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Why the Weight of Water Film Failed But is Still Worth Watching


The arrival of the film version of the novel Weight of Water in 2003 was a big event in the little city of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The island ax murder on which it was based happened here in 1873. It’s two victims are buried in the local cemetery. Our reaction to the Hollywood version of this local story follows. Here’s how it went down.



The SmuttynoSe Murder Movie -- A Local View

EDITOR'S NOTE: Initially planned for release in 2000, the long-awaited film version of WEIGHT OF WATER was panned by critics and all but abandoned by its distributor, the film finally arrived in its hometown of Portsmouth, NH in 2003. At the request of the NH Gazette, attended the showing and responded to questions about the murder, the novel and the film. Robinson and his wife are among a dozen pairs of Smuttynose Island stewards who oversee the island for its owners each summer. (All photos (c) Lion's Gate Films)

SEE WHAT the critics said in 2003

What happened to the film "Weight of Water"?

wwfilm01.jpgIt bombed. After its premier in Toronto two years ago, the Kathryn Bigelow film didn’t resonate with audiences and went back into the can, which often happens with films. Some never reappear. Some go directly to video. This one was distributed in Europe and finally resurfaced for a half-hearted showing by Lion’s Gate Films on 27 screens last November. The critics hammered at it again. The $16 million production netted $45,888 at its reopening according to Internet Movie Database. So far, according to film web site, it has yet to gross a quarter of a million domestically. Right now you can rent it on VHS in Greece or buy a DVD on eBay shipped from China, but you can’t see it anywhere else.

How did you first see it?

It played for two days at the Portsmouth Music Hall in 2003. Kathryn Bigelow and author Anita Shreve would have been proud. The 850-seat theater was filled to the rafters both days at $8 per ticket. It was, according to the Music Hall, the most profitbale film ever shown there. The second night people were turned away at the door. A number of us had hoped for a US premier in Portsmouth – since the film is about local history – but nothing came of that effort. When Lion’s Gate finally released it in November 2002, despite requests, the Portsmouth Music Hall initially said it would never run a film of "that" quality – a burst of snobbery that almost scuttled the showing. But the Music Hall relented when the story got into the newspapers, and ate a little crow when patrons lined up at the door. I assumed that everyone attending knew the backstory, but the kids behind me in the theatre were clueless that the film had been a best-selling novel, and had never heard of the Isles of Shoals, just 10 miles from the theater where they were sitting.

Was "Weight" worth the wait?

It was for me. Many of us who know the history and Smuttynose Island well wanted to see how Anita Shreve’s novel would play out on the big screen with stars like Sean Penn and Elizabeth Hurley. Moreso, we wanted to see the 19th century crime, on which both the novel and film are based, fleshed out on a big budget Hollywood-style. This is a haunting tale. As Smuttynose stewards, my wife and I spend a week each year alone on Smuttynose Island, a few feet from the site of the murder. One of my chores is to clear the grass from around the stone foundation of the "murder" house. I was hoping the film would give me a clearer visual picture of what happened there in 1873 – and it did that extremely well.

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