Thinking pop culture

Thinking pop culture

Judging a DVD by its cover

The Night Porter (1974) - the most commonly used poster for the film.

Quite a few years ago now - I was an undergrad at the time - I was writing on sadomasochism in cinema. My rationale, of course, was simply any excuse to rewatch one of my all time favourite films, The Night Porter.

(Nazis, erotic use of glass and Charlotte Rampling: don’t go into this blindly, my friends).

So I wasn’t with him at the time, but the story goes that Dad is at the video store counter: “it’ll be on hold under my daughter’s name”. The exchange, needless to say, is awkward, perhaps a little sleazy. In brief, the store was using a video case that leant itself more towards the “Adult” section. And apparently a father hiring a porno for his daughter is more than a tad perplexing.

The less common but obviously boobier version.

So of course, when a story about DVD covers makes the papers, I immediately think of that Preston video store.

Shock horror, they wanted to move merchandise. Double shock horror, they knew choice of cover makes a difference.

So The Sapphires - that surprisingly successful Australian film that I haven’t seen because it’s billed as “feel good” and feel good makes me feel pukey - has just been released on DVD in the US.

Eschewing the cover that’s being used in Australia, a new one has been conjured for the Americans: the Australian stars are blue-washed out and Chris O'Dowd is thrust to the foreground, elevated to Best Actor status.

The DVD cover used in Australia.

Racist and sexist, apparently.

Nup, not even a little.

I’ve written previously about the yawn-worthy practice of being offended for offence’s sake. There’s more than a little of that going on here. More so however, I think the brouhaha is symptomatic of complete and utter ignorance about marketing.

It’s more than normal to use different trailers, different artwork to market films in other countries. Australian actors get high billings in posters displayed here; this is invariably not the case for the posters used elsewhere.

So why are we surprised when the same happens in reverse?

“Suntory Time” - from Lost in Translation (2003)

That Preston video store knew what worked in their market. Equally so do the US distributors of The Sapphires.

I’m pretty sure I don’t want to see anything PG-rated that’s billed as “A Blast of Joy”

American DVD buyers know O'Dowd because he starred in that ridiculously overrated comedy Bridesmaids in 2011. He’s a face, a name.

Sure, it might devastate us as Australians - who compulsively overestimate our global footprint - but mind-blowingly enough Jessica Mauboy and Shari Sebbens and Deborah Mailman and Miranda Tapsell are not household names elsewhere.

A DVD starring unknown Australians will struggle in a foreign market. A DVD starring the “hunky” cop from Bridesmaids however, might move a few units.

Politics is all very well and good - hell, I dabble in it a little as my profession dictates, of course - but if the intention of an overseas DVD release is to get copies sold, if the goal is to get Australian talent known abroad, then it is essential that the product is packaged in a way that makes it - brace yourself - desirable.

Unfair to the stars, maybe. But sexist and racist? Yeah, I’m pretty sure that there are more worthy battles to be fought on those fronts.

Perhaps not feel good, but it really is one hell of a film.

I’m giving a talk on full frontal male nudity at the Ian Potter Gallery at the University of Melbourne on August 8, 2013. Come along and say hi!