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AMC theater chain doesn’t get dirty joke

July 13, 2005

By Nicole Sperling

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) – “The dirtiest joke ever
told” won’t be told in an AMC theater.

AMC Theatres, which will become the country’s
second-largest theater chain after its pending merger with
Loews Cineplex, has decided not to exhibit “The Aristocrats,”
an upcoming unrated documentary about a particularly blue joke,
on any of its screens.

According to the movie’s distributor, ThinkFilm, the Kansas
City-based AMC originally agreed to play the film in two
markets — Atlanta and Chicago — but later backed out of its
obligations.

AMC countered that though the two companies engaged in
early conversations, AMC never reached an agreement with
ThinkFilm to play the “Aristocrats.” AMC spokeswoman Pam Blase
said that whenever a film is unrated, the company’s policy is
to send the movie up to its corporate offices. Blase said in
this case AMC Film Group chairman Dick Walsh made a business
decision not to play the film.

Blase added that even if “Aristocrats,” which showcases a
string of comedians telling the same vaudeville-era dirty joke,
performs well when it opens in limited engagements July 29 in
Los Angeles and New York, AMC will not try to secure it for one
of its 3,500 screens.

“We are trying to program more specialty films in our
theaters, but we are very selective,” Blase said. “We’ve made a
business decision and evaluated all the factors and we will
stick with that decision.”

Closely held AMC seems to be the only major theater chain
offered the picture that has given it a thumbs down. According
to ThinkFilm, “The Aristocrats,” directed by Paul Provenza and
executive produced by Provenza and Penn Jillette, will open in
New York at a Loews theater in Times Square as well as at the
Mann Theatre in Santa Monica and a Pacific Theatre screen in
Los Angeles. (Pacific Theatres does not confirm bookings that
are more than five days in the future.)

When the movie, which bowed at January’s Sundance Film
Festival to strong reviews, expands Aug. 12 to additional
markets, the nation’s largest theater chain, Regal
Entertainment Group and other companies are on board to play
it. The Knoxville, Tenn.-based company will play the film at
its Cinema Art screens that show specialty product.

“We occasionally play unrated films in these locations and
this one was never an issue for us,” Regal chief operating
officer Greg Dunn said.

Theater chains often decline to play certain films,
especially if they suspect the films won’t do any business in
their market.

But ThinkFilm contends that AMC, rather than making a
simple business calculation, is engaging in censorship, and
that given AMC’s status as the country’s second-largest chain,
that could impact the film’s fortunes.

“AMC has some very strategic theaters that we’d like to
access,” ThinkFilm president and CEO Jeff Sackman said.
“They’ve said (‘The Aristocrats’) is too small, but this film
is not smaller than others that they’ve played. The real
problem is somebody is deciding on a personal basis what’s
appropriate and what isn’t.”

Some circuits, like Texas-based Cinemark USA, have policies
in place stating they will not play any unrated or NC-17-rated
films in their theaters. As a result, ThinkFilm didn’t approach
Cinemark.

But AMC does not have such a policy. The chain has played
such challenging recent fare as Universal Pictures’ “Inside
Deep Throat,” which carried an NC-17 rating, and the unrated
version of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.”

ThinkFilm said AMC’s decision could have broader
consequences about what pictures are available to moviegoers
once AMC takes over Loews Cineplex and its 2,200 screens.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter




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