HAMMOND: Controversial 'Shame' Arrives, Stirring Telluride Talk And Scaring Distribs; David Cronenberg's 'A Dangerous Method'

On the heels of their world premieres at the Venice Film Festival, David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method and Steve McQueen’s Shame had their North American premieres at Telluride on Sunday. Both films star Michael Fassbender, and in the controversial latter film, he really reveals all as does co-star Carey Mulligan. The sexually provocative scenes were enough to guarantee an NC-17 rating, which made at least three potential distributors who saw it here skittish. One told me that without the 55-plus crowd this art picture will die and the potential NC-17 will drive them away. But McQueen isn’t editing it even if distribs suggest cuts. (For instance, Mulligan who plays a night club singer does a rendition of New York, New York that lasted longer than the Spanish Civil War.) Despite the film’s attributes, Shame will be a very tough sell even with sex scenes as marketing bait. McQueen was still in Venice and couldn’t make it to the Rockies. But he sent a video introduction. Reaction among the packed audiences for the first two showings of Shame today were mixed. Some hated it and some appreciated it, but no seemed to be doing cartwheels except critics in Venice.

One thing is clear, however: Fassbender is a definite star, not only in McQueen’s film but also in A Dangerous Method, playing Swiss doctor Carl Jung opposite his intellectual equal, Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen). He keeps his clothes on in this one. A Dangerous Method is a film of ideas, and those are rare. It’s also a film of words. Lots of them. Cronenberg was still in Venice, but screenwriter Christopher Hampton was here explaining how he came full circle from writing a screenplay based on the John Kerr book, turning it into a play, and then back again after Cronenberg expressed interest. The play was called The Talking Cure, but apparently no one got the cure because these guys just keep talking. Fortunately, Hampton’s dialogue is in the hands of skilled actors and a filmmaker who knows how to get nice visuals on the screen. Method goes out via Sony Classics on November 23. I ran into SPC President Michael Barker, who flew in from Venice on Friday night. He told me he thinks he can get Oscar nominations for all the stars of the film.

He’s also very high on his other three Telluride debuts, Agnieszka Holland’s Polish Oscar entry, In Darkness, Cannes Best Screenplay winner Footnote from Israel,  and the Iranian film A Separation, which won raves from the fest-goers I polled as they exited the film’s first showing this morning. The provocative film should be a contender for Iran in the Foreign Language Oscar competition, barring internal politics — which is one reason the Academy should change the rules that allow each country to choose it’s entry.

Barker also was still talking up Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, which became the second-most-successful film in SPC history (after Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). The film has been playing since May and was re-released on several hundred screens last weekend, just in time for Hurricane Irene which Barker admitted killed business. But he said the movie shot up dramatically this weekend, making the decision to expand more viable for SPC. The company is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and in honor of that, Barker and co-president Tom Bernard threw a dinner Saturday night at La Marmotte. However, Bernard was a no-show as other commitments kept him from Telluride for the first time in about three decades, and he reportedly was very upset having to miss it.

Another company throwing a party (Sunday afternoon) was Oscilloscope in honor of the Telluride tribute to Tilda Swinton. She stars in their post-Cannes pickup We Need to Talk About Kevin, which started screening here today. How Swinton lost the Cannes Best Actress award is still a head-scratcher. In Cannes I suggested to Swinton that she bring the film to Telluride, and then I tracked down fest co-directors Tom Luddy and Gary Meyer to tell them she was interested. Lo and behold, she’s here getting toasted. But even though she says she’s trying to see other movies, she’s busy with her own and wants to come back as a guest director maybe as soon as next year.

She’s very proud of her Oscar-winning performance in Michael Clayton (she gave the statuette to her agent WME’s Brian Swardstrom, and it is still his, she says). The film has been prominent here. It screened in Elks Park on Thursday night, and clips were included in both her tribute and George Clooney’s. She also praised one of the few films she has seen here, Clooney’s The Descendants. She told me it makes her want to go to the less-traveled parts of Hawaii that the film shows. She also said she recalls the ovation of several minutes that her film got in Cannes. That’s par for the course for Cannes, but Swinton says it is even more pronounced in Italy. She participated in the first of her two tributes here Sunday night and will do another Monday morning. (There are always two complete tributes for each person at Telluride for some reason.) Kevin director Lynne Ramsey made the trip to Telluride, too, and told me she loves it so much she wants to skip Cannes from now on and only come to Telluride.

Oscilloscope has big Oscar campaign plans for Swinton and Kevin, and have kept their relationship with awards maven Cynthia Swartz, who just ankled 42 West for her own company, Strategy PR/Consulting. Two years ago, Swartz cooked up a campaign that landed Oscilloscope’s underdog, The Messenger, two major Oscar nominations. Exec David Finkel told me they plan to do a one-week run on December 4 in Los Angeles and then reopen at the end of January when nominations are announced. Swinton plans to be in Los Angeles doing appearances with the film for much of November. That’s a good thing because many Academy members might want to avoid the searing subject matter of this uncompromising movie. Finkel said the company has the money for the campaign and plans to spend it to secure awards recognition. He said they were smitten with the dark, tough film from the moment they saw it in Cannes.

