Hey folks, Harry here. Below, Moriarty goes into great detail about a good many issues concerning the MPAA, but none are so IMMEDIATELY important as the trouble with EYES WIDE SHUT. Warner Brothers deserves a smack upside the collective noggins of all involved. It is a shame and a travesty that Terry Semel and Robert Daly. In fact, I recommend calling 1-818-954-6000 and asking to speak with Terry or Bob... Or Lorenzo Di Bonaventura or Robert Guralnick or Diana Rathbun or Jeff Robinov or Courtenay Valenti or William Young or Christopher deFaria or Michael Andreen or Lynn Morgan or Jennifer Perini or Mark Scoon or Lionel Wigram. That'd be a good starting point. If you don't know what the fuss is all about, read Moriarty's column below or Click Here to Read ROGER EBERT's Piece about having seen the 'before and after' scenes! This is... Simply outrageous. And a studio with real integrity would at least give ADULTS the option of seeing an Unrated print at the same time as having the R version available. Or... better yet... Just release the uncut one. Though it is most likely too late to do anything about this... We should make it LOUD and CLEAR where we, the film patrons, stand on this issue. Now... On to Moriarty...
Hey, Head Geek...
The sounds of the new Art of Noise CD echo through the Moriarty Labs tonight, and it's a good thing. It's soothing, even if it is strange to veer from John Hurt's somnambulistic mumbles to the odball juxtoposition of Rakim (of "Erik B. and" fame) rapping over what can only be called technoclassical music. It's hypnotic, and that's just what I need tonight... soothing the savage beast and all that.
I don't want to give the impression that this column is going to be nothing but me ranting about what's wrong today, though. There's some things that have really impressed me lately. I enjoyed the hell out of CURSE OF THE BLAIR WITCH tonight on the SciFi Channel. It's one of the canniest pieces of film publicity I've seen recently, and it proves a theory that I've been bouncing around with frequent Labs visitor Segue Zagnut. When people go to Disney World or any similar park, they frequently have to wait in long lines for the attractions. When you combine those long waits with the sun and other elements, you have the recipe for some hardcore freaking out. Doesn't happen, though (much), and there's a reason. The teams who design those attractions start the ride long before you actually reach your seat. The better that whole pre-ride is, the more excited the people waiting are going to be when they finally get in. A beautiful example would be either the Indiana Jones Adventure or Star Tours at Disney, or the Back To the Future Ride or Jurassic Park at Universal Studios. It's immersive, it draws you in, and it sells the entire reality.
When this is applied to the release of a film, it can create an audience that isn't just excited to see a movie -- they're rabid. If you've actually got a good movie to back up the hype, you're going to end up with a giant monster hit on your hands. The good folks over at Artisan Entertainment and Haxan Films certainly have this all figured out, and the decision they made to utilize all the Phase II footage originally shot for, then cut from, the film is damn near genius. The special lays out such a convincing argument for the reality of the Blair Witch legend that I'm a believer again. I had no idea the Phase II footage was created with as much aplomb and intelligence as the actual feature film, but it's obvious that both Dan Myrick and Ed Sanchez are enormously talented. I'm curious to see if they take the bait with that proposed "younger X-FILES" style TV show they've been offered. I'm equally curious to see if they go to Burkitsville during the first sweeps season of the show. We'll see...
New Line and Paul Thomas "not directing DEATH RACE 3000" Anderson have also come up with an ingenious way to start the ride early, and it all hinges on the top secret character Tom Cruise is playing in the top secret film. There's a phone number in the film that is pivotal in the life of Frank T.J. Mackey, Cruise's character. In a move that distinguishes MAGNOLIA from pretty much every film that you've ever seen, it's a real phone number -- no "555" in sight. As we get closer to the release of the film, you'll be able to call that number and get hipped to the words and wisdom of Mackey. "Respect the cock and tame the cunt," indeed.
