Films that spark culture wars in Peoria are often received differently in Globe voters' native lands
LONDON — Featuring the gay-relationship themes of “Brokeback Mountain” and “Capote,” the transgender elements of “Breakfast on Pluto” and “Transamerica,” and the progressive politics of “Syriana,” and “Good Night, and Good Luck,” the 2006 Golden Globe noms would seem to constitute a rather incendiary mix, given the strained relations between blue and red states in the U.S.
But if Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. members are to be accused of courting controversy by selecting a bunch of films that fly in the face of conservative American values, it’s interesting to note that these same pics don’t necessarily ruffle feathers in the native lands they report to.
In fact, in Europe — headquarters for more than half of HFPA members — a weightier, more incendiary batch of Globes contenders is welcomed.
“There is interest in these films which are a bit deeper and have political content,” says Mary-Louise Oster of A-Film, which is handling the Dutch release of Globe nominees “Brokeback Mountain,” “The Constant Gardener” and “Good Night, and Good Luck.” “Isn’t that more of a European way of making films anyway?”
“I feel (critics) understood it in Europe,” adds helmer Sam Mendes of his Gulf War-themed “Jarhead,” which didn’t garner a Globe nom this year but has been lumped into discussions, nonetheless, about the abundance of politically themed awards contenders. “It’s like talking about a different movie.”
Mountain of hype
Six months before it even premiered in the U.S., media pundits were predicting a conservative backlash for “Brokeback Mountain,” with the popular news Web site MSNBC.com running a story titled ” ‘Mountain’ of controversy for new gay-themed film” in May.
Outside of a recent playdate cancellation in Utah, it’s debatable as to whether the controversy has lived up to anything other than a mole hill.
Abroad, however, “Brokeback” — which, like many Globes contenders, is just beginning its international run — seems to have generated little in the way of controversy or hype so far.
“The gay theme hasn’t been a big issue,” says Rob Deacon of Premier PR, which is handling the film’s Jan. 6 release in the U.K. — a country that recently started recognizing civil unions for gay couples. “The fact that it’s tackling issues that generally aren’t dealt with on the bigscreen is obviously a talking point. But in the U.K., I think we’re a bit more open to that kind of thing.”
“It’s funny, we’re releasing ‘March of the Penguins’ in the Netherlands, and there was a big story in America about gay penguins successfully raising a little penguin,” adds A-Film’s Oster. “It was controversial in America, but here we laugh about this kind of news.”
Controversy, of course, is perceived differently region to region, culture to culture. “Memoirs of a Geisha” — up for two Globes — drew ire in Japan for its use of non-Japanese actors. And a film as seemingly innocuous as Woody Allen’s “Match Point,” up for best drama, also got a ticking off from London critics for its unrealistic depiction of their city.
And then there’s “Munich,” Steven Spielberg’s recounting of the massacre of Israel’s athletes at the 1972 Olympics and the country’s subsequen’t retaliation against the Palestinian group that carried out the act. The film quietly took in more than $25 million during its first three weeks of limited release
Not surprisingly, “Munich,” — which garnered Spielberg a director nom from the HFPA this year — has had a far more incendiary reception in the Mideast region, which is headquarters for six HFPA members.
The pic was so touchy in Israel, Spielberg hired one of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s top strategists, Eyal Arad, to help market it.
“We are talking about a film that has generated a lot of interest here, and naturally that sort of interest can entail some negative reactions as well as positive reactions, Arad told Reuters.
Tangentially, the progressive bent of the African poverty-themed “The Constant Gardener” — up for three Globes, including best drama pic — has led to a warm reception in Western Europe, where it arrived in the aftermath of the Live 8 concerts. It’s earned more than $8 million at box offices in the U.K. and more than $6 million in Spain.
“It’s come out at a really good time in terms of public consciousness,” says a spokesperson for distrib UIP.