Meanwhile, on Day 4 of our Telluride George Clooney Watch, George did the second of his tributes this morning and was in rare comic form. Having just turned 50, he described himself as “AARP’s Sexiest Man still alive”. He also  is pretty savvy about the longevity of careers in show business these days, saying his Aunt Rosemary’s up-and-down career taught him a valuable lesson. “I knew you weren’t gonna be in front for very long. There is a sell-by date,” he said. He added that he always thought of himself as a film actor even when he was only appearing on the sitcom The Facts of Life. “Film actors look down on TV actors, and TV actors look down on reality fuckers,” is how he described the pecking order in Hollywood. Words to live by. And with that he was off to the airport, but not before asking me if I was going to be at the Toronto Film Festival next week. The answer is “yes” as the fall fest madness continues.

  1. Both the critics and audiance loved Shame in Venice but Americans always have problems with sex. If it were violence no one would complain.

    1. Been looking forward to SHAME for 2 years now. SO stoked for it. HUNGER was the best film of the year it came out.

    1. Pete, once again, the breadth and scope of your festival coverage is impressive and appreciated. It’s the next best thing for those of us who love films but can’t afford to fly off to Telluride, Venice and Toronto. Thank you!

    2. All I really get from this article is that Oscars are now purely about campaigning for Oscars and nothing else. That’s not the fault of the writer of this article, but it saddens me to think that the Oscars are becoming as silly as our Presidential elections, with all kinds of behind-the-scenes bullshit from PR companies. Yuck.

  2. As a liberal and open minded “55 plus” film lover, I have to wonder what on earth McQueen is thinking. Is he deliberately trying to sabotage his film? How do his investors feel?

    Most theater complexes won’t show NC-17 films at all, thereby reducing screens as well as audiences. On top of that, even though I’m no prude, I never feel comfortable going with friends or family to an NC-17 film. Explicit nudity and sexuality just isn’t necessary on screen. Suggestions of sex and nudity do the job just fine and are often more evocative.

    1. Where is the NC-17 for violence? Do you have problems going to films with violent content with family and loved ones? Why won’t theater chains (corporations!) carry NC-17 films, there is a question. Studios should hold the line on this with exhibitors and newspapers.

      Fassbender was totally nude in Hunger, he was (self) starved, beaten and dragged about nude as Bobby Sands. The film went out unrated which is what should happen here.

    2. McQueen is not sabotaging anything. He has simply made a film. He is an artist and a filmmaker – not someone who bends over backwards to please his investors. That is one reason to like him.

  3. There is a big difference between Telluride and Venice, puritanism. As America goes further into religious mania the European continent runs from it as they have seen what results from it. Who cares how much they ‘reveal’ of their bodies if it is in service to the story! Count me in for this one, thought McQueen’s “Hunger” was one of the year’s best and have been anxiously awaiting his follow-up.

    1. Puritanism? Hardly. Graphic sex or violence rarely makes a movie better. Case in point? ‘Silence of the Lambs’ – we never saw Hannibal Lecter’s cannibalism, we were just old of his horrors. Even in the scene where Hannibal is beating the guard we never see the victim, just Hannibal’s hand swinging. Scary? You bet. Anthony Hopkins standing stoically behind glass, instead of bars, and having a cage placed over his mouth and moved on a hand truck – nightmares for all.

      The fact that Europeans prefer graphicness in their movies doesn’t make them better – and it sure doesn’t make us worse.

      1. I agree. Also, American films tend to respect their audiences more. Believe me, there are just as many bad foreign films as there are American ones.

        And a film festival like Telluride is hardly the place to debate such things. It’s such a middle of the road festival, kowtowing to whoever famous agrees to be flown in for it. It’s the festival equivalent of the Golden Globes.

        1. The Telluride Film Festival may be many things, but middle of the road? Just don’t think so — have only been lucky enough to get there 4 times, but it’s been everything a film fest should be, and then some…

      2. Graphic sex is in the eye of the beholder, most of the sex I see in mainstream films and foreign films is awfully tame. Do you mean that when you see a naked female or a flaccid male? I see those every time I go to the Met or MoMA, big deal. Now graphic violence I see constantly in films but yet they never receive NC-17 ratings. The Puritans were nutty about sex but violence wasn’t a problem for them, they never seemed to tire of burning women at the stake. Funny how that works with religious extremists even today, sex makes them squeamish (except when they are alone ‘banging away’ on their computers) but how they love their firearms.

        As for puritanism, the fact that you don’t see it when it is our history and runs through the veins of this country is pretty astonishing.

  4. Many directors lose something as they get older (like too many comedians) but some get better as they get older. Cronenberg has always had his fans but I like how he has evolved. I think his latest works especially with Viggo are the best things he has ever done. Less is more.

    1. Neil is right there: “Cronenberg has always had his fans but I like how he has evolved. I think his latest works especially with Viggo are the best things he has ever done.” Amen.

