The $64,000 Question.Posted: February 17, 2010
Tipped off by Slate’s recent Oscar-themed dialogue between movie critics, in which Roger Ebert reiterated his love for the Tilda Swinton movie Julia, which nobody saw, I rented Julia from Netflix and watched it last night.
Some indies are films in which nothing much happens on a series of nothing-much locations. This is an indie in which more happens than in any three major studio releases; and its story is told so as to remove any choice you have in the matter of whether to keep watching. Yet this gripping, funny, nerve-wracking thrill ride about the trouble an alcoholic can get into because of poor decision-making — I’d call it unbelievable trouble, except that I believed every outsized, stomach-churning moment of it, thanks to Swinton’s performance — did a grand total of $64,000 of business. You read right. I’m not misplacing a decimal point or missing a zero or three. $64,000 worldwide as of the end of July 2009, which not only included its entire theatrical release but several months of video sales. This even outdoes (or should I say underdoes?) my previous recordholder for best movie seen by least people, Mike Judge’s 2006 Idiocracy, which did a grand total of $439,000.
How could this happen? Ebert (who gave the movie 4 stars when it came out) blames it on the distributor, Magnolia, for allowing the movie to sink without a trace. (His hopes that an Oscar nomination for Swinton would bring deserved attention to the movie didn’t pan out, by the way. She’s not among this year’s nominees, although this morning I agree with Ebert, she should be.) I have a different theory. I blame it on the title. People didn’t see Julia and haven’t bought or rented it because they confuse it with the Meryl Streep movie about Julia Child called Julie and Julia. Or they confuse it with the Jane Fonda movie about Lillian Hellman from thirty years ago with exactly the same name, Julia. The Tilda Swinton movie called Julia from last year crosses the periphery of someone’s consciousness, and some part of his prefrontal cortex quite naturally says, “Oh yeah. Didn’t I see that, or didn’t I make a conscious choice not to see it?” But no, you haven’t. And you really must. Just put it in your queue now. At the top.