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Mpaa Turns Down Appeal Over Title Of 'Sammy, Rosie'

October 17, 1987|JOHN VOLAND

The Motion Picture Assn. of America rejected an appeal Thursday by Cinecom Entertainment Group that the association's title registration department reconsider its refusal to sanction the company's upcoming release "Sammy and Rosie Get Laid."

But Ira Deutchman, president of marketing and distribution for Cinecom, said from his New York office that the company will press on with the release of the British film. The executive accused the MPAA of "overstepping its normal functioning" and becoming "a body intent on imposing national decency standards and censoring those films that don't measure up."

As a result of the MPAA decision, Deutchman said, Cinecom would no longer voluntarily submit titles to the association for registration, choosing instead to "go it alone" and run the risk that another production company could use any of Cinecom's titles.

"That's the problem we'd be facing," Deutchman confirmed. "But that's much preferable to us than to have a nominally objective body deciding whether or not your title's proper--for the whole country. We just will not tolerate that, and neither should any other distributor."

Jack Valenti, president of the MPAA, does not foresee any large-scale boycott of his organization's title registration process. "These people didn't get what they want--they weren't forced to register the title--and so they left when we refused to register the title. This won't cause a mass defection from the registration process," said Valenti from his Washington office. "Crying censorship is the last refuge of those people who just lost an arbitration."

Producers voluntarily register film titles with the MPAA in order to discourage others from using identical or similar titles.

"This is a voluntary process; there's no force of law behind it," he said. "Admittedly the decision to reject is a subjective one, but there's nothing stopping Cinecom from ignoring it or not doing business with us at all. But if they do take the film to the marketplace as is, there might be a little trouble with the advertisers."

Several newspapers contacted by The Times seconded that opinion. Some retail advertising managers said their papers would have a hard time running the word laid in a film title, even if the film--by the respected British director Stephen Frears, whose last film was "Prick Up Your Ears."

"It doesn't matter what their intent was--we wouldn't run a film with a title like that," said H. Robert Hirsch, advertising manager for Newsday in suburban New York City (where "Sammy and Rosie" is scheduled to open on Oct. 30). "The word itself just can't show up in our ads."

Bob Smith, manager of amusement advertising at the New York Times, said ads for "Sammy and Rosie" hadn't been submitted as of Friday morning, and thus he couldn't say whether the paper would accept the advertising. But, Smith added, "That title would present a rather serious problem for us. We'd have to look at that very closely . . . it would probably take a compromise title to work for us."

In Los Angeles, the film's full title has been turned down by the Los Angeles Times' display advertising department but accepted by the Los Angeles Herald Examiner and the Los Angeles Daily News.

Editorial departments at several newspapers and magazines contacted by The Times said they did not anticipate any problems using the film's full title. Eight articles about Frears in North American publications this year have included the full title of the film in discussing his work.

The most recent controversy over a film title never got as far as the MPAA. Tri-Star Pictures changed the title of the film adaptations of David Mamet's play "Sexual Perversity in Chicago" to "About Last Night" after several newspapers and television stations said they would refuse to accept ads with the original title.

Tri-Star marketing chief Stephen Randall sympathized with Cinecom's problem in marketing "Sammy and Rosie" but pointed out that the situation was different from "Sexual Perversity."

"It's not a mass merchandising problem for them (Cinecom); they're not advertising heavily on TV and trying to walk that line at all," he said. " 'About Last Night' would not have worked at all in the mass marketplace with the play's title, so we changed it. But for Cinecom, which is dealing with a limited-release picture, this kind of controversy could really only help the picture."

Cinecom's Deutchman said that the company would be willing to modify its ads if necessary.

"We're not mules about this," Deutchman said, "but we feel larger issues are involved here than title registration. We appreciate the problems of the title, but it seems ridiculous to censor the film--and try to deny the film an audience--because of it."

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