As I read MAGNOLIA, which is big and bold and splashy and strange and shocking in equal measure, I had to wonder if Tom Cruise is up for another battle with the MPAA and CARA over his language in the film. I hope he is. Based on what I've heard from people who have spoken with him on the subject, he's passionate about artists rights. I'd love to know what he thinks of the botch job Warner Bros. is making of this last week before the release of EYES WIDE SHUT. Remember after Kubrick died? We were told over and over again that no one would change anything, that Stanley was done with the film. Well, that has to have been a lie, since the print that was shown to critics this weekend had unfinished effects work. Even if Stanley approved the idea of the digital censorship (and I can't imagine he was too thrilled about it), he certainly never saw the final effect, which has already caused an uproar among the critics who have seen the film. Roger Ebert offered a particularly cogent analysis of the situation in his Monday column, and it got my blood boiling. In the middle of the film's central sequence, we're suddenly going to be slapped with a hamhanded attempt to "protect us" from the view of simulated sex. In concept, the idea of placing people over the offending portions of the image isn't a terrible one, if it's done with some grace and subtlety. Ebert compared it to the scenes in the AUSTIN POWERS movies when Austin's nudity is barely disguised by various items. Warner... please. I don't want this final experience with Kubrick marred by some lame last minute fix. You even acknowledged in print today that you worked with the MPAA on the changes, even though you still vigorously deny that it was ever in danger of an NC-17. You can't lie to people like that for months, then suddenly change some part of the story and expect us not to notice. You can deny things, and that's your right. But when did it become acceptable spin to just plain lie? Shouldn't there be some sort of standards here? Besides... this compromise is something that makes me uncomfortable. When studios start making pre-emptory changes in art, the whole thing starts to collapse. There are suddenly ideas that no one will touch, and it has nothing to do with their validity. It's all political, and cowardice will always rule the day.
One has to wonder if FIGHT CLUB would get the green light now. My guess is that it wouldn't. There's some genuinely dangerous thoughts in the shooting script, and that's what makes the project so exhilarating. If they pull off what they wrote, it's going to burn the world down. I know that the few people who have seen it who have offered me any reaction have been hard-pressed to describe it. One person wrote me that it's "the kind of film you feel in your guts for days." I got a long letter from someone inside the production earlier today, and he was able to answer some of my questions about something that I stumbled over in the recent PREMIERE cover story on the film. There's two teaser spots that are described in the story, both of which were shot specifically by David Fincher as teaser trailers.
The first trailer described was Ed Norton in a movie theater, addressing the audience directly in the style of a public service announcement. Norton asks everyone to turn off their cell phones and warns them not to talk during the movie. Then he adds, cheerily, "And remember, don't ever let strangers touch you in the bathing suit area." The second trailer is also done in the manner of a PSA, this time with Pitt talking to the audience, talking about emergency exits and smoking. He finishes by asking, "Did you know urine is sterile? You can drink it." Fincher designed the trailers to be sent out without titles or a date or any indication that they are tied to a movie. It's fully in keeping with the tone of the film. It's a perfect way of starting the ride early.
And you won't see the spots.
Fox hasn't even submitted them to the MPAA for approval. They figure there's no way it's going to happen, so why start fighting early? The film's going to have plenty of controversy to contend with when it's shown to the MPAA soon, so why not focus on that?
Well... mainly because that's what Fincher wants. He's not making a film here that's about action figures and lunchboxes and demographic targets. This is a jet black piece of rage and fury, and it should be sold using the most unconventional imagery possible. Don't lie to people, Fox. Don't try and convince them this is anything other than a spiritual heir to A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. This is a picture with teeth, with a real philosophy behind it. "You are not your job. You are not how much you have in the bank. You are not the contents of your wallet. You are not your khakis. You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. What happens first is you can't sleep. What happens then is there's a gun in your mouth. And what happens next is you meet Tyler Durden. Let me tell you about Tyler. He had a plan. In Tyler we trusted. Tyler says the things you own, end up owning you. It's only after you've lost everything that you're free to do anything. Fight Club represents that kind of freedom. First rule of Fight Club: You don't talk about Fight Club. Second rule of Fight Club: You don't talk about Fight Club. Third rule of Fight Club: If it's your first night, you fight. Tyler says self-improvement is masturbation. Tyler says self-destruction might be the answer."
