Kudos to Manohla Dargis and the NY Times for running a review in Monday's edition of Marina Zenovich's ROMAN POLANSKI: WANTED AND DESIRED, the Sundance hit turned HBO premiere that has set the film world abuzz with its undercover Oscar run somewhere just south of Bronxville.
As noted in our piece yesterday - as well as in posts by Stu Van Airsdale, Karina Longworth and Eugene Hernandez - HBO's goal was to qualify under the newly revised AMPAS rules for documentary features (you have to play for a week, two screenings a day, in the Borough of Manhattan and the County of Los Angeles. It was all supposed to happen without anyone noticing. But after a weekend of bloggers spouting off (with sentiments ranging from Oscar rules are ridiculous to shame on HBO), the Gray Lady herself weighed in:
"WANTED AND DESIRED, which opened on Friday without advance press screenings, was bought by HBO at the Sundance Film Festival in January. Its one-week theatrical run will make it eligible for Academy Award consideration, though given that organization’s often pitiful record when it comes to nonfiction film, it seems unlikely that a movie this subtly intelligent would make its short list. That’s especially true because the director, Marina Zenovich, refuses to wag her finger at Mr. Polanski, even when presenting the sordid and grimly pathetic details of his crime, like the Champagne and partial Quaalude he furnished the 13-year-old girl and her repeated nos."
For years, these types of Oscar qualifying screenings have been going on, particularly in August in Los Angeles, where whole theatres are turned over to rotating screenings of films that won't officially be in theaters until months later, if they make it to theaters at all. The LA film press has always let this pass by without notice, without reviews, a kind of gentleman's agreement if you will, as if to say, these films aren't really playing - despite the fact that admissions are charged and the public is, in fact, welcome. Despite the raft of online coverage and the NY Times review, the LA Times has yet to cover the Polanski doc's run in Pasadena.
The interesting thing here is that while all of this has been going on for years here in Los Angeles - indeed, I had a piece last August about eventual Oscar winner TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE's forced scramble to complete an undercover run so that it wouldn't be disqualified by a pending television broadcast and I don't think a single blog linked to the story - it's now really happening for the first time in New York due to the new rules. The story broke on Defamer, but maybe wouldn't even have run under the site's old LA-based editor. However, it was a natural piece for NY-based Stu to print.
That LA-denizen Dargis brings the story into the mainstream dailies via her position as chief film critic for the Times makes the irony even nicer (although I loved Karina's imagery of the Times putting Manohla on the A train).
Meanwhile, much more coverage online in the past 36 hours, including Anne Thompson's not so surprising defense of HBO:
"It's the HBO way. The fuss is all about the HBO launch--and getting an Oscar nom, natch--not building a successful theatrical release. Marina Zenovich knew this when she made her rich HBO deal"
Erik Davis at Cinematical disagrees:
"If they have to screen it theatrically in order for it to be in the running for an Oscar, why don't they screen it at a reputable indie-centric theater in NYC, like Film Forum or the IFC Center. Sh*t, screen it at my apartment -- I bet more people would see it at my crib than on West 181st street."
"The nominating process is at least inefficient, and at most fundamentally fucked up. There are other motives at play inside the branch than simply ensuring nominations for the best films. Obviously, the Academy's rule of last year yielded one of the most polarizing shortlists in recent memory, not to mention a seemingly hypocritical list of films that qualified only by the minimum standards. Rather than honor the films that actually had marketing dollars and higher profile releases (most of which were more "cinematic or "theatrical" and in my opinion "better" than the actual shortlist) the shortlist was contrary to the very purpose of the rule (to guarantee that the eligible films were legit theatrical films). So instead of honoring widely liked films released by mini-majors (which helps raise the profile of the entire pool of films, and the genre itself), the rule and the committee failed to achieve that. From the shortlist, the eventual nominees were mostly deserving; it’s just a shame that some of the best theatrical/cinematic documentaries of the year were ignored (by the Academy, anyway, and a large percentage of the population)."
Meanwhile, Karina reminds us that this Oscar talk is overshadowing the film itself and that's "(say it with me now) Bad For Cinema", so let's go back in the Spout archives and revisit Karina's original review of the film. That piece, combined with the impassioned reader comments on Dargis' review, suggest that this is exactly the kind of conversation-starting, thought-provoking, debate-inciting film that many documentaries strive to be.
Wow, if only such a film was in theaters.