August 19, 2008

The Baader Meinhof hoopla.

Der Baader Meinhof Komplex If a studio in the US knows it's got a stinker on its hands, it simply won't show it to critics before dumping it in theaters on a Friday evening. That used to be a rare, desperate measure, but as studios realize that audiences are now swayed more by marketing than reviews, it's become an increasingly common practice. But it only works for a certain kind of film, a non-event movie like a B-level horror flick or a romantic comedy with a poster showing Matthew McConaughey about to take his shirt off. If a cone of silence were to descend on a film as big as, say, Der Baader Meinhof Komplex hopes to be in Germany - produced by Bernd Eichinger (Downfall, Perfume) and starring the country's top of the line: Martina Gedeck, Moritz Bleibtreu, Bruno Ganz, Nadja Uhl, Johanna Wokalek, Hannah Herzsprung and on and on - audiences would smell a rat.

So Constantin Film and their PR agency, Just Publicity, are trying out a new tactic - and it's blown up in their faces.

Updated through 8/25.

In order to attend a preview screening this week of Baader Meinhof, journalists had to sign a contract with terms that, despite both companies' protestations, can only be described as unprecedented. The film opens on September 25; if a journalist writes about the movie or even speaksabout it with a third party - friends, colleagues, what have you - before September 17, a fine will be imposed: 100,000 euros, to be split between the journalist's employer and the journalist him/herself - personally. 50K each.

In an August with little else going on in the entertainment biz, this one false move has kicked up precisely the sort of coverage it was meant to dissuade, rousing a formal protest from the Deutscher Journalisten-Verband and stories from Franz Baden in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Sonja Pohlmann in Der Tagesspiegel, Hanns-Georg Rodek in the Berliner Morgenpost and Die Welt and Volker Behrens in the Hamburger Abendblatt. Angriest of all is Rüdiger Suchsland, who writes in Telepolis (and I'm loosely translating on the fly here, so bear with me):

Obviously, Der Baader Meinhof Komplex is a botched film. There's no other explanation for Constantin's loss of control and hysterical behavior. There's a fear that word of the poor quality of the film will get out. Evidently, the film is so weak that it can be damaged by a bad review or even a falsely phrased rave. Film critics may take pleasure, though, in the unintended result of Constantin's actions: The studio flatters them by lending them a power they rarely claim for themselves.

In this light, then, film criticism is, after all, more than "spitting into the river from a bridge," as André Bazin once put it - a quote critics, with exaggerated modesty, are fond of referencing. These unloved journalists are clearly worth as much bounty as the RAF terrorists were once to the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA). The terrorists, too, were once worth 100,000 German marks - per head.

While some journalists have gone as far as to call for a boycott of coverage of Baader Meinhof - not likely to happen - Suchsland argues for more. Publications and broadcasters should focus on Constantin and Just Publicity's audacity, he argues, and, now more than ever, run reviews well in advance of September 17, with the authors' identities protected by pseudonyms. And that's just for starters. Suchsland is pissed off.

Update, 8/25: "[I]f Rüdiger Suchsland is right and the film proves to be a tank, then that's a shame for reasons other than the fortunes of the producers and PR functionaries," blogs the Guardian's Danny Leigh. "After all, despite their spectral hold over many imaginations - revenants of a time when a gaggle of petty criminals, magazine journalists and student cinematographers in crushed velvet and stolen BMWs could all but unhinge an entire liberal democracy - and various fragments of their story having appeared on screen before, the goal remains open for a definitive portrait on film more than 30 years after the disputed events at Stammheim Prison that left Andreas Baader and two of the gang's other principals dead."

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Posted by dwhudson at August 19, 2008 6:27 AM


And I kept wondering why I didn't get an invite to any press screenings and why it wasn't announced for a splashy festival premiere in Venice, Toronto or even Montréal... I guess now I know. Ouch.

Posted by: Boyd at August 19, 2008 8:14 AM

Ouch, indeed. Talk about backlash, even before leaning forward.

Posted by: Karsten at August 19, 2008 3:10 PM

Just received my invitation for a press screening -- and no mention of any fines or embargoes, just the usual blabla about not bringing any recording devices...

Posted by: Boyd at August 20, 2008 5:17 AM

Where will the screening be, Boyd? I wonder if Constantin simply wants a firm grip on their first priority, Germany-Austria-Switzerland.

Posted by: David Hudson at August 20, 2008 5:36 AM

got my invitation today, too.

it's no wonder there's not talk about embargo or anything: there's one screening at the 16th of september, all others are on 17th or later. while the embargo lasts only till 17th there is no further need to bug press with any threats.

Posted by: thomas at August 20, 2008 8:59 AM

The film seems set to unspool at Rome film festival later this fall: From Variety.

Posted by: Karsten at August 20, 2008 11:32 AM

It was the invite for the German press screenings, but as Thomas points out, the list of screenings was on or after September 16...

Posted by: Boyd at August 21, 2008 5:33 AM

Everyone should wonder why Ruediger published this article on the web and not in FAZ or Frankfurter Rundschau where he has published in the past. Let's face it, it is a bad text. To compare Constantin and Just Publicity folks with terrorists is out of taste. To encourage reviews of the movie based on "assumed quality" is - for a critic - a declaration of bankruptcy. Obviously, there has been a delay with the movie, and now it is rushed into theatres. That's why the mistake with the press screenings happened. Just my two cents. Regards, AW

Posted by: A Colleague at August 23, 2008 4:39 PM