Music Box Films
Would you get on a plane to go to the Oscars if you hoped your film was about to win one?
Most would get on that plane, which we'll call the Plane of Dreams, which flies over what the 1966 film "The Oscar" called the glass mountain called Success. But some wouldn't board that aircraft, fearing a jinx or simply deciding to keep their eyes on securing the next potential Oscar winner, not hanging around the party for the current one.
Take the key employees of Chicago-based Music Box Films. They did not attend Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony, despite their excellent chances of winning the distribution company's first Oscar, at least by association, for its savvy marketing of a black-and-white Polish-language story of a nun who learns she's Jewish.
"Ida, " from writer-director Pawel Pawlikowski, won the foreign-language Oscar Sunday. At the podium Pawilkowski engaged in a fight as suspenseful as anything in "Raging Bull, " when he went mano-a-mano with the orchestra leader, who gradually brought the "Shut up! Get off!" music to a crescendo, only to be out-crescendoed by the director's litany of thank-yous.
Pawilkowski referenced his U.S. distributor by deed, if not by name, saying that Music Box did "a great job, with very little money." "Ida, " now enjoying a hardy life online and in various streaming and cable formats, made $3.7 million in theaters last year, second only to the Sony Pictures Classics release, "The Lunchbox." Not bad for a movie characterized by Variety critic Peter Debruge, after its Telluride Film Festival premiere, as "the sort of joyless art film one might expect Polish nuns living under the clutches of 1960s communism to appreciate."
So why didn't the Music Box crew go to the big show Sunday? "Honestly, " says New York-based managing director Ed Arentz, "I couldn't bear the idea of hearing a name other than 'Ida.' The aftermath would've been too depressing."
The Polish cast and crew and support teams, on the other hand, were there in force, their travel financed in part by the Polish Film Institute with some help from Music Box. "Also, Calvin Klein gave Pawel his tux, " Arentz notes. "Literally, they gave it to him! I thought they were just lending it."
As for the line about doing a great job with very little money, Music Box theatrical sales director Brian Andreotti takes that as a high compliment. "Sony Pictures Classics has dominated that category in the past, " he says, "but they have the resources of the studio behind them. We've shown there's a viable alternative to that style of campaign."
Post-mortem on the Oscar post-mortem
Arentz of Music Box says he wanted "American Sniper" to win the best picture prize instead of "Birdman" — not, he says, "because it was the best picture, but man, some of these Oscar shows are starting to look like the Independent Spirit Awards." With a 16 percent drop in viewership this year, the producers of the Oscar telecast are no doubt going through their show notes in earnest. And they're likely assuming that next year the Oscar voters will pick a nice, big, fat commercial smash to reward, to make up for the comparative niche titles we saw this year.
"Birdman" has yet to crack $40 million domestic at the box office, and in years when the top prize goes to a relatively low-grossing film, viewership goes down too. ("The Artist" was like that.) On Wednesday Variety film editor Ramin Setoodeh filed a post-telecast assessment citing his solutions to fix the Oscars next year. One point he made was solid, the one about cutting a half-hour out of the thing (an evergreen suggestion from roughly half the planet). On the other hand, Setoodeh argued that until the Oscars nominate more "movies that general audiences love to watch, " such as "Guardians of the Galaxy" and "Captain America: The Winter Soldier, " the Academy's "identity crisis" will rage on.
When was The Music Box film first released?
The film known as The Music Box was released on December 22nd in the year 1989. Jessica Lange, Frederic Forrest and Armin Mueller-Stahl starred in the film.