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Sony and the Interview, Once More

Discussions of North Korea, cyber war, the corporate cowardice of Sony Pictures, and THE INTERVIEW have been taking over the airwaves these past two days, and millions of words have been devoted to the issues.  I won't try to rehash them all here.

The most important words, and the truest words, were those spoken by the big man, President Obama.

I agree with everything the President said there.

One of the most important bits, in my opinion, is toward the middle, where he talks about the chilling effect the cowardice of Sony and the big movie chains could have on other filmmakers going forward.  This is a point that very few of the talking heads on television seem to be addressing.  It is not theoretical.  THIS IS ALREADY HAPPENING. The damage has already extended well beyond THE INTERVIEW itself.  Paramount, a studio that has NOT been hacked, and has NOT been threatened, has already reacted by pulling TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE from all the theatres that wanted to show it as a substitute for THE INTERVIEW.  They have made no public statement as to their reasons, but I think their reasons are plain... they are afraid of drawing down the wrath on North Korea and the hackers.   Meanwhile, New Regency and Fox -- neither of them part of the Sony hack, neither of them theatened -- have scrapped plans forPYONGYANG,  a Steve Carrell movie about North Korea, based on a popular graphic novle.


This a textbook example of "chilling effect."  Nothing could be more clearcut.  Not just one Seth Rogen/ James Franco ( or Flacco) movie has been impacted, but three different projects, one ten years old, one still in preproduction.

 Of course, Sony has taken issue with the president's declaration that they "made a mistake."  (A very mild way of putting it, in my opinion.)  No, no, they did not make a mistake, they are insisting, they had no choice.  Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton instead tried to shift the blame to Regal, AMC, and the other movie chains who announced that they would not not screen the film.   "We have not caved, we have not given in, we have persevered, and we haven't backed down. We have always had the desire to have the American public see this movie," Lynton said.

Sorry, but that's bullshit.  Sony did have a choice.  They still do.   They can release the film tomorrow, if they want.

Sony is correct in one regard: the big movie chains are getting off way too easy here.  All the discussion has focused on Sony, but in fact the cowardice started with Regal, with AMC, and  the other monarchs of the multiplex who decided to bow to the threats and pull THE INTERVIEW from their screens.  But for Sony to suggest that once that happened they "had no place to show the film," is disingenuous.

I have already stated that the Jean Cocteau Cinema will show THE INTERVIEW here in Santa Fe, should it be made available to us.  And yes, we're a tiny little arthouse, only 125 seats... but the crucial point is, we would not have been alone.   According to NATO (the National Association of Theatre Owners, not the North Atlantic Treaty Organization), there are 39,662 movie screens in the United States.  Regal, the largest and most powerful of the chains, has 7318 of those.  The other big chains have thousands too, but...

Do the math.  There are still THOUSANDS of screens out there not under the control of the mega-chains.  Smaller chains, regional chains, arthouses, and many many many small independent movie theatres like my own... theatres that would have jumped at the chance to show a big Christmas movie, an opportunity not often afforded them.  Regal may have been intimidated, but I don't think Alamo Drafthouse would have been.  I suspect Quention Tarantino and his New Beverly Theatre in LA would have stepped up, he's no stranger to controversy.  And there are thousands more.  So don't give us this "boo hoo, we have no choice, no one would have showed our movie" okey-doke, Sony, because it's not true.  The INDEPENDENTS would have showed your film.  We still will.  Release it, and see.

Rachel Maddow did an excellent story last night about the parallels between THE INTERVIEW case and the SATANIC VERSES incident, when Iran declared a fatwa against Salman Rushdie, threatening to kill not only the author but also his editors and publishers.  It is worth remembering that, in that case as in this, the big chains were the first to cave.  Waldenbooks, B. Daltons, and Barnes & Noble all responded by announcing that they would not be selling THE SATANIC VERSES.   But... here's the important part...Rushdie's publishers did not flinch, but stood firm for the book, the author, and the principle of free speech.  And who stood with them?  The independent bookstores.   All the shops around the corner, the specialty stores, the mom-and-pop operations came forth and said, almost as one, "We'll sell your book."  And they did, in unprecedented numbers.  THE SATANIC VERSES was a huge bestseller, not because of the chains, but in spite of them.

Maybe Regal is afraid is to show THE INTERVIEW.  The CEOs in the corporate suites are too scared by what their lawyers are whispering in their ears about potential liability.  But mom and pop have more guts, I'd bet.  Release THE INTERVIEW, Sony, and hundreds of small chains and indy theatres will snap it up all across the country.

