"The Dance of Reality."
"The Dance of Reality."

In recent years, Memorial Day weekend has launched several arthouse success stories. "Before Midnight," as well as "Moonrise Kingdom" and "The Tree of Life" off the Cannes Film Festival all rank among the best specialized openers of their years. And even subtitled films have thrived on this date, with both "Fill the Void" and "The Intouchables" having good initial numbers. Though none of this year's openers were projected to be anything like those, several films managed to gain at least some traction with their initial numbers. (And Cannes, which will provide at least a few hits later this year, didn't provide the chance for new films just yet.)

The weekend was led by three films -- "The Dance of Reality" (ABKCO), "Words and Pictures" (Roadside Attractions) and "Cold in July" (IFC) -- from the most recent top three festivals in impact (Toronto and Sundance along with Cannes). While none had elevated expectations, each had some level of initial sampling that could lead to further expansion. Two other films, "Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia" (IFC) and "Stand Clear of the Closing Doors" (Oscilloscope), though more modest, deserve mention as well.

Two films not reporting include "Love Punch" (Ketchup Entertainment), which despite its Toronto Gala debut and stars Emma Thompson and Pierce Brosnan fared badly in reviews, and "The Angriest Man in Brooklyn" from one time top-drawer director Phil Alden Robinson ("Field of Dreams") and starring Robin Williams. Lionsgate had scattered theatrical dates to accompany its Video on Demand release, a rare attempt for a major company (heir partner Roadside Attractions has been a leader with this venue).


"The Dance of Reality" (ABKCO) - Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 77; Festivals include Cannes 2013, South by Southwest 2014

$24,970 in 2 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $12,485

Earlier this year, Sony Picture Classics opened "Jodorowsky's Dune" about the South American cult director known for "El Topo" and "The Holy Mountain," managing to get the documentary up to $566,000. "The Dance of Reality" is the director's first feature in over two decades. And in a bit of late-career irony, its distributor comes from the same company that originally handled "El Topo." 

ABKCO is a high-end music conglomerate founded by the late Allan Klein, who at various points managed The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Their theatrical division has been mainly Jodorowsky over the years (including reissues and home video), but despite the long gap between films, he still returned to his previous home. The pick-up (following its Cannes premiere a year ago) was smartly noticed by Landmark Theaters, which in the 1970s was a leader in midnight shows and other counter-culture programming, and showcased the film at two theaters this weekend in New York and Los Angeles. Its North American premiere at South by Southwest also helped boost its visibility and confirmed Jodorowsky's still current appeal.

Helped by a strong New York Times review (the only featured on the front page of the movie section, calling it something close to a masterpiece), this is heading toward a more than respectable initial gross for an offbeat entry from a now 84-year-old director. Jodorowsky, as in earlier films, revels in surrealistic imagery and a unique, dream-like feel that helped gain him attention from high-end (more of the stoner variety) moviegoers of an earlier generation. This is a niche film, unlikely to do multiple millions or play many suburban runs. But its initial success shows it has potential to be a throwback to a past era when cult films like this could find a theatrical audience in key cities with younger audiences (likely including older ones with fond memories now) and make a decent specialized showing.

What comes next: Four more cities next Friday, with further runs nationally over the summer.