Though pot smoking may be making a resurgence, the film industry’s big brother--the Motion Picture Assn. of America--is still just saying no to drugs in movie advertising.
Gramercy Pictures, a jointly owned distribution company of Universal Pictures and Polygram, has had to yank a 30-second TV spot and a newspaper ad for its upcoming release “Dazed and Confused” because they violate MPAA guidelines restricting references to drugs and drug paraphernalia in movie ads. Directed by Richard Linklater, whose first film, the 1991 art-house darling “Slacker,” looked at everyday life of the current twentysomething generation, “Dazed and Confused” is a high-school comedy examining teen-agers of the drug-crazed ‘70s. The $6 million movie, which critics are likening to George Lucas’ 1972 classic “American Graffiti” and the 1982 “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” opens Friday on about 150 screens in 15 cities.
Set in suburban USA, circa 1976, the story centers on a group of Angst-ridden, rebellious teen-agers celebrating the last day of school with such indulgences as marijuana, booze and driving around aimlessly.
Gramercy says the MPAA specifically objected to two copy lines featured both in the commercial and in the print ad, which ran last weekend in major newspapers across the country. The rejected line was, “Finally! A Movie for Everyone Who DID Inhale"--a parody of Bill Clinton’s admission during last year’s presidential race that he had smoked marijuana but had not inhaled. The other objectionable copy was a reviewquote from US Magazine: “Deliciously accurate in its portrayal of the generation that fell between LSD and R.E.M.”
Gramercy president Russell Schwartz says he is “dazed and confused” about the MPAA’s rejection of the ads. “All we’re trying to do is depict the times,” he says. The movie company’s marketing campaign is built around suggestive slogans like “See It With a Bud,” “The Film Everybody is Toking About” and “Have a Nice Daze.” The campaign’s logo is a stoned-out ‘70s happy face.
Gramercy appealed the ruling--handed down by the MPAA’s advertising administration committee last week--directly to MPAA president Jack Valenti, who upheld the decision. “The MPAA is taking a hard line with anything that has to do with drugs,” said Schwartz, “and I respect that, but it’s one thing in a G-rated trailer to show people talking about cocaine, this is an R-rated adult movie in the spirit of people having fun.”
Valenti, who as a matter of policy refuses to discuss specific movies and ads, would say only that the MPAA is “very careful” about advertising dealing with drugs. “Parents don’t want to see these things, especially with the drug problem being so rampant today,” said this week from his Washington headquarters.
Valenti acknowledged that while the MPAA didn’t come down on Cheech and Chong’s 1978 comedy “Up In Smoke” (for which the slogan was “Don’t Go See This Movie Straight”), for example, the association has become “more stringent” over the past 15 years.
“Times have changed,” he said. “Sometimes that means we’re more liberal, sometimes more stringent . . . with drugs, there’s grave concern in America today.”
The MPAA approves all advertising on a movie for which it issues a rating. While the rating system is voluntary, Valenti said, if a studio uses it, all guidelines must be met or the film will lose its rating.
Gramercy scrambled this week to redesign its TV spot with the new line, “A Movie With a Real Buzz,” which Schwartz admittedly said he borrowed from Fine Line Features’ movie ad for its current release “The Ballad of Little Jo.” He is also devising a replacement newspaper ad.
Schwartz said he was particularly “flabbergasted” that the MPAA rejected the magazine quote. “I’ve never known the MPAA to ever give an opinion about quotes from legitimate sources.” he said. re
Even MCA/Universal Motion Picture Group chairman Tom Pollock acknowledged that the objection to “a legitimate critic’s quote” was “very unusual.” He said that before learning about the matter from The Times, he was unaware of the MPAA’s ruling since Gramercy operates autonomously in marketing and distributing its pictures. Universal financed the picture, which Linklater produced with Sean Daniel and Jim Jacks.
Gramercy and the filmmakers take special issue with the objection to the “inhale” line because, Schwartz says, it was “simply a play on (President) Clinton’s line and has been fodder for comedians like David Letterman and Jay Leno and joked about all year.”
In an interview from his home in Austin, Texas, Linklater said, “It’s pretty stupid of the MPAA, and shows a total lack of sense of humor. . . . If the MPAA is trying to hold the front-line on American morality, I think they missed the boat.”
Jacks suggested that maybe the MPAA ruling could have been circumvented if the movie had made a moral judgment about the use of drugs and alcohol. “The problem is we show one night in the life of these teen-agers smoking pot and drinking beer--having fun . . . there’s no easy moral in this movie. If somebody had died in a car crash from overdosing on marijuana or alcohol, we might not have had this problem.”
Universal’s Pollock said he doesn’t think the movie promotes or glorifies drugs but “actually portrays the spirit of the times in which it took place.” When asked his opinion of the marketing campaign, Pollock said he had been unaware of it, but found it “provocative” when it was outlined for him by the Times.
Schwartz, who said the target audience is 18- to 34-year-olds, said Gramercy’s strategy in selling the movie is “come and have fun.”
With the press kit for the movie, Gramercy sent out an “information” packet of articles on the resurgence of marijuana use. The studio also sent out canisters bearing the stoned happy face and containing such items as marijuana earrings and rolling papers.
Gramercy is hoping the movie, whose soundtrack features Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent and Nazareth, will succeed on word-of-mouth and attract today’s high schoolers as well as adults who attended high school in the ‘70s.
The movie has been screened extensively for the press and college students; Gramercy held one test screening in Marina Del Rey, which Schwartz said produced high test scores. Schwartz said USA cable’s “Up All Night” ran a promotion this past weekend that logged 300,000 calls from people requesting movie posters.
In its initial 15-city release, Gramercy will open the movie in the college towns of Champagne, Ill., and Madison, Wis., as well as Los Angeles and New York City. It plans to spend an initial $3 million plus to market the movie and as much as double that depending on its performance.
Linklater says he appreciates the “ballsiness” of Gramercy’s campaign. Saying that he no longer smokes pot himself, Linklater insists: “This isn’t a drug movie, it’s a high-school movie where drugs are one aspect of it. . . . In an age of crack and drive-bys and all problems caused by the government’s unenlightened attitude toward drug enforcement, it’s ridiculous to get upset about people puffing marijuana. In a way, this movie is so innocent.”