And hey, Paramount, we'd snap up TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE as well.  So climb out from underneath your desks, and make it available for us to book. 


Dec. 20th, 2014 06:26 pm (UTC)
"Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man's nose begins"
(с)"Freedom of Speech in Wartime" Zechariah Chafee, Jr
Sony made a bad movie. Offensive. Someone had to tell them that this can not be done. You can not do bad to others and talk about rights.
Dec. 20th, 2014 06:30 pm (UTC)
No one gets struck in the nose by watching a movie.

The "cure" for free speech is more free speech. If someone says something you think is offensive, you are free to say so, and why, and write scathing reviews, and tell people not to see the movie. You can even stand in front of the theatre with a sign saying DON'T SEE THIS MOVIE.

You are not free to silence them.
Dec. 20th, 2014 07:02 pm (UTC)

Dear sir. Freedom (of speech) should not be anarchy. For bad deeds should recompense. Must have a border. Hollywood sure that you can do any stuff for a profit. They explained that you cannot do whatever you want. And if they don't want to listen to the words (Korea appealed to the UN about this film), they will say things. Hollywood has made information-kick. Korea made information-kick. Nobody died, it's good. Should be held responsible for their words and their actions, otherwise there will be anarchy. I regret that badly know the English language to fully Express their thoughts.
I will speak simply. If someone speaks badly about my mother. I'm not going to stand with the poster "do not listen to this man." I'll ask him to shut up. And if he won't listen.... I hope you know what I mean.
with respect.
Dec. 20th, 2014 07:28 pm (UTC)
OK, you don't have a tradition of freedom of speech (or freedom of anything else) in your country, so you can't understand the US response. You used the old "right to swing your fist" argument in the worst possible manner: this isn't about the filmmakers swinging a fist at NKor, or at anyone else. Nobody is forcing anybody to see the film, therefore your fist-swinging analogy is false. On the other hand, one psychotic murderer in another country is trying to dictate our internal policies, and if that doesn't outrage you (imagine if the Great Patriotic War had gone the other way and Germany was telling you, a Russian, what you could and couldn't watch), you're fucking hopeless.
Dec. 20th, 2014 07:57 pm (UTC)
You start chatting to verbal abuse me and my country. And I think I'm going to answer you?
Matt Stedman
Dec. 20th, 2014 09:13 pm (UTC)
Well, you just did answer. You're just not responding because all his points are valid while yours are not and you know it.
Jim Guidry
Dec. 20th, 2014 09:32 pm (UTC)
Looks like you did respond....
Dec. 21st, 2014 07:07 am (UTC)
You even don't know what Germany planned to do with the Russian (and the Slavs) after the Nazis victory.
"was telling you, a Russian, what you could and couldn't watch". Incredible.
Jeremy Scholem
Dec. 21st, 2014 02:14 pm (UTC)
There's something hilarious about a Russian talking about the importance of borders without seeing the irony....
Dec. 20th, 2014 07:16 pm (UTC)
hear hear!

Political leaders, as celebrities/public figures, are fair game for parody. Apparently the PRK doesn't have much of a sense of humor.
Dec. 20th, 2014 06:38 pm (UTC)
Inoffensive speech doesn't NEED to be protected. How are you not getting this?
Dec. 20th, 2014 07:15 pm (UTC)
That's your response?

If the only movies ever released were ones that met someone's arbitrary standards for "good", Netflix wouldn't have a catalog.
Dec. 20th, 2014 07:20 pm (UTC)
"You can not do bad to others and talk about rights."
Look at what Kim Jong Un and his family have done to the North Korean people. Who cares if a movie makes fun of him? The North Korean government is a sideshow that deserves to be made fun of. This is all besides the point, but still.
Dec. 21st, 2014 08:10 pm (UTC)
You know, when I first read this comment I disagreed with you. But I've been thinking this over, and I think you have a point.

People keep comparing this to 1940, and Chaplin's Great Dictator. But in 1940, Hitler was a world-class menace, and there seemed every likelihood that Hitler would rule at least Europe. There was a strong argument for mockery to build morale among reeling Europeans and reluctant Americans.

Kim Jong-un is no Hitler. He seems more like the nasty kid who all the other kids laugh at. I'm not arguing he's a nice person, or that his administration isn't a really bad thing but...

I'm not sure that you stop a kid that everyone laughs at from doing terrible things by insisting on continuing to laugh at him and backing him into a corner on the assumption that there is nothing he can do to stop you.


George R.R. Martin
George R. R. Martin

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