Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Are Americans stupider than Europeans?

Of course not. Anybody who says such a thing should be deported to a re-education camp where, each day, they are forced to listen to German pop music, participate in English folk dancing and watch Northern Irish sitcoms. I do …

Tue, Apr 13, 2010, 22:05

   

Of course not. Anybody who says such a thing should be deported to a re-education camp where, each day, they are forced to listen to German pop music, participate in English folk dancing and watch Northern Irish sitcoms. I do not, however, ask this question simply as way of attracting your attention. A cursory study of the Hollywood studios’ attitude to the titling of their films suggests that those bodies thinkĀ  we are distinctly cleverer than the nation that gave us Orson Welles, Herman Melville and Richard Feynman.

the-ghost-writer-1.jpg

Ewan McGregor is not actually a ghost. Okay? Got it?

Consider the case of Roman Polanski’s fine The Ghost. In Britain and Ireland, the film will retain the title of Robert Harris‘s roman a clef concerning a former UK Prime Minister who acts very like Mr T Blair. In the US, however, the film was retitled The Ghost Writer. There can be only one reason. The studio is concerned that punters will think that the thriller — which opens here this week — is a ghost story and, more particularly, that they will confuse it with that 1990 pottery-rogering blubfest starring Demi Moore. The citizens of Borisokane and Birmingham are trusted to read the poster and draw the obvious conclusions. The good people of Baltimore and Boston are not.

This is not the first time this has happened. The Boat that Rocked’s title didn’t make it clear that the awful, awful film was about Pirate Radio, so it was renamed Pirate Radio in the US. When Alan Bennett’s play The Madness of George III was made into a film, the studios, fearful that American punters might think it a second sequel, titled the piece The Madness of King George. When the publishers of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone brought that novel to America, terrified the good burghers of Peoria wouldn’t know Plato from Pluto, they renamed it Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The film version retained that split personality.

If I were an American, I’d be pretty annoyed by this patronising attitude. If, indeed, you are an American, I suggest you approach the box-office of your local cinema and loudly demand a ticket for “The Ghost”. When the pimply youth furrows his brow, punch him in the face. That’ll learn ‘im.

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