'Interview' signals a loss of liberty
One of the world's most famous comedy stars made a movie that attempted to interject laughs into unfunny world events. Reaction was toxic and it was subsequently locked in a vault never to be seen, rendering it one of the most notorious movies ever made.
That's what happened with Jerry Lewis' unreleased 1972 comedy "The Day the Clown Cried," which found Lewis playing a circus clown at a German concentration camp during World War II. To this day, it has been seen by so few that it is considered a holy grail among moviegoers, for sheer curiosity alone.
It now has some company with "The Interview," in which Seth Rogen and James Franco play characters sent to North Korea to assassinate Kim Jong Un. After threats were made against theaters that would show the film, scheduled to open on Christmas Day, theaters backed off from booking it and Sony Pictures Entertainment yanked the movie from its schedule.
There were still options for its release. Make it available through video-on-demand, using its notoriety as a springboard to test what people were willing to pay to watch a first rate Hollywood star vehicle from the comfort of their homes. Pull a U2 and drop it in everyone's iTunes as a Christmas gift from Sony. Heck, screen the thing on the White House lawn and let the world know that we won't back down from terrorist threats.
Instead, it now looks like it will never be seen.
"Sony Pictures has no further release plans for the film," a studio spokesperson told Deadline.com this week.
That's it. Goodbye. Think of it as "The Day the Rogen Cried."
But it's not just Seth Rogen who should be crying, it's all of us. Not because we can't see a Seth Rogen and James Franco movie, which had received mixed-to-middling reviews from critics who saw early screenings. But because we don't have the choice to see it. And for what it means for the future.
The furor and the fallout over "The Interview" will lead to studios taking less chances on future films. Say what you will about the plot of "The Interview," it was a film based on an original concept — read: nonsequel, nonfranchise — at a time when those are becoming increasingly rare. The next time a film with touchy subject matter comes along, it's now that much easier to pass on it and fill that slot with a remake, a reboot or a movie based on something you have sitting in your basement. (Remember, "Ouija" spent two weeks at No. 1 this year.)
It also sets a dangerous precedent regarding entertainment and terrorists. If an individual decides to make a strongly worded threat against the next season of "Homeland," or the next Miley Cyrus album — or even the Super Bowl — corporations have shown that they're willing to bend to anonymous intimidation. And as oft-maligned as the phrase "then the terrorists win!" has become, it applies here.
Sony was in a tough position, as were theaters. It wasn't just ticket buyers to "The Interview" that were potentially at risk, it was also those in the theater next door that was showing "Into the Woods." How many people would have just stayed home instead? Theaters were faced with losing money, and in Hollywood, cash is king. (Even the nonrelease of the movie comes down to money issues; it's easier to write it off if it's a total loss.)
"The Interview" will fade, it may even trickle out in some form, but the ramifications from it are just beginning. Jerry Lewis is the one who decided to bury "The Day the Clown Cried." In the case of "The Interview," that decision was made for us.