|Screen International, Saturday August 25 1990, p.12|
TEASING THE LYNCH-MOB
Wild at Heart seems the perfect crossover candidate, but the road from art-house to mainstream is littered with casualties. Oscar Moore talks to Palace Pictures about a release philosophy that intends to win a wide audience without losing the Wild bunch
LONDON: Whether you liked it or not, Cannes this year belonged to Wild at Heart. Some may have booed, others may have rushed to the loo, but David Lynch´s film trounced its rivals with its bravura display of the seamy, sleazy and downright grisly, winning the PR battle hands down and the jury vote hands up.
But how far can that Cannes momentum (May) be carried over to the UK release (August)? What does a Palme d´Or mean to the British public: does it leave a film in the art-house ghetto or place it on a public platform?
"It is very good to win the Palme D´Or the year after Sex, Lies and Videotape," says Daniel Battsek of Palace Pictures, the film´s UK distributor. "Then it was all part of the romance; a first-time director who takes his film to Cannes and wins the most prestigious film prize outside the Oscars. It made a huge difference to the film."
And while Battsek admits that the Palme d`Or means a lot more in Europe than it does in the US, he resists the suggestion that it can brand a film with the art stigma. "Cannes is seen as ritzy, glitzy as what the film industry is all about. It is not covered as an art event, TV-am is down there. Capital Radio is there. Film 90 devotes a whole programme to the Festival.
"The Palme d´Or is simply a guarantee of quality. There is already interest because this is a David Lynch film and because he is pushing back the boundaries of sex and violence. But the Palme D´Or means that a jury, led by Bernardo Bertolucci, has said, 'it works'."
Palace is releasing the film in three main waves. The London release marries the art-house comfort and quality of the Curzon West End, the Chelsea Cinema and the Screen on the Hill with the bypasser trade of the Cannon Tottenham Court Road (a commercial cinema that did substantial business with Sex, Lies and Videotape for which it was the main release cinema) and the new UCI multiplex at Whiteleys.
Battsek is using multiplex back-up in all three stages of the release to guard against the short runs often dictated by the queues for quality single screens, but he emphasises that in each independent he has gone for the maximum run possible and in many venues has a guaranteed three-week slot. In addition, the multiplexes allow him to break the film out of its core audience to a wider public.
The trailer of the film, which avoids an auteur/Palme D´Or approach, but rather woos the viewer with sinister scenes of mayhem and destruction, is piggybacking on mainstream releases such as Total Recall and Die Hard 2, reaching an audience well beyond the normal confines of Lynch´s loyal constituency.
That constituency is more easily reached at its usual haunts. The second wave release is intended "to secure the core audience for the film in its entirety", and follows swiftly on the London release, hitting the UK´s strongest independents and regional film theatres in a five-city spread, which embraces Cambridge (Arts), Oxford (Phoenix), Edinburgh (Cameo), Bristol (Watershed) and Manchester (Cornerhouse).
The third wave arrives in similar university town cinemas, but closer to the term-time return of the students. Battsek believes the film will "perform at least as well if not better than any other film that has played in those theatres recently."
Wild at Heart has not kept a low press profile. The Face, Arena, and Blitz readers have all been wooed with front cover colour features or extensive inside copy. That young fashionable readership will have been boosted into wider demographics by the recent Sunday Times colour supplement cover, and Battsek has ensured that radio and press interviews with Nicholas Cage (due for the Wogan once-over) can be syndicated to local press throughout the country. And while neither Cage nor Laura Dern has any serious box office clout, the supporting cast of Willem Dafoe and Harry Dean Stanton has been given larger than normal credits on local advertising to win their followers to the Lynch-mob.
At the same time, while Blue Velvet might normally be considered ancient history, the visceral power of the film and its high profile (if disappointing) video release have kept it fresh in audience´s minds, and Lynchophiles have had their appetite further whetted by one of this year´s great unseen media events - Twin Peaks.
"Nobody has seen Twin Peaks in the UK but it has still generated a lot of national publicity," says Battsek. "But people know that David Lynch has created something mainstream, and is therefore not just a film-maker for one specific genre."