  5. Many theater complexes do show NC-17 films. For instance, Regal and AMC did show “The Dreamers” and “Lust, Caution” in their theaters. (Both film enjoyed respectable box office result in the art-house circuit)

    1. Dude. Are you serious? The Dreamers did 2 mil domestic and 15 million worldwide gross on a 15 million production budget meaning it lost tens of millions of dollars when you add in p & A and distribution costs. Lust, Caution did 4 mil domestic on a 15 mil budget. Fortunately for Focus Film Ang Lee still has a following outside the US and it ended up making 60 mil worldwide – but in the US it tanked.

      1. Fox Searchlight didn’t produce “The Dreamers”; Fox Searchlight only acquired acquired the rights to release “The Dreamers” in all English-language territories and Latin America.

        “Lust, Caution” was made mainly for Asia markets (otherwise, the film would be made in English). Focus were not stupid enoguh to expect a foreign-language WWII thriller to gross more than $15 milion in US. (Even Paul Verhoeven’s “Black Book” only grossed $4.3 million in US.)

        BTW, both “The Dreamers” and “Lust, Caution” performed very well in DVD market.

  6. Yes, please, less sex, which is so uncomfortable to talk about or watch and something that no one really does or experiences in life, and more Shark attacks in 3D if possible, which is so fun to watch and so much more universally understood and experienced.

  7. I guess you missed the sequel where we get to watch Lecter pull out his doggy bag of human brains and share it with a little girl as they travel together on a plane.

  8. If you don’t think America’s fear/dislike of sex doesn’t spring from their past Puritanism and current obsession with the sky fairy that lives in outer space and sometime grants you wishes, then you should really stop reading that ‘one book’ over and over again and crack open a few more. We have no problem watching violence and torture(unless it’s that boring water boarding), but sex? OMG. Hide the children as if they’re far more likely to kill and torture than they will ever have sex. Such a shame for films like this.

    1. Yeah. An actor doing full-frontal in an indie isn’t anything new, especially if it evolves around sexual content. Peter Sarsgaard in “Kinsey”, Ewan McGregor in “Young Adam” AND “The Pillow Book”, and Louis Garrel & Michael Pitt in “The Dreamers.” Plus, it’s not like Fassbender hasn’t done nudity before, which he did in McQueen’s previous “Hunger.”

      It’s a huge double standard. There are some movies that wouldn’t feel right if the actors were fully clothed, covered by a sheet or in their underwear. Nudity isn’t always sexual in nature — if it’s done right, it’s not erotic and appropriate for the film (if anyone sees a Peter Greenaway film, you’ll get densentized to nudity pretty quickly). There’s nothing wrong with the human body, male or female.

      People are making a huge fuss over nothing. If you don’t want to see movies with nudity and sexual content, don’t see them.

  9. Oh, so as Americans it’s okay to see nudity and unrated movies in our homes, but god forbid we actually have to see such movies as intended, on the big screen. Oh goodness gracious, how uncomfortable it will be for us to watch actors naked, simulating sex (for the most part) with other people in the audience. Wow! But it was okay throughout the 70s when movies like LAST TANGO IN PARIS, MIDNIGHT COWBOY and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE hit the big screen. Somehow we all very adult minded about it and the communal theater experience wasn’t a problem. When did a huge chunk of the American viewing audience insert a giant stick up its ass. We need more NC-17 dramas, NOT LESS. I celebrate Steve McQueen for sticking to his guns and more importantly, his investors and future distributor for taking a chance on something for adults. If you’re freakin’ embarrassed, then stay home. But don’t ruin it for the rest of us. Not everyone has a giant screen TV (and even those have their limitations). I want to see the uncut version on the big screen. I do not need to bring it home in a brown paper bag so the studio can hit me for a double dip – unless I love it enough to buy it for my home collection.

  10. Wait. “Kevin” is only getting a one-week LA-only engagement in December?! So, as a New Yorker, I don’t get to see the film until the end of January? Please tell me this is a mistake and there will at least be the customary LA/NY limited (even if it is just one week) release in December?

  11. saw Shame in Telluride. Michael Fassbender is an actor to watch and Steve McQueen is an original talented filmmaker. As expected,the visuals and acting were excellent. But this isnt really a film. There is hardly a story. Fassbender’s character never changes and ultimately, it is hard to connect or care about any character. I am glad McQueen explored a difficult subject matter and i didnt have a problem with the (gratuitous) sexual nature of the film. I had a problem with the story – flimsy. More like an acting exercise. And i certainly wouldn’t want to be the distributor of this film. You won’t get your money back nor will you get Academy award nominations…

  12. only the west to peddle such filth.why? No movie ever requires nudity nor excessive violence. There are tasteful ways of doing it in style. If you dont agree with me watch some tom and jerry to condition your mind. We are served filth- protect yourselves.

  13. I will see any movie with Michael Fassbender, whether he is unclothed or playing doctor or speaking a foreign language. If there is one time you can away with this with a headliner entering the A-List such as Fassbender, it is really now. I wish distributors would realize that.

  14. Just like you wouldn’t take the family to HOOTERS, don’t take them to a NC17 film…there are plenty of bland family films to keep you busy and maybe, just maybe if you’re on a date night with your spouse, you can go see something different.

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