Sunday, September 27, 2015

it even has a watermark

I Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) is like any other 1980s alpha male. Only more so. If that makes sense. His drives are the drives of men in business, men on the prowl for women. He's the bastard child of the men of Mad Men, the contemporary of the men of Wall Street and his generation bypassed the problems of John Rambo or Tyler Durden--two different angles on emasculation. Patrick Bateman, as capitalist extraordinaire, would never put up with emasculation. He's too territorial for that. He'd sooner kill you than let you even attempt to take away his power.

Maybe that's exactly the same situation as Rambo or Durden, except Bateman has money. He doesn't need to hide behind anonymity or an alias because his name has clout.

But, I'm interested in something else about American Psycho. Patrick Bateman is also interested in brand names, owning the right things (far from Tyler Durden). But, then there's a problem; see, I'm reading on the trivia section of the film's IMDb page and I see the following:

The film had various problems with designer labels during production. Cerruti agreed to allow Christian Bale to wear their clothes, but not when the character was killing anyone; Rolex agreed that anyone in the film could wear their watches except Bateman (hence the famous line from the book "Don't touch the Rolex" had to be changed to "Don't touch the watch"); Perry Ellis provides underwear at the last minute after Calvin Klein pulled out of the project; Comme des Garçons refused to allow one of their overnight bags to be used to carry a corpse, so Jean Paul Gaultier was used instead.

Ed Owens at CineScene calls the refusal to be included by many brand names a "damning blow"--part of why the film languished for years with unsuccessful attempts to get made before. My problem--and yeah, I get that a studio like Lionsgate would not want to ruffle feathers, but you're making a satire about predatory men, predatory capitalist consumption, violence, and, really, America's obsession with brand names just as much as Patrick Bateman's. A quick Google search and I couldn't tell if any of the products in the film had placement deals, i.e. they paid to be there, or if they got paid to be there. And, I'm wondering why you don't just put whatever brand name into the film as you like because that's the point. It's satire about brand names. What's the complaint going to be? You used our Commes des Garçons overnight bag to carry the body of that Angel Face guy from Fight Club and we don't want it to look like we condone killing characters played by Jared Leto. Thus begins the cease-and-desist letter which has any leverage because...?

I mean, the novel is full of references to brand names. The characters namecheck the things they own and the restaurants they have the pull to get into. And, of course, there's a great scene in the film in which the men compare their business cards, citing the specific fonts and both paper and ink colors. Like a lower class of men talking cars.

(Bateman's obsession with Huey Lewis and Phil Collins is amazing. I'm wondering how much of it is made-up bullshit and how much makes perfect sense in terms of how you could actually describe the music and lyrics.)

Meanwhile, Lionsgate wanted Leonardo DiCaprio because he would have been a bigger box office draw. Even announced his interest at Cannes despite director Mary Harron having already offered it to Bale. To keep DiCaprio, the studio brought in Oliver Stone to take Harron's place. Nisha Gopalan at the Guardian describes what came next:

"He was probably the single worst single person to do it," [Harron] says. "I like Stone's stuff, but social satire is not his forte... and he's not known for his well-rounded, three-dimensional female characters." Stone began to chip away at Harron's script, preparing to rewrite it altogether. "It was then an issue of how the script could be improved," says [producer Ed] Pressman. "Oliver's approach was more psychological. Mary's was satirical."

Stone and DiCaprio had their own disputes over the way the film would go, DiCaprio split for The Beach then Stone left as well. Harron returned and kept Bale. But, my point in describing all this is that the studio is trying to make money. DiCaprio would grab the bigger audience. Having brands not complain about their inclusion would (presumably) work in favor of the box office as well--studios don't tend to subscribe to the idea that there's no such thing as bad publicity.

But, they're selling satire, selling a critique of a world in which the dog-eat-dog bullshit of even measuring the box office is entirely normal.

(Note: while I often check old box office reports for this blog, I generally do so in order to just see what was in theaters at the time. I'm not usually even looking at the money columns over at BoxOfficeMojo.)

But anyway, if Starbucks will let itself get namechecked in Fight Club and Gaultier is good with being used to transport dead bodies here, where does the satire bleed right into itself. I'm reminded of a passage from The Invisibles by Grant Morrison:

The most pernicious image is the anarchist hero figure. A creation of commodity culture, he allows us to buy into an inauthentic simulation of revolutionary praxis...

The hero encourages passive spectating and revolt becomes another product to be consumed.

Fight Club t-shirts, for example--you can still buy those. Funko has a Tyler Durden action figure. NECA Toys has a Patrick Bateman action figure.

Yet, I had to put together my own Phil Connors figure. What does that tell you?


  1. Bale was perfect in the role partly because he was relatively unknown at the time and allowed for the viewers to project upon him.

    And late 90s Leonardo Di'Caprio was a horrible horrible actor. And as bad as the cult of Bateman is today, it would have been worse in the late 90s if Leo was playing him and you had his legion of teenage girls swooning over Bateman as a romantic icon for them to fantasize about.

    And the Huey Lewis stuff is spot on with regards to the way the film describes "Hip to Be Square".

  2. Also American Psycho HAS to be a satire to make it work. Playing it straight would have been a disaster but playing it as satirical farce allowed for the context of "it all never happened except in Bateman's head" work far better