And in case somebody has stayed away from the news-stands, they should have been intrigued at least by Palace´s Wild at Heart teaser campaign with its cryptic release date (looking more like a shortened phone number or some rather bizarre vital statistics) running beneath the ubiquitous heart and dagger tattoo. "It would not be a proper teaser campaign if everybody knew what the poster meant," smiles Battsek. "It is interesting enough to grab people´s attention, but they don´t necessarily know what the poster is for - an album, a film, a book? The idea was to get the title and the release date into people´s minds early on without overdoing it an going for the fully fledged poster campaign. Pacing on a campaign like this has to be perfect."
"WHEELED A TART"
PARIS: With about 150 prints (25 subtitled English for Paris and the 15 main French towns9, Bac Film opens Wild at Heart throughout France on Oct 24, just as the blitz of the Deauville Festival´s American summertime hits is fading. The date was reserved 13 months ago, long before Cannes proved a possibility, when Jean Labadie was among the first European distributors to buy the film - sight unseen.
"The script was enough," says Labadie. "With the strong competition in France today it´s increasingly necessary to buy films that way. I´m sure Italy (Filmauro) - and maybe, Germany (Senator) - beat me to the film. It was sold very early in Europe and made, really, on the back of the foreign sales.
"Maybe I paid more than most: $960,000 for France, with Belgium. But there are few auteurs around with David´s qualities. Even if you´ve read the scripts, his films surprise you from start to finish."
Labadie is renowned for clever, wily campaigns. This time, he´s pushing the title - and it´s Cannes triumph. His 20-second teaser-trailer is running in 200 cinemas for two weeks in early September, the famous rentree period when the French return to normal life, and to cinemas, after their holidays.
"The teaser," says Labadie, "fans the notoriety of the title." His title, that is Sailor & Lulu [sic]. "Wild at Heart is unpronounceable for the French: Wheeld A Tart! To exploit the film further than a normal Cannes winner, Sailor & Lulu must match the impact of Bonnie & Clyde."
No problems are envisaged with the French ratings commission - "not with a Palme D`Or!" says Labadie, who aims to release Lynch´s Cannes cut, minus cosmetic changes made for America´s R. "Americans are more scared of the censors than the censors are scared of the film. There´s a greater respect for art in France. The X problem in America - Willem Dafoe´s exploding head - is just a gag! The other violence is nothing compared with Nightmare on Elm Street or French TV every night!"
The poster image of the lovers was chosen and designed before Cannes. However, in the land where the auteur is king, top line goes to the Golden Palm. "A Cannes winner is always more important in France than other territories," says Labadie. "The win took me by surprise. My head exploded like Dafoe´s, but fortunately it landed back on my shoulders. Cannes juries usually crown films that are easily unanimous. Everyone thought Eastern Europe would win."
MUNICH: "Lynch´s film has all the makings of a crossover, of being an event," says Jürgen Büscher, head of press and publicity at Senator Film distributors which is handling Wild at Heart in West Germany.
He sees "the story of Sailor and Lula" (the film´s subtitle) as being "one of those more specialised types of film, which are not mainstream but, nevertheless, become major hits."
About 120-150 copies will come into the cinemas on Sept. 20, with the provinces getting the film after key cities like Munich, Hamburg and Berlin.
Wild at Heart will be released simultaneously in East Germany through the distribution initiative run by Jugendfilm, Tobis, Neue Constantin and Scotia.
Senator Film´s marketing strategy has not been affected "in the slightest" by the controversy following the film´s winning of the Palme D´Or or the debate about the now legendary violent scenes. "In fact," Büscher says, "the controversy has been good advance publicity," as have been the pronouncements of the German film critics, which have ranged from the young turks applauding the arrival of "the first great film of the ´90s" to older critics muttering disdainfully about "depravity".
Wild at Heart is clearly a "must-see" on many cinema-goers´s lists: at the Munich Filmfest at the end of June it sold out 30 minutes after the festival box office opened for advance ticket booking.
David Lynch´s Twin Peaks pilot was also one of the highlights of this year´s Munich Filmfest, with the series snapped up by RTL Plus.