Dirty words doom flick with chain
In a sort of reverse logic, the decision confirms the power of language.
By MARK CARO
The new movie "The Aristocrats" features no sex or violence, just lots of words.
And you won't be hearing them at an AMC theater because the national chain has, depending on whom you believe, either yanked the upcoming release from its theaters or simply declined to book it.
Instead, "The Aristocrats," a documentary featuring about 100 comedians telling variations of the filthiest-ever joke, will open at Loews' Esquire and Pipers Alley theaters on Aug. 12.
ThinkFilm President and Chief Executive Jeff Sackman, whose Toronto-based company is releasing "The Aristocrats" -- which is not rated due to the vulgar language -- views AMC's move as a blow against free speech and a cautionary tale of theater consolidation.
AMC spokeswoman Pam Blase calls the issue a matter of commercial considerations.
Penn Jillette, who helped produce and shoot the movie with comedian/director Paul Provenza, takes a more philosophical approach.
"At least it's showing that words have power, and we haven't had that statement made in a while -- and the fact that it's being made by a goofy, stupid person doesn't make it any less uplifting," said the speaking half of comedy team Penn & amp; Teller on Wednesday from Las Vegas.
Jillette was referring to AMC Film Group chairman Dick Walsh, who, with other executives, decided to reject the film. Blase noted AMC theaters in Chicago and Atlanta had been considered, but "nothing was booked. There was never any agreement."
That's not true, Sackman said.
"The fact is it was booked. And then we got an e-mail internally that said, 'We've been instructed from on top that we can't play this film."'
Blase said AMC's decision was based not on taste but "business rationale." She said unrated or NC-17 movies automatically receive "corporate attention" at the Kansas City-based company.
"They thought it would have limited audience appeal," she said, noting that the chain has shown other unrated films.
Yet even if "The Aristocrats" becomes a breakout hit when it opens in New York and Los Angeles on July 29 -- or when it plays at other chains such as the market-leading Regal Cinemas -- Blase said AMC still won't consider showing it.
"The Aristocrats" is shot cheaply on digital-video cameras but boasts marquee comedians such as Robin Williams, Drew Carey, Whoopi Goldberg, Jon Stewart and George Carlin riffing on a largely improvised joke involving an unspeakable family nightclub act. The movie was well received at the Sundance Film Festival, where ThinkFilm bought it.
As a "hard-core free-market guy," Jillette said he supports AMC's right to reject "The Aristocrats." Though he noted "that's like saying at a supermarket the owner of the chain really doesn't like vegetables: 'It's our supermarket; we can do what we want."'