Welcome to New York is a done deal. Or, it should have been. A print has already been shown at Cannes. This version has been released in France on VOD, to wild success. Wild Bunch has scored an American distributor with IFC, who has previously distributed Ferrara’s films and also just released Blue is the Warmest Color to a small success, especially for an NC-17 almost 3-hour film.
So, what to make of Ferrara’s last-minute fit last week at Venice, saying that IFC is censoring his film? And, what to make of Wild Bunch’s (New York‘s production company) retort at TIFF, saying that IFC isn’t demanding the censorship, but that Wild Bunch itself is?
Is this a big hullabaloo meant to hype the film? If so, I haven’t seen much outside of The Hollywood Reporter (where the above statements have come from). Or, is Ferrara actually being censored, as Wild Bunch says is actually happening? And, should we care?
The merits of either version is currently unknown to this writer, as we’re not big enough press here to get screeners of either version. But, this is what we can see of it. In the following paragraphs Blue text reports elements stated by Wild Bunch, Red is asserted by Ferrara, and a neutral color when the story is not disputed.
Abel Ferrara makes edgy films. That’s not in dispute. Many of his films have been threatened with NC-17 ratings. Bad Lieutenant, Ferrara’s most visible release, was released with an NC-17 back when NC-17 was trying to be a viable rating that was between “R” and Porn. Back when NC-17 was going Legit.
When Ferrara signed with Wild Bunch to make Welcome to New York, his contract demanded he get an R-rating in the U.S.
Welcome to New York is an adult movie about a barely fictionalized interpretation of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s charge of sexual assaulting a maid in a chic New York City hotel. Early reports claim it to be a condemnation of DSK, and also the behaviors of the super-rich.
Thinking that their contract promised an R-rated film, Wild Bunch sold the US distribution rights to IFC for an R-Rated film.
Ferrara’s final version of the film opens with an explicit orgy, which would not pass the US censors (read: the MPAA) for an R-Rating.
Wild Bunch, realizing that the Ferrara version of Welcome to New York would get slapped with an NC-17, and that they promised an R-Rating to IFC, showed the Ferrara cut to IFC, and IFC made censorship suggestions of their own, outside the MPAA, in order to score the R-Rating.
Wild Bunch claims that they tried to show the censored version to Ferrara, but he has refused to watch it. They have tried to get Ferrara to make his own censored version, but he refuses to.
Wild Bunch made the cuts, showed it to IFC, who approved of the final version, saying that it will get an R-Rating.
Currently, IFC and Wild Bunch are planning on distributing the film next year in a wider release of 600 theaters, which means that an R-Rating is needed for better marketing. For reference, Blue is the Warmest Color was distributed at 140 theaters at its height.
Ferrara, having finally heard the state of the film, is now blaming IFC saying that they’re the ones censoring the film (probably because the cuts were suggested by IFC). He doesn’t want his film to be cut, and is raging against the version that’s currently planned for US distribution.
Since Welcome to New York isn’t being distributed until next year, is this a case of crying censorship as marketing gimmick, or is Ferrara actually being censored? We’ve all seen the censorship cry as marketing gimmick. But, Ferrara never struck me as one to resort to such cheap shots. He makes films that he wants to make and doesn’t give two shits if a million people see them, namely because that seems like a high attendance for most of his films. And, this is from somebody who loves him.
This is bringing back the questions of ratings systems, and distribution. 600 screens may not seem like a lot compared to the tentpole numbers of 3500+ screens, but that’s still trying to get into mainstream cineplex chains instead of just the various independent theaters and indie chains like Landmark and Alamo Drafthouse. A Not Rated or NC-17 causes a lot of strife among these multiplexes, if only because it requires extra policing at the doors. Or, at least that’s how it was for Showgirls.
So, if this story is true, we’re back to money vs integrity. It should come to nobody’s surprise that I wish Wild Bunch and IFC would rescind this. In fact, it makes me want to wait to see the film until Ferrara’s version does manage to inevitably see the light of day, whether that’s when it finally gets released to disc, or in a re-release 20 years from now.
But, still, I can see the business side, and I wish it weren’t like that. I hate that the R rating is being wielded like a censor. We need something where adults can be treated like adults, if the story requires it.