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''Howards End'' only screening in major cities

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Boasting the most rapturous reviews of any film this year, a cast that includes Oscar-certified Best Actor Anthony Hopkins along with Emma Thompson and Helena Bonham Carter, and early box office returns ($600,000 in one Manhattan moviehouse) as lofty as its pedigree, James Ivory’s version of E.M. Forster’s Howards End has become a must-see. But for many, it’s also a can’t-find. Unless you live in one of the 22 cities where Howards End is now playing, you might not be able to see it for nearly a year — one of the longest waits in movie history — and that’s just what the film’s distributor wants.

”We hope people will say, ‘Gee, Howards End is finally here,”’ says Tom Bernard, copresident of Sony Pictures Classics, a new division. ”The slow release has almost become a lost art. But we’re planning to keep this picture in theaters through April 1993” — in other words, straight through the season of 10-best lists, critics’ prizes, and Academy Award nominations from which the film could profit. Meanwhile, to allow word-of-mouth to build for months, Howards End will remain exclusively in major cities through the summer, and only then expand to the suburbs and beyond. What’s the payoff? Bernard says the film could gross $25 million-enough to make the late Forster (who has had five novels adapted to the screen in the last eight years) Hollywood’s unlikeliest hot commodity.

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