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The summer movie season may have opened several weeks ago without a bang, but it was an unusual lineup for a Memorial Day start-up, the experts said.

"It may seem as though things got off a little slowly," said John Krier of Exhibitor Relations Co., "but we haven't had a Memorial Day opening like this in years. The results were fragmented and there were no sequels. No one's getting alarmed yet.""This was the first Memorial Day in 10 years where there hasn't been a major sequel . . . not a single Roman numeral," said Art Murphy, the longtime industry analyst for the trade paper Daily Variety. "It was like an election without an incumbent running."

Of the films that opened - including "Backdraft," "Hudson Hawk," "Thelma & Louise" and "Only the Lonely" - "Backdraft" topped the box-office winners, with $15.7 million in ticket sales.\ One exhibitor described the Memorial Day weekend results as "good, but nothing fabulous. `Hudson Hawk' was the real letdown and `Thelma & Louise' showed surprising vitality."

"The first weekend was encouraging given how poorly business has been performing the last six to eight weeks," said Philip Garfinkle, the senior vice president of Entertainment Data Inc.

Moviegoing in the United States has been slow since the Easter holiday week; only "FX2" and "What About Bob?" have had any impact. But the overall box-office gross is slightly ahead of this time last year because of such holdover 1990 hits as "Home Alone" and "Dances With Wolves," plus the success of this year's "The Silence of the Lambs" and "Sleeping With the Enemy."

Murphy believes that business this weekend and next will fall off slightly. "Then it will kick off," he said, as the major studios release their big guns: "City Slickers," "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves," "The Rocketeer," "Naked Gun 2 1/2" and "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" are due in the next several weeks. - DAVID J. FOX

- Can't ($25 Million) Think ($25 Million) About ($25 Million) It: Director Michael Hoffman laments the fact most independent film makers use their films strictly as "audition pieces" for Hollywood.\ But he understands it. "There is no good or clear way to make small movies," Hoffman says "It's getting tougher and tougher."

Hoffman has made four "small" movies, including the bleak 1988 drama "Promised Land," developed at the Sundance Institute and executive-produced by Robert Redford, and the acclaimed 1989 comedy "Some Girls." But now even he's gone Hollywood.

His new film, "Soapdish," a screwball comedy about life on and off the set of a daytime soap opera, is Paramount Pictures' first summer release. Written by Robert Harling ("Steel Magnolias") and Andrew Bergman ("Blazing Saddles," "The Freshman"), "Soapdish" boasts an ensemble cast that includes three Oscar winners - Sally Field, Kevin Kline, Whoopi Goldberg - as well as Cathy Moriarty, Robert Downey Jr. and Elisabeth Shue.

The budget for "Soapdish" was somewhere around $25 million. The combined budget of Hoffman's first four features was under $9 million.

Though "Some Girls" made Hollywood take notice of Hoffman, he says he wasn't interested in doing a film for a major studio. He was developing - and still is - an adaptation of novelist Richard Ford's "Rock Springs."

But Paramount was insistent and so was Hoffman's agent. "My agent said I should at least develop something (at Paramount) and I thought, `Well, I could still get involved in this and get "Rock Springs" off the ground.' "

He initially chose "Soapdish," because he thought, at least in its first draft, it was far too quirky and campy ever to get made. But the project did not die. "It gained extraordinary momentum when Andrew Bergman came on board and he did a lot of structural things which had to be done," Hoffman said.

"The problems on a big-budget film are the same problems as on a low-budget film," Hoffman says matter-of-factly. "But if you went out and thought about it every day that these people had just given me $25 million and what were they thinking, you would never get your work done," Hoffman says.

"Most of my anxiety was (are) we are going to get this scene right? Or is it going to work? Is it going to be funny?"

Hoffman called working with the star-laden cast "a pleasant experience," though he admits "the studio hired someone just to trouble-shoot actor ego problems. Not particularly because of these people, but they didn't want it to become like a `The Women' situation where Norma Shearer is not coming out of her trailer until Joan Crawford does. But that didn't happen." - SUSAN KING

- Star Search:

HOLLYWOOD - Producer-director Taylor Hackford and his company went to San Antonio, Texas, hoping to find locations that could double for Los Angeles for his new film about three cousins growing up in East Los Angeles.

When they got there, they realized that the city's flat barrios in no way resemble the more urban, hilly look of Los Angeles. But they did find someone they had not been able to find in Los Angeles - an artist whose paintings looked like he lived in Los Angeles.

The film makers had been searching Los Angeles for an unknown Latino artist whose work evokes a feeling of the barrio. One of the characters in the film is an artist, and his artwork will be featured prominently. Hackford said that production designer Bruno Rubeo, "happened to go into the Jansen-Perez Gallery and was immediately blown away when he saw the work of Adan Hernandez.

"What was astounding about Adan's work was that it had all the elements of Southern California's geography - fires in the hills and palm trees," said Hackford, the writer and director of "An Officer and a Gentleman" and co-producer of "La Bamba."

In addition, Hackford said, "We looked around Los Angeles, but the art scene is so developed here that many (of the artists) have already been discovered.

" The film is tentatively titled "Blood In . . . Blood Out," and Hackford expects it to be the first of two movies telling the 15-year story of the three cousins. The story follows the artist character's work over three periods of his development. "The art we needed had to evoke the grass-roots Chicano ethos," Hackford said. His company made Hernandez an offer to provide the art for the film.

At the Jansen-Perez Gallery, none of the attention coming Hernandez's way is a surprise. Co-owner Sofia Gonzalez Perez said that two of the artist's works, one an oil and another a pastel study, were purchased by New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. One of Hernandez's works, "Hay un Rio," was reproduced for a billboard - there is one in Hollywood - - promoting San Antonio as a film location.

Production designer Rubeo bought an original Hernandez for his own collection.

Perez said that Hernandez's work "is very expressionistic and intensively pushes the imagery of the barrio. It could be Los Angeles, but it happens to be San Antonio."

Hackford's film is now being shot in East Los Angeles. Walt Disney Studios' distribution arm Buena Vista will distribute at an undetermined date. - DAVID J. FOX