How bad is Madonna's new movie Swept Away? Well, Sony Pictures Entertainment is only sending it into 196 theaters on Friday. That's the equivalent of dumping it. Most commercial releases go to 2,000 or more screens.
Swept Away will only play at four theatres in Manhattan, and 21 total in the New York metropolitan area. So it's not like the studio is counting on big city audiences.
A source at Sony says, "This isn't a platform release either. There are no plans to go wider."
This will be fewer screens than the last pop star movie flop, Mariah Carey's Glitter.
Directed by Madonna's husband, Guy Ritchie, Swept Away was booed and jeered at a private screening two weeks ago. Since then only select daily newspaper reviewers have been allowed to see it. Otherwise, there have been no screenings for media outlets.
Based on Lina Wertmuller's classic 1974 Italian film, Swept Away also stars Adriano Giannini as Madonna's lover. Adriano's father, Giancarlo, starred in the original version.
Why Madonna puts herself through this is the only question remaining. Her film catalog now includes some of the worst turkeys in film history including The Next Best Thing, Shanghai Surprise, Who's That Girl and Body of Evidence.
Today would have been John Lennon's 62nd birthday. And on Friday, his widow is giving a little gift to filmmaker Michael Moore.
It's "Happiness Is a Warm Gun," a track from the Beatles' White Album. Yoko Ono herself made sure that Moore could have "Gun" for his celebrated documentary about gun violence, Bowling for Columbine. United Artists opens the film Friday in New York and Los Angeles, and in more cities on Oct. 18.
As this column has noted in the past, the Beatles never allow their master recordings to appear in motion pictures. Last year, both The Royal Tenenbaums and I Am Sam attempted to include Beatles tracks, and each was turned down flat. In both cases the selected songs had to be re-recorded by other artists. And, certainly the most famous example of this was The Big Chill, which used Motown songs but was denied any Beatle numbers.
But Ono thought Bowling for Columbine was so important that she cut through the red tape usually involved so that Moore could use the song. Obviously, she has an interest in the film's material, as Lennon died because of gun violence. "We got a good deal on it, too," producer Kathleen Glynn told me with some satisfaction last night at the film's premiere. Columbine had a very small music budget, although it's used wisely: Joey Ramone even chimes in on "What a Wonderful World," the Louis Armstrong classic. (See more below about this extraordinary new film.)
It was touch and go there all day yesterday, but according to the CD counters at hitsdailydouble.com, Elvis Presley's greatest hits disc beat the Rolling Stones' two CD best-of collection for the No. 1 spot.
We'll see if SoundScan agrees with them this morning. The Stones were out front all day yesterday, but last-minute shoppers must have helped The King vault ahead. He sold 331,061 copies of his 30 #1 Hits, as opposed to 323,865 units of the Stones' Forty Licks.
Frankly, seven thousand copies isn't much of a margin. In the old days, I'm sure Colonel Parker could have moved that many Elvis records with one phone call. But these days every one of those doggies would have to be accounted for, somehow, someway...
The talented and handsome Irish actor Gabriel Byrne started surfing Michael Moore's Web site a while back, and he quickly became hooked. And Byrne, the star of films such as Miller's Crossing and The Usual Suspects, is now a Michael Moore groupie. He turned up at the premiere of Bowling for Columbine to sing Moore's praises and revel in the documentary's unabashed bashing of corporate America.
It wasn't mentioned, but Byrne's ex-wife and the mother of his children, Ellen Barkin, is married to the very corporate Ronald Perelman.
But Byrne told me he was there to support Moore, as was Law & Order actor Richard Belzer. Moore attracts people who want to question authority. It's not such a bad thing these days.
"After this I'm working on a project for Amnesty International," Byrne told me. "But first I did a movie for Joel Silver that I have to do press for." That would be Ghost Ship, which Warner Bros. is launching on Oct. 25.
And what of Bowling for Columbine? A hit at the Cannes Film Festival, the two-hour documentary is going to make a lot of people mad. It is poignant, sloppy, irreverent and trenchant. It is also extremely important -- even though it is far from perfect. I came away from it thinking that everyone should see it, if just to glean the three or four most salient points.
Moore takes aim at how guns have made America a violent country. As a kid who grew up in hunting-crazed Michigan, he has been a member of the NRA for all his life. This is not to say he supports their causes or ideology -- he doesn't. But this fact gives him a way to interview people who would ordinarily slam the door on him.
One of those people is Charlton Heston, who gave Moore an audience at his pool house. Looking enfeebled after hip surgery, Heston nevertheless seems clear eyed and devoid of the Alzheimer's he now says he suffers from. At one point in the discussion of the right to keep a loaded gun in his house, Heston makes a strange remark about "the wise old white men who founded this country." It may wind up haunting him forever.
The tragedy in Littleton, Colo., is not the only thing Bowling concerns itself with. There are some remarkable moments quite apart from the high school shooting, although the movie's climactic sequence is a direct outgrowth of Columbine. Moore takes two of the victims, one of whom is now paralyzed and the other who has a bullet lodged near his spine, to Kmart headquarters. Their goal is to get the shopping market giant to pull all ammunition from its shelves. If you know this story, you won't be surprised. But for those who don't, the surprise ending will be a revelation.
Moore does one thing in his quest to explore gun violence that is more effective than the rest of the film. He goes to Canada, where they have more guns per person and far less gun violence. Across the river that separates Detroit from Windsor, Ontario, Canadians are living peacefully. They all have guns and they aren't shooting each other. Their views of Americans are interesting and pretty dead-on. They are surprisingly articulate about it, too.
Someone else who is surprisingly articulate and almost normal is goth-rocker Marilyn Manson. Moore visits him backstage before a show two years after Columbine and shows that Manson, whose real name is Brian Warner, is reasonable and well spoken. Even his most right wing detractors may come away with a good impression of Manson.
Bowling for Columbine is not perfect. Too often Moore can't resist jokiness, and he preaches to the converted. He has an annoying habit of shooting fish in a barrel -- seeking out easy targets and rubbing them out. At one point he stalks American Bandstand creator Dick Clark, whose franchise restaurant chain employs the mother of a 6-year-old who shot another kid. It's a stretch, and Clark is smart to shut his minivan door to him.
But raising questions of authority, about U.S. military involvement in other countries' coups, about rampant commercialism in our culture and its effect on kids, on the need to arm ourselves against each other, about the poor being trampled on and identifying bullies (which, in the end, is what Moore's point really is) -- these are never bad things. Bowling for Columbine can only provoke intelligent discussion, and for that Michael Moore needs to be thanked.
Jerry "The Iceman" Butler hits Newark Symphony Hall on Friday night and the Beacon Theatre in New York on Saturday before returning to his hometown of Chicago on Sunday for a screening of Only the Strong Survive. This is the D.A. Pennebaker-Chris Hegedus film that yours truly co-produced as a celebration of soul music. Butler, who is also Cook County Commissioner, has a bunch of dates this fall on the East Coast. Check your local concert listings.
At the same time, "Soul Man" Sam Moore celebrates his birthday Saturday with the good news that his "lost album" called Plenty Good Loving from 2K Records is selling like crazy. Here in the New York area, WBGO's Felix Hernandez will dedicate his whole show on Saturday to Moore. Also Saturday, the great Garland Jeffreys plays two shows at New York's Bottom Line. Jeffreys is one of our great talents and should be signed to a major label soon. His records Matador and Wild in the Streets are classics...