Overture was always played "before" the beginning of the film, while the lights were still up and the curtains were still closed. As the lights dimmed, the Overture ended, the curtains opened, and the film began with its Main Title Music and opening credits.)

An early example of this was 1939's "Gone with the Wind ". Running almost four hours in length, the film was divided into the above components, so that the film patron can experience the film as if they were seeing an actual play in a theater.

The original theatrical release of Walt Disney's "Fantasia", presented in Fantasound in selected large cities in the U.S., never did contain an Overture, Intermission Music, or Exit Music (though it did contain an intermission). "Fantasia" was released in roadshow format, and was originally presented without on-screen credits to perpetuate a concert-going experience -- the printed souvenir program, given out to patrons as they entered the theater, presented the film's credits.

Road shows from the 1950s to the 1970s

During the 1950s and continuing through the 1970s, with the rise of television and the closing of some movie palaces, studios came up with ways to bring movie audiences back to theatres by making widescreen epics, again using the "roadshow" formula. As a result, there was an avalanche of roadshow films, among them "Oklahoma!" (1955), "Richard III" (1955), "War and Peace" (1956), "Around the World in 80 Days" (1956), "The Ten Commandments" (1956), "The Bridge on the River Kwai" (1957), "South Pacific" (1958), "Ben-Hur" (1959), "The Alamo" (1960), "El Cid" (1961), "King of Kings" (1961), "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962), "The Longest Day" (1962), "Cleopatra" (1963), "My Fair Lady" (1964), "The Sound of Music" (1965), "Doctor Zhivago" (1965), "Camelot" (1967), "" (1968), "Oliver!" (1968), "Paint Your Wagon" (1969), "Ryan's Daughter" (1970), "Fiddler on the Roof" (1971), and many others. Nearly all of these films were shown in six-track stereophonic sound, a then non-standard feature of motion pictures. Many films made in the various widescreen processes, such as Todd AO, MGM Camera 65, and Super Panavision 70, were given road show presentations. Films made in three-camera Cinerama always received roadshow releases. The special requirements needed to show films in Cinerama - a theatre with a huge, ultra-curved screen, three projectors running simultaneously, and seven-track stereophonic sound - made it impossible to show its films in wide release unless the picture was converted to standard one camera format (i.e. Panavision).

It was common practice in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, however, for studios to re-edit some of these epics for general release in order for theaters to book more showings a day and present the film at reduced "popular prices". Sometimes this was done to a successful film, such as "South Pacific", but more often to one that had been a notable flop. As a result, some of these films have not been seen in their entirety since their first release, as the original edited footage is either missing or no longer exists. But with the work of film preservation and restoration, such box-office flops as "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (1935) and "Fantasia", and the hugely successful "For Whom the Bell Tolls" (1943), "Lawrence of Arabia", and "Around the World in 80 Days" have been restored in recent years to match the filmmakers' original intent. However, several extremely popular long films, such as "The Ten Commandments", have never been released in edited form.

The rise of the limited release

The practice of roadshow presentation began dying out in the 1970s. Francis Ford Coppola's Oscar-winning epics "The Godfather" (1972) and "The Godfather Part II" (1974), for instance, were shown without intermissions despite their extreme length, as was Stanley Kubrick's "Barry Lyndon" (1975). For over three decades, the last film release to officially receive a "roadshow/reserved seat engagement" was the 1972 film version of "Man of La Mancha", although it was made to be shown without an intermission. In 2006, the film adaptation of the Broadway musical "Dreamgirls" was given a three-theater road show release, with reserved seats and program guides. The film itself was not shown with an intermission. [McClintock, Pamela (Nov. 6, 2006). " [ D'Works takes 'Girls' on road.] " "Daily Variety". Retrieved on November 11, 2006.]

By the 1980s the practice had largely been abandoned, as the rise of the multiplex and competition from cable TV and home video began forcing changes in the nature of film industry. The 1984 film "Amadeus", for example, although nearly three hours long, was not shown in a road show format, while 1982's "Gandhi" was. Kenneth Branagh's four-hour "Hamlet" (1996) was not shown in a road-show format, but it did have an intermission two-and-a-half hours into the film. The latest film to be shown with an intermission was "Gods and Generals", but it was not shown in a strict road show format - performances were not limited to two per day, and seats were not reserved.

Today, a similar theatrical release practice of first premiering a film in larger cities is more common, mainly towards the end of the year, in order to qualify for film award consideration, including the Academy Awards. In many cases, such releases will have a better chance at being nominated for the Oscar. Such recent films that have gone the limited release route include 2004's "Million Dollar Baby" and "The Aviator", as well as 2005's "March of the Penguins", which eventually opened wide. Sometimes this is done to allow a film to receive a wide release shortly after the 1st of the year, while qualifying for the previous year's Academy Awards. Often, smaller films (often art and independent) will receive an initial release in New York and Los Angeles, and later expand to other cities based on results; this is called "platforming" or a platform release.

ee also

*Film release


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