FS: ‘Mission Accomplished’ Banner, Qty: One (1)

It’s hard to remember now, but things looked so different back then. In August. When Sharon Waxman put David O. Russell on the deck of an aircraft carrier the front page of the Times Arts section for “Conquer[ing] the Hollywood Studio System.” On Aug 16, Russell had turned Warner Bros. into his own personal Ahmed Chalabi, ready to do his bidding:

  • The studio funded a “Where are they now? Actually, they’re dead, or in Walter Reed or Abu Ghraib or wherever” documentary about his Iraqi extras from Three Kings,
  • were including said doc on a special Gulf War II-edition DVD, and
  • were promoting the DVD by re-releasing Three Kings and the doc–now titled Soldiers’ Pay–in theaters before November, thus
  • succeeding where the most powerful woman in show business, Janeane Garofalo, failed, by defeating George W. Bush in the upcoming election.
    soldiers_pay_still.jpgWell, that was the plan, anyway. To find out the truth, don’t bother reading the Times, who hasn’t covered the story since; slog instead through the foreign papers and crazy alternative journals like the Los Angeles Times.
    Here’s a timeline of how, thanks to the foreign insurgents on the ground at Warners, David O. Russell’s grand Iraq strategy went terribly, horribly astray.

    Aug. 16:
    O. Russell proclaims “mission accomplished” in the NYT.
    Sometime before Aug. 26:
    Warner Bros. executives see the film. Turns out it’s “political,” which is something they never expected from an Iraq War film coming out weeks before an election.
    Aug. 26:
    Studio tells O. Russell the DVD/Theater thing’s not happening, certainly not before November.
    Sept. 2: Shocked, shocked.
    LAT reports the release is scrapped. The reasons:
    “Warner Bros. does not think it’s appropriate to attach this polemic to an entertainment piece.” – studio spokeswoman
    “[the film’s] strong political content may place the studio in violation of federal election laws.” – said studio lawyers
    “It’s far from a polemic…It’s not Michael Moore.” – the director.
    Sept. 4: Politics? pshaw. It’s logistics & stuff.

  • “The studio says it needs 60 days after the final delivery of the material to manufacture, distribute and market the DVD before its release.”
  • “later-than-expected arrival of the bonus footage,”
  • the dreaded “controversy surrounding the documentary, [which is what doomed Farenheit 9/11 at the box office].”
  • Plus, virgin birth counts as Act of God. “It’s highly unlikely that anyone is going to give up theaters at holiday time or prime Oscar season.” – studio spokeswoman.
  • Warner head Barry Meyer’s supposedly supports the release, but “the people under him seem to be in such a state of panic…now we’re told Meyer is unreachable blah blah…I am contemplating having a press conference with a 1st Amendment lawyer…” – the director, interviewed while undertaking political activism vacationing in Hawaii.
    Sept. 23:
    O. Russell announces Soldiers’ Pay will be released by indie powerhouse Cinema Libre into a “coalition of the willing,” two theaters in Berkeley and San Francisco.
    ‘Three Kings’ Director Plans Documentary on Iraq War [8/16/04, NYT]
    Warner Backs Away From Antiwar Film [9/2/04, LAT]
    Fight Over Gulf War Film Escalates [9/4/04, LAT]
    Cinema Libre to Release O. Russell, Regan and Zaldivar Anti-war Doc [9/23/04, Indiewire]
    Russell fins home for Iraq documentary [9/23/04, Guardian (UK)]
    Reserve a now-ironically-titled copy of Waxman’s book, Rebels on the Backlot: Six Maverick Directors and How They Conquered the Hollywood Studio System.