‘Shortbus’ on lowkey ride

Explicit pic short on controversy

Why is “Shortbus” so short on controversy?

Along with a slew of arthouse product, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” helmer John Cameron Mitchell’s sexually explicit “Shortbus” rolls into four arthouse screens this week on its way to an expansion that could exceed 100 prints.

But for a pic that Daily Variety called in Cannes “the most sexually graphic American narrative feature ever made outside the realm of the porn industry,” “Shortbus” has been incredibly under the radar of the usual cultural alarmists.

The film — which features graphic homosexual group sex as well as images of a man contorting to orally finish the job after he begins masturbating and a dominatrix catering to a client in a room over Ground Zero — is so far booked in 78 engagements, including some cinemas of Regal Entertainment Group, the nation’s largest exhib chain.

Pic is being distributed by ThinkFilm, which has previously handled such racy fare as dirty joke docu “The Aristocrats” and upcoming profanity docu “F*ck.”

Mark Urman, Think’s domestic distribution head, said his company’s first point of order upon acquiring “Shortbus” — which was admired by many high-ranking studio subsid execs in Cannes but not a real option for any corporate subsid — was to reach out to exhibs and factor where the movie could play.

Urman said that the unrated pic is so far not playing any multiplexes where auds from another mainstream theater could wander through its doors.

“Shortbus” has instead been booked exclusively in arthouses.

The Regal screens it will play are the chain’s specialty houses in Austin, Texas; San Francisco; Charlotte, N.C.; and Knoxville, Tenn.

Landmark, the largest specialty exhib, has been the most receptive to the pic.

Some multiplexes said ThinkFilm could bow the film on its screens if the distrib hired added security to keep out minors to avoid legal liability, but Think decided against the plan.

ThinkFilm has in the past courted controversy to launch its films; it used the edgy material in the “Aristocrats” to push the low-budget video pic to gross $6.3 million.

But it has decided to keep “Shortbus” under the radar and has managed so far not to raise the hackles of any conservative groups.

“We’ve been keeping the film where it belongs,” Urman said. “We haven’t been parading up and down the street and have been screening the film for film society and at film festivals. We can’t be needlessly provocative. We haven’t been exposing the film broadly, but in a fairly narrow space.”

Still, Urman feels the pic will comfortably expand past 100 prints, and mentions that media response — which has focused as much on the pic’s humor and humane take on sex as on its racy content — has been spurring exhibitor interest.

“There are some chains that said they’d never play (the film),” he said. “But then they have been checking in with us. It’s always a different case when money is involved.”

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