Bob McPhail 5:30 p.m., May 25
An Open Letter to Thin Ice-Stomper, Elizabeth Redleaf
The watered-down version of Jill Sprecher's The Convincer is currently playing at Landmark's Hillcrest Cinemas under the name Thin Ice. I suggest you hurry and see it if for no other reasons than cinematographer Dick Pope's exceptional night work and a superb ensemble cast, led by the incomparable Alan Arkin.
Do not run if you are a fan of the director's earlier films. This is one baby she had plucked from her care by a power-hungry producer who barred the door to the editing suite prohibiting Sprecher's participation in the film's final cut.
I was privileged to spend time with the Sprecher sisters when they came to town in 2002 to accept their Best Original Screenplay Award for 13 Conversations About One Thing from the San Diego Film Critics Society. Once you meet a director, and he or she turn out to be as sharp and sincere as their work on screen, it forever changes the way you look at their movies.
You enter the auditorium a one-person pom-pom squad, and while the pictures aren't always the inside-the-park grand-slams one hopes for, there is a certain sense of satisfaction knowing the good ones are still out there swinging.
It had been over a decade since the sisters' last feature. I longed for a Sprecher film in the worst way and thanks to producer Elizabeth Releaf, that is exactly how I got it.
The following letter is written to Ms. Redleaf in response to her actions taken against the film and its creators.
To: Elizabeth Redleaf CEO/Producer. Werc Werk Works Studio. 251 First Avenue North #401. Minneapolis, Minnesota 5540.
Dear Ms. Redleaf,
Director Jill Sprecher and her sister/co-author, Karen Sprecher, have previously produced two exceptional features: Clockwatchers and 13 Conversations About One Thing. Surely you must have heard of these titles before agreeing to produce their latest effort, The Convincer, or Thin Ice as it has come to be referred to after you decided to take a pickaxe to its sprocket holes.
DVD screeners were sent in lieu of a theatrical press screening. In deference to the Sprecher sisters' previous work, I decided to wait and catch it on the big screen.
Strong suspicions began to arise during the opening reel of Thin Ice: why is all the exposition neatly bundled together and the overall pacing choppy at best? It sputters along until a sudden wave of 11th hour flashbacks help to smooth out various plot wrinkles. Something was rotten in Minnesota.
Upon retuning home, a quick couple of clicks on Google confirmed my suspicions. According to this article in the Minnesota Star Tribune, you took a garden shears to the picture and pruned 20 minutes off the film's running time.
The Convincer met with glowing reviews when the Sprechers' original 114 minute cut screened earlier this year at Sundance. No sooner does the celluloid hit the screen than your studio, Werc Werk Works, and the folks at ATO Pictures find structural fault. In your estimation, the picture needed a good swift kick in the pants.
Not only were scenes shortened and restructured, you went so far as picking through Sprecher's garbage to include alternate takes and deleted scenes that didn't mesh with the director's original vision.
Did I mention that ATO stands for Art Takes Over?
Werc Werk Works...
Why 94 minutes? This isn't the '60's or '70's when directors purposely brought theatrical releases in at around 94 minutes to ensure their product would play uncut, unless you count commercial interruption, in a 2-hour network time slot. Don't tell me that you believe in the old chestnut that American comedies play best overseas at a running time of 94 minutes. First off, The Convincer was meant to be a thriller with occasional laughs, not the comedy-thriller Thin Ice is.
The Sprechers weren't the only ones to be shut out. Your infinite wisdom led to the replacement of Oscar-winning editor, Stephen Mirrione, in addition to Emmy-winning composer Alex Wurman and Grammy-winning banjo virtuoso, Bela Fleck.
According to the Star Tribune, Sprecher learned that her film had been retitled on the internet. "I am stunned," Sprecher said. "The fact that my name must remain on the finished work, due to the contract I signed, is only a part of the reason. I was ultimately never able to hear the distributor's notes, and thus could not address them."
She later told Roger Ebert, "Although our names contractually remain on the film, my sister and I do not consider Thin Ice to be our work."
Isn't part of the Indie movement's credo that the director gets final cut, or do you have a framed photo of Harvey Weinstein on your nightstand? Harvey's reputation as a celluloid surgeon led to the term, "Miramaxing." Why must The Convincer remain "Redleafed"? If your desire is to become an auteur, why not write and direct a picture instead of performing a hatchet job on the films of others?
Will you at least agree to release both versions on BluRay? Anthony Kaufman's closing line in his report on the film's overthrow started the rumor, but as of yet there has been no confirmation. Was it your intention to stir up enough controversy to get people to see the producer's cut in a theatre and purchase the director's version on DVD? If so, kudos on the savvy marketing ploy!
It wouldn't be the first time a studio released two versions of the same movie with different titles and credits as a DVD combo-package. If Paul Schrader's Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist and Renny Harlin's Exorcist: The Beginning can peaceably co-exist in the same snap-case, there's hope for all of us.
Werc Werk Works next release is Béla Tarr's The Turin Horse. Tarr is not exactly know for his rabid-fire MTV style of editing. Given your track record, the picture will probably be run through a cut-and-paste glue factory and San Diegans be lucky to see something that runs longer than the Marx. Bros. Horse Feathers.
Presuming that the 114 minute version still exists, I invite you and Ms. Sprecher to join me at the San Diego's Gaslamp Theatre for a screening of The Convincer to help herald the 2-disc BluRay release. C'mon, Liz! Who wouldn't want to escape Minnesota's frozen tundra and frolic in sunny San Diego for a day or two? I'll take you to the zoo and give you a personal guided tour of the Bob Hope war memorial. It'll be fun, and think of the publicity!
Seriously, you purport to be a champion of the Indie film movement. Show some class and allow both versions to be seen.
PS: If you do come to town, will you please pack Alan Arkin? Thanks!
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- SD Film Critics to Host 10th Anniversary 35mm Screening of Ghost World — July 13, 2011
- Relatively Speaking brings Woody Allen, Elaine May and Ethan Coen to Broadway — May 17, 2011