Friday, August 20, 2010

Piranha 3D: Joe Francis Really Needs to Stop Being So Damned Biagio da Cesena

Ah, Joe Francis. Don't you have anything better to do than have your lawyers send threatening letters to movie studios?

There is a new film opening this weekend called "Piranha 3-D," which apparently promises:
There are a lot of piranhas. There are a lot of naked people. And a lot of the aforementioned naked people wind up getting eaten by the piranhas
Sounds like my kind of movie! Except that it's directed by Alejandre Aja, director of the completely reprehensible, stupid, pointless, dishonest and totally illogical film Haute Tension. Then he made a completely pointless and witless remake of The Hills Have Eyes. Then he made another pointless and witless remake called Mirrors.

"Piranha 3-D" is also a remake. I haven't seen it yet (I did see the original, many years ago when I was but a small child and I very much enjoyed it), so I can't say it's pointless, but I will say this:

Alexandre Aja does a lot of remakes. And his only notable film that wasn't a remake, the aforementioned "Haute Tension," isn't the most original movie I've ever seen. (But it does have some effective special effects.)

But that isn't even what I'm writing this post about. What has caught my attention about this movie is the fact that one of the characters is loosely based on Joe Francis, the rather irritating and unctuous man who has made several millions of dollars getting college-aged women to flash their pretty pointies in bars, for his "Girls Gone Wild" series.

That character, apparently, loses his you-know-what to one of the piranhas.
But perhaps nothing will spark quite as much insane screaming from audiences as the sight of actor Jerry O’Connell’s penis as it comes flying at them after being bitten off by one of these carnivorous creatures.
The aforementioned actor, Jerry O'Connell (who was so likable in that Tom Cruise parody video), has apparently made no secret of the fact that his character is loosely based on Mr. Francis:
“I get to play Joe Francis!” O’Connell practically screams through the telephone. “Oh, wait. For legal reasons I’m supposed to say, ‘I play someone loosely based on Joe Francis.’ I play Derek Jones, who owns Wild Wild Girls, which is loosely based—loosely!—on Girls Gone Wild.”
(Why is he so excited about that? Was a character "loosely based on Joe Francis" truly the role of a lifetime? What, that movie about the guy who lives with all the cockroaches wasn't your big role?)

Anyway, that could be pretty funny, I suppose. A guy loosely based on Joe Francis gets his weiner bitten off by fish. Ha, ha. But Mr. Francis isn't laughing. He's got his lawyers on the case.
The letter threatens that "any defamatory or disparaging statements, or depictions, in the media or in the film itself, or other statements that portray Mr. Francis in a false light, will be met with swift litigation."
"I appreciate a good parody as much as the next guy, but to associate me with drugs and the filming of underage girls crosses a definite line," Francis tells us. "Jerry O'Connell has repeatedly and emphatically stated on the public record that he is “playing Joe Francis,” NOT a fictional character based on me. Mr. O’Connell has done this despite having been warned by his own lawyers not to admit this."
So-called "libel-in-fiction" claims have become more common lately. The theory goes that the average person would be led to believe the character is based on a real person (like Francis) and the depiction puts him in a false light and/or defames him.
"The actors, producers, distributors and others associated with this film are on notice that my legal team will be evaluating their film and monitoring their promotional activities," he tells us. "Clearly, this film was intended to be more than a mere parody, and I intend to seek damages if and when the film is distributed."
I have already written at length about authorial trespass, so I'll resist the temptation to point out that Mr. O'Connell clearly lacks faith in his own portrayal of his character and the abilities of the screenwriter(s) and director to get their message across. It's pitiful when an actor has to go out and tell people what he was trying to do.

No, really, it's Joe Francis! The Girls Gone Wild Guy! Okay, not really. But it is him. But not really. It's based on him. Sort of. It is. But not really. No, but it is! You see how clever we are! We did this character based on this really sleazy guy, and I played him really sleazy, and you can tell how sleazy he is because I just told you, just now, in this very interview! He's sleazy! But not really. Really. Not really.

So okay, I've cut Mr. O'Connell down to size. But what about Joe Francis. Having your attorney send an ominous if completely unfocused and strange letter to the movie studio threatening them not only over the movie itself, but over the actions of the actors in promoting that film? Really?

Have you learned nothing from Biagio da Cesena?

That's right, Mr. Francis. I just compared you to the former Vatican master of ceremonies who criticized the great Artist (that's right, capital letter A-Artist) Michelangelo for painting wieners on the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

You know what he got, don't you? Of course you do. Most people do. In fact, it's really the only that Biagio da Cesena is known for. Michelangelo painted him in the "Last Judgment" section of the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
Even before its official unveiling, the Judgment became the target of violent criticisms of a moral character. Biagio da Cesena, the Vatican's master of Ceremonies, said that "it was mostly disgraceful that in so sacred a place there should have been depicted all those nude figures, exposing themselves so shamefully", and that it was "no work for a papal chapel but rather for the public baths and taverns." Michelangelo's revenge was to paint Biagio in hell, in the figure of Minos, with a great serpent curled around his legs, among a heap of devils.
Biagio da Cesena is known for exactly nothing else. He doesn't even have his own wikipedia page. Go on, try to look him up over there. He's mentioned once on that site, in the Sistine Chapel ceiling article I linked to above.

He's known as "that guy with the snake between his legs in the Sistine Chapel." If at all.

Joe Francis, you have built a media empire. Concentrate on that. Otherwise, you're going to go down in history as just "that guy who gets his wiener bitten off in that piranha movie remake."

Is that really what you want?

Biagio da Cesena pic source.
Joe Francis pic source.

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