Saturday, June 16, 2007

Poor, Abused, Misunderstood Eli

After the immense, and wearying, online discussion that occurred last week over the Hostel sequel, I pretty much resolved to refrain from doing anymore writing about Eli Roth and his movies (having previously decided not to view any more of his movies). The whole argument over the horror sub-genre called... um... Well, if you've been following the conversation, you already know what it's called (I am trying not to use the label because it REALLY angers some people). Once the box office numbers came out and Hostel II under-performed, I figured that was it. I wouldn't have to worry about writing anything more about it for a long time.

Today I came across a piece at Cinematical that links to Roth's MySpace account where he has written a blog about the reception of Hostel II (entitled "Last Chance to See One of My Movies") and I'm sorry, folks, but I simply must respond to this. This is my last Eli Roth post for a long time. I promise. I just have to get this out of my system.

Here is the text of Roth's message (in its entirety):

Hey Everyone,

I'm in Paris, doing press for the French release of
Hostel Part II, and tonight I'm off to Rome for the last leg of the press tour. After that I'm going to take a long overdue break, since I've gone from one film to the next without stopping, just to recharge my brain a bit.

I want to thank all of you for your kind e-mails and incredible support for the film. However, piracy has become worse than ever now, and a stolen workprint (with uninished music, no sound effects, and no VFX) leaked out on line before the release, and is really hurting us, especially internationally. Piracy will be the death of the film industry, as it killed the music industry, and while it makes a smaller dent in huge movies like
Spider Man 3, it really hurts films like mine, which have far less of an advertising and production budget. Not only that, critics have actually been REVIEWING the film based off the pirated copy, which is inexcusable. Some of these critics I have actually known for a few years, and while I wouldn't dignify them by mentioning them by name, I know who they are, as do the studios, and other filmmakers, and they will no longer have any access to any of my films.

What I'm saying is, this is your last chance to see one of my films for a while. If you haven't seen it, go now, because after next weekend the film will be gone from theaters. There are too many other summer movies coming in, so basically we get two weeks in cinemas, and then the film will live on DVD. I am not directing CELL any time soon, and I most likely will take the rest of the year to write my other projects. Which means I wouldn't shoot until the spring, and you wouldn't see a film directed by me in the cinemas until at least next fall. If everyone on my friends list went to see the film this weekend and brought a friend, it would make a huge difference. Bring a non-horror fan - try to convert them. It's the only way these films will live. But right now the R rated horror film is in serious jeopardy. Studios feel the public doesn't want them any more, and so they are only putting PG-13 films into production. The only way to counter this perception is to get out there and support R rated horror. It's the only message they'll hear. People love the movie, and even though it only cost $10 million dollars (as opposed to the other summer tentpoles which cost $300 million), and has already earned its money back, if it's not a massive money earner then they'll just continue to make the same PG-13 films everyone complained about a few years ago.

To counter piracy, fans can flood file sharing services with fake
Hostel II downloads just so no one can ever actually get the movie, but the only thing that really makes a difference is supporting the movie in the theaters. Also - the theater OWNERS know this as well. If horror movies aren't bringing in customers, they're not going to program them. If we are going to send them a message, we have to do it with our wallets, and we have to do it now. I've done all I can to make a great film for the fans, as violent and bloody and fun as possible. The rest is up to you guys...

Thanks again for all your support,


All I can say is... IS HE SERIOUS?

Roth is blaming Hostel II's dismal numbers on pirates? And not even of the Caribbean variety (which would actually make more sense).

Okay. First of all, please understand that I'm not suggesting movie piracy isn't a very real problem because it is. Neither am I saying that it doesn't pose a threat to the movie industry because it does (there is no denying, I think, that piracy has affected the box office numbers of theatrically released movies in recent years). Neither am I denying that a workprint for Hostel II was stolen and circulated (Dave Poland admits in his own attack of the film that he saw the movie on a bootlegged DVD). There is no way of knowing for sure how much piracy "took away" from Hostel's box office, but it sounds as if Roth believes that MORE people saw the film illegally than saw it legally; that the numbers would've been much, MUCH higher had everybody who used nefarious means to see Hostel II had simply gone to the theatre and paid to see it like they were supposed to. For Roth to lay the blame for the extremely poor reception of his film solely on the shoulders of piracy is not only really sad and pathetic, it demonstrates to me, once again, the kind of "reasoning" Roth uses that turned me off to him in the first place: namely, a complete and utter lack of personal responsibility. He's pointing the finger everywhere but at himself.