Does this sound like a film that you soft-pedal, that you need to position in the marketplace? FIGHT CLUB could be a genuine event, along the lines of a BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. The book has plenty of rabid Space Monkeys already converted, and now it's time for Fox to get out of Fincher's way, to offer him the support he needs. If the MPAA doesn't like the ads, then come up with something even more subversive. After all, their refusal of SOUTH PARK: ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE as a title is what led to the infinitely nastier BIGGER, LONGER & UNCUT.
By the way, that reminds me. Nominate Mark Shaiman for Best Musical or Comedy Score. Don't argue. Just do it.
I want to give the regular readers of this column and this site an assignment, a mental task. We've covered several stunningly bad decisions by the MPAA and CARA on this page recently, and every article has been followed by gigantic Talk Backs in which people line up to shout, "Screw Jack Valenti!" and the like. While this sentiment is obvious in the face of the decisions being made, it's not terribly productive. What it does manage to do is prove just how passionate and provocative a subject it is. While I applaud the original concept behind the MPAA's creation of the Classifications and Ratings Administration, the branch of the organization that actually rates movies, I think it is clear now that the system is broken beyond repair. The idea of only parents having a say in how films are rated is fine if all ratings are used for is the information of parents. That's not true, though, no matter how hard Valenti spins it. Ratings have an economic effect on pictures, and they place a chill on the artistic process. There are great adult stories and topics that no studio will touch out of fear. We are finishing our first 100 years of film, and in many ways we are more limited than ever. We have amazing tools and toys to use in capturing stories onscreen, but our hands are tied by a system that no longer services anyone fairly.
I want the readers of this page to send me their serious suggestions for how to improve or reform the system. I don't want to read a lot of "Fire Jack Valenti!" mail, either. Let's figure out how to self-regulate the film community without shutting out certain avenues of expression. Let's figure out how to give parents the information they need, how to give filmmakers the freedom they want, and how to give audiences the straight, unfiltered visions of their favorite artists. Use my e-mail address at the end of the article or click on the graphic at the top to write me, and next week we'll try and sort through your ideas and some of our own.
A few quick observations before I go tonight. On this evening's POLITICALLY INCORRECT, Bill Maher had on Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan, Tara Reid, and Shannon Elizabeth on the show to represent this weekend's big winner AMERICAN PIE. One of the points he raised was that the material about Stifler's mom could only be done with an older woman and a younger man, that no one would dare break the taboo the other way for fear of another LOLITA-like situation unfolding. Well, my guess is that Maher doesn't know anything about Sam Mendes' AMERICAN BEAUTY, coming this fall from DreamWorks. I've had this script for months, and I've picked it up and reread it three times, a rarity for me. I'm not sure what I think of it, but I'm sure it's bold and I'm sure it's going to drive some groups insane when it comes out. There's a relationship between Kevin Spacey's lead character and a teenage girl that is not played for laughs in a conventional sense, but which should provide some of this year's more unforgettable moments. I'm still hoping to catch an early look at this one to get a better handle on it. At least I know that whatever cut exists now isn't going to be tampered with any further -- the film just got its R.
There's a number of new TV spots out for IRON GIANT, and they're a mixed bag. Some of them use '50s music to fabulous effect, and they capture the gentle humor of the film quite well. There's some others that are the work of an obvious lunatic, though, with action scenes from the film cut to the music of the Scorpions. Yes, the hair band from the '80s, an era that has nothing whatsoever to do with the film. This decision confounds me on many levels, not the least of which is that the music the film uses is already great. I recently was blessed with a new fairy godmother over at Rhino Records who has been leaving soundtracks under my pillow. The IRON GIANT collection is great, and I fully agree with Harry that "Edd's Kooky Pad" is one of the most delirious little novelty beatnik tunes I can imagine, infectious beyond words. Even more impressive is the KING KONG soundtrack that I woke up to the other morning. Holy cow, is this thing cool. It's a beautiful restoration of Max Steiner's legendary score, and it's also a sampling of dialogue and sound effects so you can, in essence, listen to a radio show version of the movie. How beautiful is that?
Anyway... I've got to go. We're preparing many experiments here at the Labs for you, including our long-promised look at LORD OF THE RINGS, a look at the final finished print of MYSTERY MEN (much has been done since our earlier look), and that Bill Murray overview I mentioned last week. I got distracted by some of the standard Hollywood monkey business, but I'll try and get all those out to you guys soon. Until then...