Monday, February 19, 2007

A Gift to a Dying Movie

I thought that I heard him laughing.
Detail from photo in Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon, Quick American Archives 2002. ©AP/Wide World Photos

Anybody who’s been reading this blog knows that I’ve spent the past few weeks trying to figure out how a seemingly clueless organization like engineered a PR coup that was the equivalent of The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight pulling off The Great Train Robbery. How were they able to inject into a high-profile gossip column, with impeccable timing, news of their boycott and then have that story flashed around the world in a variety of languages?

  • I suggested that they were a well-financed creation of Chapter 27’s producers, Peace Arch Entertainment.
  • I suggested that they were evil PR geniuses who’d formed a maverick agency and were drumming up business with an ugly but effective postmodern publicity stunt.
  • I suggested that they were a group of George Bush-style, ex-frat-boy publicity-hounds—who were fond of saying: “You’re either for the boycott or you’re for murder.”

But in my reverie, I’d overlooked the primary rule of solving any mystery: The simplest, most obvious answer is usually the right one. It’s now pretty obvious that is as misguided and naive as they appear to be. Ignoring the well-documented history of what happens when somebody tries to censor or repress in any way an “offensive” movie or other work of art, they handed executive producer John Flock a gift on a silver platter: a nasty, ongoing, headline-generating boycott for a movie of questionable quality that from the very beginning was in deep trouble with critics and fans and that has still not been picked up for theatrical distribution in the U.S. Flock, of course, accepted the gift graciously…and allowed his real public relations specialists to do what they’ve been doing so remarkably well for the past year: They put Chapter 27 back in the news, long after it should have died a natural death.

The boycott was a five-star success—for Peace Arch Entertainment. Even Yoko Ono loved it. Apparently forgetting that she’d coached Sean Lennon’s (former) BFF Lindsay Lohan in her role as Jude, a Lennon groupie who befriends Jared Leto’s Chapman a few days before the murder (Lohan says Ono gave her “the confidence” she needed to play the part), the reigning Queen of Media Manipulation told Entertainment Weekly, of the two thousand people who’d signed the boycott petition, “It’s very sweet of them. John would have thought so, too.”

Ono—whose spokesman, Elliot Mintz, is also on Paris Hilton’s payroll—understands perfectly well that all publicity is good, free publicity is better, and free, sympathetic publicity is best of all. She knows that two thousand people, in the scheme of things, is a miniscule number, and if the boycott accomplished anything, it probably made 200,000 people who couldn’t have cared less about the movie very curious to see it. And if John Lennon is paying attention somewhere, I think he’s laughing his balls off at the sheer absurdity of it all. (I’m finding it pretty funny myself, and I haven’t even seen the movie yet. Note to John Flock: Please send screener. Maybe I can help.)

The Howard Stern Show

One thing that did surprise me about the boycott was a comment that a reader posted about my last piece, “What Are They Going to Do for an Encore, Burn the Book?” That the comment was typical of the ridicule and innuendo that people associated with tend to post in response to anybody who disagrees with them wasn’t surprising. That it came from Fred Norris—who I later learned is a soundman and on-air personality on The Howard Stern Show—was astonishing.

Stern, whom I’ve listened to enough to respect and occasionally admire, is a veritable free-speech martyr, and it’s mind-boggling that anyone who works on the show and makes his living pushing the bounds of “good taste” could support a boycott that’s trying to repress a legitimate artistic endeavor, no matter how offensive he might find it. Norris, apparently, has learned little about the concept of free expression in the 28 years he’s been with Stern, and it makes me wonder if he’s ever read the Boycott Chapter 27 blog, which, last time I looked, seems to have transformed itself into an educational site, burying their hate speech under piles of academic verbiage that nobody’s ever going to read.


I’d said in response to Norris’s derisive comments about Nowhere Man that the book was a bestseller in four countries and three languages. Actually, it’s five countries; I’d forgotten that we’d killed in Colombia, too. (For the record, Fred, the other countries are the U.S., England, Mexico, and Japan. And though it sold out in Chile as well, there weren’t enough copies in print for it to technically qualify as a bestseller.)

A Final Word (I Hope) on the Boycott

People attempt to repress or censor works of art out of hate, fear, ignorance—and a deep-seated belief that they alone have been divinely anointed to judge the quality and intent of works that, more often than not, they haven’t seen. But these boycotts always fail, because their instigators ignore one of the most fundamental laws of human nature: The best way to get people to look at something is to tell them they can’t look.

And Now a Relevant Word from My Wife

My wife, Mary Lyn Maiscott, blogs for Vanity Fair. Today she posted the following on their Oscar site, Little Gold Men:

Jackie Earle Haley’s Monster Performance

Quick plea: If you haven’t done so already, go see Little Children. Though I went for the reliable and wonderful Best-Actress-nominated Kate Winslet (who should get a special award for her willingness to forgo any discernible makeup), I was particularly moved by Jackie Earle Haley, nominated for Best Supporting Actor. In contrast to the somewhat cartoonish men (husband, lover) in the life of Winslet’s character, Sarah, Haley portrays neighborhood pedophile Ronnie as a complex, perplexing man, whose conflicting feelings and urges emanate from the large blue eyes in his cavernous face. Some of the best art shows us the humanity of people that society often deems monsters, and, though its extremely unlikely Haley will win the Oscar—what with Eddie Murphy’s perfect, pumped-up Dreamgirls performance—his portrayal of a tormented sex offender who loves his devoted mother and tries to pursue a “normal” life puts him in the Charlize Theron/Kevin Bacon/Jared Leto line of commendable, risk-taking actors. This film refuses to be predictable and pat in other ways as well; note the diverse reactions to a pedophile in the midst of a family-oriented suburban neighborhood. It also pulls the rug out from under us just as we’re about to—hey, just go see the movie.


Anonymous said...

Give Gary a call at the station, we would love to have you on with the creator of Howard and I are huge John Lennon Fans, respecting Johns families wishes to not speak the killers name for the last 25+ years.

Fred "The Martian" Norris

Anonymous said...

Are we getting a bit obsessed Robert?
I would rather read about that numerology BullShit.

F...Jackie and Stuttering John

Robert Rosen said...

Obsessed? Why not? It’s a good story; people are obviously reading it. (If you prefer to read about numerology instead, I suggest you check a copy of “Nowhere Man” out of the library.)

You want me to come on the show and explain why the boycott is helping “Chapter 27” and why not speaking the killer’s name is just another form of censorship? No problem. I’ll attempt to make contact. I assume 1-888-927-7465 (the number I got off your website) is the number to call.

Jaden @ Screenwriting for Hollywood said...

Too funny. I'm going to put a link to this at my site.