It's similar to the kind of sentiments we heard expressed in the aftermath of Grindhouse's lousy performance in theatres. Now I'm not testifying as to the quality, or lack thereof, of Grindhouse because I didn't see it, but I was frankly dumbfounded that Tarantino, Rodriguez and the Weinsteins were so shocked when their EXTREMELY VIOLENT and THREE-HOUR-PLUS film that was RELEASED ON EASTER WEEKEND didn't do well. I remember Weinstein lamented that perhaps one of the reasons behind it's disappointing performance was that their advertising campaign didn't do a proper job informing the public as to what the movie really was. He said that people just didn't know. That's why they didn't go see it. Well, I think it's very possible that people knew exactly what it was and that's why they didn't go see it!

The possibility that perhaps these movies didn't fare well with audiences not because people were uninformed or were watching them illegally but because maybe--just maybe--people didn't actually want to see them never seems to have crossed anybody's mind. In Roth's and Tarantino's own little world, everybody wants to see their latest movie (regardless of what it may be) and if it doesn't do well, it has to be publicity or piracy or perhaps even something wrong with the audiences themselves because it couldn't possibly have anything to do with... the movie! Naturally, audience reaction and box office intake shouldn't really be a factor in determining a film's artistic value (many films now regarded as masterpieces flopped in their initial run and many films that "killed" at the box office are now forgotten) and filmmakers can blame the ignorance or lack of taste in moviegoers all they want, but they didn't complain when these same ignorant moviegoers with no taste turned their previous films into gigantic successes.

In addition to Roth's frustrations with his rather convenient scapegoat of piracy, he also bemoans the "end of R-rated horror" and, again, it seems to me that his focus is entirely on the wrong thing. He advises people to get out and support R-rated horror right away and I can't help but wonder: Why? Why should I rush out to see an R-rated horror film right now? Simply because it's R-rated? If so, what does the rating have to do with it? Is it better to support a bad R-rated horror film than a good PG-13 horror film? I guess 28 Weeks Later is still playing in some cities. I haven't seen that one yet and, quite frankly, I'm far more interested in it than in Hostel II. That's rated R, isn't it? Should I support that film? Would that make Eli happy? Or was there another R-rated horror film that he would rather I pay to go see?

Roth seems to be afraid that this present lack of enthusiasm for R-rated horror movies (particularly his own) will lead to studios producing a string of PG-13 horror films, which I guess "everyone" was apparently complaining about a few years ago. My question is: So what? Speaking only for myself, I could care less what a movie is rated. If we have a string of terrible horror movies, that would be more upsetting to me than if they were all rated PG-13. Being PG-13 doesn't mean a horror film is going to suck anymore than having an "R" means it's going to be brilliant. And yet it seems that in Roth's mind, PG-13 is inherently inferior and "R" automatically superior because, let's be honest here, you can show more violence with an "R" (as he says, he tried to make a film that was as "bloody and as violent and as fun as possible"). For me, this merely confirms what I've been saying all along: namely, that Roth's films are, and always have been, about the violence. Not about building suspense, not about creating a sinister atmosphere, not about making interesting characters or about "saying" something significant with the work (i.e. having any kind of socio-political underpinnings to the mayhem). It's about the violence. Pure and simple. That's why he makes these movies and that's why I think they deserve the notorious moniker that they've been given.

Look, Roth has the right to make whatever kind of films he wants (as do Tarantino and Rodriguez and Rob Zombie and whoever else) and he certainly has the right to care less about whether anyone other than he happens to like them, but he can't have his cake and eat it too. He can't make movies only for himself (that appeal to his own personal sensebilities regarding horror, violence and sex) and then be surprised when nobody else watches them. You can't dictate what people like or are going to want to see (as the saying goes, "you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink"). When you make a film for "an audience of one," take a guess as to how many people are going to come to your movie.


Paul Martin said...

I've done all I can to make a great film for the fans, as violent and bloody and fun as possible.

For me, this sums up why I have never seen, and probably never will see a Roth film. That seems to be his focus, gratuitous violence.

Violence is fine - David Lynch and David Cronenberg have made an art-form of it. Gratuitous violence, designed simply to shock, holds no value or interest to me.

Jonathan said...

