Thursday, June 1, 2017

A24 A-to-Z: #1. "A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III" (2013)

In case you didn't know, A24 is one of the great purveyors of modern cinema. Since 2013, the studio has found a way to innovate independent cinema by turning each release into an event. As a result, A24 A-to-Z will be an ongoing series that looks at every release from the studio by analyzing its production history, release, criticisms, and any awards attention that it might've received. Join me on a quest to explore the modern heroes of cinema by exploring every hit and miss that comes with that magnificent logo. They may not all be great, but they more than make A24 what it is and what it will hopefully continue to be for ears to come.

A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III
Released: February 8, 2013
Release Number: 1
Directed By: Roman Coppola
Written By: Roman Coppola
Starring: Charlie Sheen, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray
Plot: A graphic designer's enviable life slides into despair when his girlfriend breaks up with him.
Major Awards: 0

At the time of this publication, A24 is coming off one incredible year. They recently pulled off an amazing feat when their 2016 film Moonlight upset La La Land for Best Picture. While it's incredible for a variety of reasons (it's the first all-black movie to win said award), it should be more incredible to look back on A24's incredible feat. The studio was only founded five years ago on August 20 by Daniel Katz (formerly of finance group Guggenheim Partners), David Fenkel (former president and co-founder of Oscilloscope), and John Hodges (former Head of Production and Development at Big Beach). They used money from Guggenheim Partners to start up A24 with the belief that their releases would have "movies from a distinctive point of view." For the most part, there wasn't a way to announce the company's arrival than the first of its five 2013 releases: director Roman Coppola's A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III

The film had plenty of built-in publicity before it was even made. Coppola was coming off of his first Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay (which he shared with Wes Anderson) for the highly successful Moonrise Kingdom. It was also his first directorial release since 2001's CQ. While he had remained busy in the meantime by working on productions for various films (he also created The Photobubble Company in 2003), his comeback was overshadowed by a TV actor who had just suffered a nervous breakdown. In 2011, Charlie Sheen experienced a public breakdown that he later admitted was a tough time for him. Among his notorious achievements during this time as a pop culture loose cannon phenomenon, he insulted Two and a Half Men's creator Chuck Lorre, which subsequently got him fired and later ridiculed in that series' finale with a comical death. He would later go on to record a video that featured a string of nonsensical ramblings that included such popular phrases as "Tiger blood" and "Duh, winning." It all lead to a critically maligned "Torpedo of Truth" tour where he would perform before crowds (it didn't go well).

While Sheen would later enter rehab and convince his father Martin Sheen that he was helpless to course correct his son's life, it lead to the misconception that A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III was written entirely as a vehicle for Charlie Sheen. According to Coppola, the idea for the film came years before the mental breakdown, and in fact came from an old tape ad where a man sat before loud speakers. Coppola's interpretation of the ad was that this man was going through a bad break-up. He wrote the film more as a self-reflection of his own life, using this advertising as the basis for a lot of his vision. Co-star and cousin Jason Schwartzman would continue to inspire Coppola by having him listen to music by Liam Hayes, who ended up serving as the soundtrack for the film. Coppola's interest in Hayes' style helped to add to the tone of the film, which was indistinct in actual year, but was largely inspired by 1970's culture and typography. It was eventually that Coppola contacted Sheen (whom he met as a child on the set of Apocalypse Now) and found out that he was interested in the project. 

The film was shot in Santa Clarita and Los Angeles, California. Coppola borrowed a lot of techniques from his father, Francis Ford Coppola, whom he worked with on many movies such as Bram Stoker's Dracula. The world of the film was a stylized look at Charles Swan III's (played by Sheen) depressing aftermath of a break-up. Coppola focused heavily on the male gaze through Swan and Schwartzman's Kirby Star. They were both somewhat chauvinistic men who had a very impersonal view of women. The film even breaks into fantasy scenes that reflects westerns and espionage thrillers that would've been popular in the 70's. In both cases, it involved women trying to sabotage their lives. Even through a male lens, the film embraced a somewhat sexist view of women through the comedy, even once calling them Secret Society of Ball Busters (or S.S.B.B.). Still, the film ends with the sad reflection of Swan's inherent loneliness and his inability to find happiness in this stylized world where he slept on plush hot dogs and drove a car with decal eggs on the side. Despite this, Coppola ends the movie on a happy note by having the cast introduce themselves while dressed in character. 

The film premiered at the Rome Film Festival and experienced a limited theatrical release on February 8, 2013. Before then, the film had a video on demand release that counted for most of its $210,565 total gross at the box office. It earned $12,000 in limited release in two theaters and experienced an 81.6% increase the following weekend when it expanded to 18 theaters. With all of this said, the film suffered from almost universal negative reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes, it has a rating of 15% with many criticizing how hollow the stylized imagery was, believing that the novelty wore off quickly and left the viewer with a miserable and sad man. It was also difficult to differentiate Sheen from his character, with many believing that he was playing a version of himself (the playboy) that many had grown tired of. The film would quickly be overshadowed by A24's other releases, all of which fared better critically and commercially. 

A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III is in some ways a flirtatious debut for a company wishing to make a name for themselves. With that said, it's so different from what would come that it seems like its own novelty for a studio whose marketing department thrives there. It wasn't the great defining movie of the Sheen debacle that had grown stale by the film's release. In fact, Sheen hasn't had as much success as he did before the "tiger blood" era, save for a brief but uninspired run on an equally on the nose attempt to explore his psyche with the TV series Anger Management (based on the Adam Sandler movie of the same name). Still, it remains Sheen's highest rated project on Rotten Tomatoes in the years following. If nothing else, Coppola's film will last as an artifact of Sheen's crazy career choices such as the movie for streaming service Crackle called Mad Families. It was definitely a loud and striking way to debut a studio, but it's a miracle that it didn't end up defining what's to come, which is a lot of incredible work by independent auteurs that included Roman Coppola's sister Sofia later that year with The Bling Ring

Up Next: Ginger & Rosa (2013)

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