The Idiocrats at Fox
Mike Judge’s long-awaited second live-action feature, IDIOCRACY, debuted last weekend. What, you didn’t know that? Did you get the memo? You must live in such out-of-the-way hix nix towns as New York, Washington, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Boston … y’know … cities where people wouldn’t “get” Mike Judge and where OFFICE SPACE tanked because his scathing satire on work and bureaucracy was completely alien to them. Remember that moment in SPINAL TAP when the manager tells them the Boston gig fell through because it’s not much of a college town? That was awesome.
My bud Bilge at Nerve.com excoriates the suits at 20th Century Fox (over and over) for dumping IDIOCRACY, and for what sounds like really good reasons like messing with Judge’s cut, and sitting on it for two years before dumping, etc. So, the film came with the aura of failure, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Two stats suffice — (1) as I type this about 845pm Monday, the new Mike Judge film on opening weekend still doesn’t have five IMDb votes; (2) if you go to the Fox site, there is no mention of IDIOCRACY. At all. Really.
Now I’m a pretty hard-core realist when it comes to selling movies and I don’t think studios have any obligation to lose money or throw good money after bad. I’m not under any illusion that Judge has made a potential gazillion-dollar blockbuster. And it’s certainly possible that Judge made a stinker (Homer nods; Hitchcock made THE PARADINE CASE, etc.).
But do American studios any longer know how to market a small movie to a niche audience, except through their boutique divisions like … um … Fox Searchlight? “Un Film de Mike Judge,” “from the creator of OFFICE SPACE” [or BEAVIS & BUTTHEAD or KING OF THE HILL] has got to be worth enough tickets to make at least a half-ass push worthwhile. OFFICE SPACE wasn’t a big hit (Fox didn’t do very well by that film either, but I was able to see it in Augusta, Ga., fercryinoutloud), but subsequent word of mouth has turned it into one of the defining cult films of its era.
Right now on my IM system at work (and I swear this is a coincidence), the public greeting reads “Remember to put the cover sheet in your TPS reports.” Others on my menu include “Where’s my stapler” and “yeeeeah … welllll … I’m gonna have to go ahead and disagree with you there on that one.” Another person at work has his public message right now as “sounds like a case of the Mondays” and others on his menu have included “did you get that memo.” There’s at least a half-dozen people in the newsroom with whom I regularly exchange OFFICE SPACE lines. And it’s not a slam at any particular workplace or supervisor — OFFICE SPACE is golden to anyone who has ever worked in a bureaucracy.
Do the suits at Fox realize what kind of Cult Status all three of Judge’s major works have? All have their own universe of devoted cultists. The rewards come later than opening weekend of course, and they require patience because they depend on word of mouth, so they won’t affect the quarterly balance. But the DVD sales and multiple editions “with flair,” etc. do come and in a veritable torrent by the standards of two, three, or four years later. And it’s not as though Judge’s movies cost $200 million to make. But Fox still can go through the motions for MY SUPER EX-GIRLFRIEND and JOHN TUCKER MUST DIE (info still on the front page at the Fox Movies site) and let’s not forget the upcoming masterpiece THE MARINE starring beefcake model/pro wrestler John Cena. So if THE IDIOCRATS isn’t the absolute indisputable worst movie of the year, or ever, this treatment is absolutely unconscionable.
And it’s an insult to the artist who created BEAVIS & BUTTHEAD and OFFICE SPACE and who (most inexplicably of all) has gotten good ratings for Fox TV with his KING OF THE HILL. One wonders why Judge would continue to have a relationship with Fox TV after this shitty treatment. Maybe a key is Judge’s personality, at least as portrayed in this profile in the June issue of Esquire. He doesn’t seem like the intransigent, self-destructive perfectionist, like a Tarkovsky or a Dreyer. I don’t blame him, by any means, and it may very well be that the personality portrayed in Esquire is the beaten-down one of a dog that’s taken one too many whippings. Or at best, he’s triaged THE IDIOCRATS in the hopes that playing ball and not being difficult, things’ll be better next time.
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