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NEW YORK — John Turturro is taking matters into his own hands. The actor-writer-director is self-distributing his $11 million musical “Romance & Cigarettes,” a project that has experienced a tortured history since it was filmed in 2004.
Despite an all-star cast that includes James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon, Kate Winslet, Steve Buscemi, Christopher Walken, Bobby Cannavale, Mandy Moore, Mary-Louise Parker, Aida Turturro, Elaine Stritch, Eddie Izzard and Amy Sedaris, the unconventional United Artists feature was put in limbo in 2005 when Sony Pictures merged with MGM.
Turturro was nominated for a Golden Lion award for the film after its September 2005 premiere at the Venice Film Festival, but “Romance” received mixed reviews there and at the Toronto International Film Festival a week later. It was labeled a “karaoke nightmare” and “downright unwatchable” by some, but “terrific as a musical” and “almost impossible not to adore” by others.
The over-the-top story line follows a Queens construction worker (Gandolfini) who gets in trouble when his wife (Sarandon) discovers he has a lusty mistress (Winslet). The characters break into songs ranging from James Brown to Engelbert Humperdinck to Bruce Springsteen.
Despite an investment of less than $5 million by United Artists for North American rights and several other foreign territories, and the Coen brothers attached as executive producers, the filmmakers found themselves in a quagmire that took years to get through.
“A lot of the time over the last few years was to figure out just who to talk to and navigate the internal workings of a corporate merger,” said one of the people involved in the production. One of the few other films rescued from the merger quagmire was UA’s “Capote,” which Sony Pictures Classics brought to an Oscar win for lead actor Philip Seymour Hoffman.
A Sony spokesman said video rights now reside with Sony and theatrical rights reside with MGM. The production source said Turturro (who produced the film with John Penotti) and his CAA agent Bart Walker eventually persuaded the powers that be to give the film an open-ended theatrical release Sept. 7 at New York’s Film Forum. It appears in press materials without MGM or Sony’s names, and according to the film’s publicist, it is being self-released by Turturro.
“Romance” opened in more than a dozen countries overseas last year, earning about $2.5 million, the majority of that in Italy. It’s unclear whether the film’s run will be extended beyond New York.
A Sony spokesperson said the company has no plans to release the film on DVD “for a while.” A source close to the film, however, said it will be released by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment sometime in 2008. But first, Turturro will have the satisfaction of seeing the film open in his hometown.
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