I wouldn't call myself a fan of Eli Roth (considering that I think he has yet to make a solid film), but I do still see his movies, and enjoy parts of them. I see the merit in them (if he would just tweak a few things).

But he's just being an idiot here. I mean, sure, piracy probably did play a part, but man up and take the blame anyway. Look at LeBron James in the NBA Finals: fouls and his teammates cost him a couple of games, but he simply took the blame and said "I can do better."

I think Roth should say, "I'll keep making better films if you guys keep watching."

I think Roth's fears may be somewhat true, but just don't whine about it.

I'm okay with him asking for support for R-rated movies because he needs that R rating to make the genre of films that he does (at least the way he makes it). And I'm okay with him attempting to appeal to his fans about it. But again, be a little smarter and more responsible about it.

Ask for your fan's feedback. Say, "I want to know, was it piracy or was it the film? Be honest and give me feedback. I want to make better films for you guys as well as myself." Because you're right, he's obviously not making films "just for himself."

Moviezzz said...

"Is he serious?" Indeed.

I read that quote yesterday and just couldn't believe it. It is as if we, as an audience, personally offended him by not seeing it. I think because of Tarantino's backing, his ego has gone out of control.

The horror film genre has gone in waves. It was big in the 80's, disappeared for a while, came back, and is on its way out again.

Maybe he should just change his style, realize there is more to filmmaking than gore films, and try something new.

But, maybe that is all he has in him.

Piper said...


I have added to this discussion over at my blog.

Cinebeats said...

I saw Hostel 2 this weekend and thought it was great. Roth clearly keeps improving as a filmmaker and there was absolutely nothing "gratuitous" about the violence in the film. It all served a purpose and moved the story along.

Directors like John Carpenter, Dario Argentio, Lucio Fulci, etc. have have been doing similar stuff to Roth or years. I enjoy pre-80s horror so I suppose that's why I like Hostel 2.

I find it a odd and frankly rather sad that people who have not seen the film seem so eager to call it garbage and make personal attacks on Roth as well as his audience.

Damian said...

I find it a odd and frankly rather sad that people who have not seen the film seem so eager to call it garbage and make personal attacks on Roth as well as his audience.

First of all, I sincerely hope my post didn't offend you, Cinebeats. It really was not my intention here to say anything either positive or negative about the film and the folks who saw (or didn't see) it and liked (or didn't like) it. That wasn't my point. After al, I haven't seen the film myself and so I cannot attest to its quality or lack thereof.

My main "beef" was with Roth's willingness to so immediately, and so easily, jump to piracy as the explanation for his film's poor box office performance. This just reeks of "passing the buck" and, as I have commented before, one of the things about Roth's personality that REALLY gets to me is his apparent lack of any personal responsibility, his inability to see himself as capable of "going too far" or "screwing the pooch" or whatever.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe piracy is indeed the only reason why Hostel II did not meet Roth's commercial expectations. Perhaps in Hostel II Roth has has made a brilliant horror movie that very few people are able to properly recognize and appreciate. I can certainly admit that's a possibility, but another possibility is that Roth either made a bad film or, at the very least, a film most people just didn't want to see, so they stayed away and maybe THAT's why its numbers were disappointing. As soon as Roth is willing to acknowledge that, rather than running around looking for some other perpetrator behind his "failure," my opinion of him will go up one notch.

In the meantime, as I said in my post, I'm done talking about Roth. I think I've spent too much time talking about him already. It's just not worth it anymore running the risk of offending my fellow cinephiles, whom I love and respect, that seem to like him and his movies. I'm going to try to find more positive things to talk about here in the future and maybe get back to the joy, and sense of fun, I discovered in the film blogging community when I first joined it 8 months ago.

Cinebeats said...

I hope you'll take the time to read my own thoughts about Hostel 2 which I just posted over at Dennis' blog.

They might at least help you understand why I liked the movie so much.

I do think when critics approve of piracy by reviewing a pirated movie, it's a really serious problem and no doubt encouraged others ro watch the film that way. The critic in question also had the nerve to take a moral stand against Roth which was just sad in my opinion.

All the negative reviews must have hurt the film a little as well.

Damian said...

I just read your comments on Dennis' post, Cinebeats, and I respect them. I just don't agree with them. I'm sorry. :(

Anyway, enough on Eli Roth. At some point, Cinebeats, you and I are going to have to talk about comic books because I know you're a self-proclaimed "comic book geek" and so am I. Now, that's a subject I can never tire of. :)

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