WORLD CINEMA REPORT: Will Miramax Shed Thai "Tears"? Shelving Pictures and "New" Versions
by Anthony Kaufman
(indieWIRE: 07.15.02) -- "Tears of the Black Tiger," Miramax's big Thai buy from Cannes 2001, may never get a theatrical release. Directed by first-timer Wisit Sasanatieng, "Tiger" was one of the most talked about films of the fest, a candy-colored Asian western that according to Miramax's acquisition announcement, "tells the story of a girl from the 'right side of the tracks' who falls in love with one of the country's most feared bandits." But the film has yet to be put on the company calender, and Miramax has confirmed to indieWIRE that no theatrical release has been scheduled.
"As far as I'm aware, Miramax is still reviewing the question of whether or not to release the film theatrically," says Wouter Barendrecht, co-president of Fortissimo Film Sales, which sold the picture to the mini-major during Cannes.
It's not the first time Miramax has neglected its foreign acquisitions. In his book "Movie Wars: How Hollywood and The Media Conspire to Limit What Films We Can See," Chicago-based critic Jonathan Rosenbaum condemned the Disney subsidiary's handling of foreign films ("major films it has chosen to dump") such as Abbas Kiarostami's "Through the Olive Trees," and restored versions of Jacques Tati's "Jour de Fete" and Jacques Demy's "The Young Girls of Rochefort." In 1997, Miramax's genre label Dimension acquired a French action thriller called "Dobermann," which according to a 2000 article in FILMMAKER magazine about recent DVDs "has been collecting dust in the vast acquisition vaults of the fine folks at Miramax, waiting to be dubbed into English or re-made with Americans."
In 1999, the company received a special tongue-in-cheek award at the Independent Spirits for buying movies and never releasing them, called "The Shelf Award." At the end of 1999, Miramax's L.A. head Mark Gill told indieWIRE, "Finally, the shelf has been cleared." But it looks like the shelves are filling up once again. Acquisitions such as Pan Nalin's Himalayan-set romantic epic "Samsara" and Majid Majidi's documentary about refugee children in Afghanistan "Color of Hope" won't see theaters until the second quarter of 2003, nearly two years after they were purchased.
Miramax's Harvey Weinstein calls himself a true fan of foreign cinema and the company of late continues to try to tout its arthouse roots. (Remember the World Film Series, announced way back in March 2001? It seems to be gathering as much dust as some of its acquisitions.) So instead this summer, we have "Cinema Paradiso: The New Version," the director's cut of Giuseppe Tornatore's 1989 Oscar winner for best foreign film.
Apparently trying to counteract Harvey's "scissorhands" reputation, the film is getting released by Miramax with 51 extra minutes of footage and an R rating (the original received a PG). Much of the previously unseen footage consists of the main character's sexual coming-of-age and a last act reunion as an adult with his first love. Ironically, the original extended European version of "Cinema Paradiso," according to Variety, was "disastrous" upon its first release and the film only became an international success after it was trimmed significantly. Whether this newly restored version garners audiences, it's still too early to tell after a couple of weeks in release, but it certainly supports the notion that Miramax isn't willing to give up its arthouse credibility just yet.
Good intentions aside, however, the list of foreign titles Miramax has cut to make more palatable for U.S. audiences is extensive: from Patrice Chereau's "Queen Margot" (which included some 190 cuts and lost at least a half hour) to Chen Kaige's "Farewell My Concubine" (cut from 171 to 156 minutes). "Artemisia" originally received an NC-17 rating, but after explicit sex scenes were cut, the film went out to theaters a few minutes shorter -- and tamer. Even seemingly family-friendly acquisitions like Tornatore's "Malena" and "Shall We Dance?" lost 8 minutes and 28 minutes respectively, according to information on the Internet Movie Database. (For what it's worth, the Quentin Tarantino-sponsored Miramax revival of Wong Kar-wai's "Chungking Express" actually had extra footage.)
And, of course, Miramax isn't the only company that limits what we see. Lars von Trier's films have been trimmed and censored by everyone from October Films ("Breaking the Waves") to USA Films ("The Idiots") to appease the MPAA. Sony Classics cut "The Dreamlife of Angels" and Takeshi Kitano's "Brother" in order to stave off potentially NC-17-rated content for their U.S. releases. Tornatore also shaved 54 minutes off the Italian version of his 1999 film "The Legend of 1900" for its U.S. release, according to Variety, because distributor Fine Line stipulated a running time of under two hours in its contract. Maybe Fine Line will now release "The Legend of 1900: The Old Version."