Cinecom Entertainment Group, screenwriter Hanif Kureishi and director Stephen Frears are embroiled in a fight with the Motion Picture Assn. of America over the supposedly vulgar title of their latest film, a dispute that threatens to hold up the movie's distribution, publicity and advertising plans.
The MPAA would not register the title "Sammy and Rosie Get Laid," a process that protects it against possible duplication in another film, according to Cinecom executives.
An appeal of that ruling is pending for Thursday in New York. Dorothy Behr, the director of the MPAA's Title Registration department, was out of the country and unavailable for comment. The distributor and film makers insist that the title of the movie, a follow-up to the British film makers' critically acclaimed 1985 film "My Beautiful Laundrette," is essential to communicating the movie's tone and message.
Ira Deutchman, Cinecom president of marketing and distribution, said from his New York offices Friday, "It turns out there's a little subclause in the title registration process that prevents titles with allegedly salacious terms in them from being protected against copycats."
He said he was "not too hopeful" over the outcome of Thursday's appeal.
According to the American Heritage Dictionary, the vulgar slang term laid means "to have sexual intercourse with."
Director Frears says, however, that the use of the term in the title is more akin to the meaning "to bring down forcefully."
Deutchman said that the complete title will remain on prints of the film and on all advertising posters, but added that there might be some flexibility when it came to other types of advertising.
He acknowledged that publicity plans for "Sammy and Rosie" were running into some problems, since the full title might be considered too suggestive for many family newspapers.
While the film is being giving a staggered release, beginning Oct. 23 in New York, Southern California newspapers began facing the issue last week with ads running in Sunday and Friday editions for the Women in Film Festival Oct. 16-18.
Women in Film reported that advertising departments at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner and the Los Angeles Daily News raised no objections to the film's title and ran it in weekend advertising.
The Times, however, billed the movie as a "Sneak Preview" in a Sunday Calendar ad for the Women in Film Festival. A spokesman for The Times said it could not come to a satisfactory compromise with Cinecom over the title.
A spokeswoman for the Herald said: "That one just got by. Usually, something like that would be very carefully screened before publication." A display advertising sales representative for the Daily News said the copy looked fine to him, and that he had gotten no complaints about the title.
Director Frears seemed amused at all the fuss. "I honestly, sincerely, really believed we had progressed beyond this point in civilization," he said from his London home Friday. He said never intended to raise such a ruckus with a movie title, but remained adamant that it not be altered.
"This is certainly no exploitation film," Frears said, laughing. "Anyone expecting bums in the air and such is going to be sadly mistaken. The film has more to do with keeping one's spirits up and brow clear when your whole country's going to rot and urban swamp. Sammy and Rosie react to the omnipresence of government by pulling down their trousers at it. That's the kind of thing we were going for."
"It's not as bad as we thought it might be," Deutchman said. "We figured we could forget about the South, but then this kind of film wasn't going to do well there anyway. Most of the trouble we're having is from papers and magazines who refuse to run ads for X-rated films. They see laid in the title and they refuse it out of hand."