Sunday, January 16, 2011

Peaceful Town Survives 'Ulysses'

March 1967
  “What’s happened to the lovely little town of Rochester?” an unsigned letter on my desk asked two weeks ago. The writer, from Troy, was referring to the showing of “Ulysses” at the Hills Theater. She wondered why police didn’t do their duty and crack down on such “filth.”
  “Ulysses” ran three days in only 135 theaters across the country. In Michigan it played only four theaters, three of them in southeastern Michigan. As a result, its showing in Rochester was in the spotlight. Around 1,000 people attended here, not nearly as many as in Highland Park, but nearly as many as attended in Ann Arbor— which was a surprise to local theater owner Bud Taylor.
  TWO PEOPLE WALKED out during the performance here, which is a likelihood for any film. I joined the second-night crowd. Like many people, I had not read the book. This was a mistake. If one wasn’t aware of author James Joyce’s devices of mingling the main character’s realities and fantasies, he was left behind.
  Most reviewers hailed the film as a great one. In Rochester, the people I know who saw it were not that impressed. If anyone went to see some sensual scenes, they were disappointed. The James Bond and beach party films seen in every theater offered much more. The frankness in “Ulysses” is in the spoken word, not the visual scenes.
  Some viewers complained that the Irish brogue was too thick and fast to digest. This, combined with the liberal mixture of flashing in and out of the James Joyce thesis that a person’s thoughts are continually jumping from the real to the imaginative (past, present and future) cannot be disputed. But viewing those quick jumps on film is no easy task.
  IN SHORT, I have a hunch that only the serious student of James Joyce who first published the classic in 1918 felt they really got their money’s worth. At $5.50 a seat, it was the highest amount ever charged for a movie here. The film will be released again in 10 months or a year— at somewhat reduced prices, we’re told.
  Many of the theater managers who wouldn’t touch the film with a pole of any length last week are now eager to get it on the rebound. I would say that “Ulysses” is not for the casual small town theater crowd. It will do best in college centers.
  I saw no scars on Rochester the morning after. Actually, only about half of the audiences here were from Rochester. If one wonders if the town was marred by this film, they should drive into the community this Sunday. While there were 1,000 folks attending the movie, some of our churches will each be packing that number into their Easter services in just one morning.
  And if they each paid $5.50 admission— think of what our churches could accomplish in one year.