Can ‘The Canyons’ succeed?

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The Canyons was meant to be an exercise in the future of filmmaking. An example to illustrate that yes, independent cinema has a new face and it is even more possible than before. In an age where one’s artistic endeavours need no longer be funded via government sponsorship, The Canyons was fully funded through the increasingly popular method of crowdsourcing (a method of financing where regular Joe’s and Susan’s like you and I can forward our own money towards the project in return for various scales of rewards). This was after the main players behind the film forwarded a large sum of money themselves as a display of confidence. It was all supposed to equal the most open, involved production ever. Somewhere along the way, however, this message was completely lost or misinterpreted.

Depending on what article you read, this is either a very exciting new project with names like Paul Schrader and Bret Easton Ellis attached or it’s the latest Lindsay Lohan debacle and it will suffer like one. Right now it’s the ugly focus of a recent New York Times article that, bizarrely, changed its name for the online edition from The Misfits to Here Is What Happens When You Cast Lindsay Lohan In Your Movie. It’s a fantastic piece, that’s not questionable, but it is an insult to the filmmakers and independent filmmaking in general when you’re forced to go into damage control to defend a film that didn’t need defending in the first place.

So, which is it? That’s the question here and it’s not an easy one to answer.

What we do know about the film is very little. An Ellis-penned script is easy to guess in terms of themes and character (he wrote Less Than Zero and American Psycho after all) however the plot itself is still a mystery. Three trailers have been released – a grindhouse, a black & white and an art/music video (my personal favourite) – that have been edited in such a way to offer no clue as to what the final released movie will look like. It’s a deliberate ploy by the filmmakers to keep viewer interest alive and is very much in line with Ellis’ Post Empire theology (two of the fake trailers credit the film as being a ‘Post Empire Production’).

Just the other day Schrader and producer Braxton Pope signed IFC as their distributor after a month of fear concerning if they would ever find one (Sundance rejected them, South by Southwest did the same). IFC is perfect for them, given their preference towards having the film available on VOD parallel to cinema screenings thus increasing viewer potential.

Right now there’s two sides to appreciate. Number one is the tabloid reporting – generally speaking, this is utter bullshit produced by the dregs of society for a lousy buck. Everyone knows a story about Lohan sells better than porn these days. Here it’s generally beat-up nonsense about What Makes A Typical Lohan Day Feat. Drugs & Alcohol but it’s oddly (and scarily) sharing common ground with point number two, investigative journalism. I singularly point to the New York Times article in reference to this, and with good reason as the filmmakers themselves admitted it was largely accurate in regards to production difficulties with Lohan. Largely, as they need space to distance themselves from it without looking like sore losers and because, hey, maybe there were a few inaccuracies. What they did list off as examples however were minor things such as the real reason James Deen was alone on set (professional) and producer Braxton Pope would take all chances to work with Lohan again (PR lip service, even if he actually would).

There’s a distant third which may or may not be personal bias but I’ll mention it anyway – what if the truth were a combination of the two sides (alcoholic Lohan and investigative truth) with a sprinkle of Let’s Not Rush To Judge Without Having Seen It? There’s definitely room for worry as Lindsay Lohan is very unpredictable and is a ways away from her last decent film; James Deen, an actual porn star, is in the lead; Schrader hasn’t contributed anything worthwhile to celluloid since 1980 (not counting his scripts); Bret Easton Ellis, despite his fiction-writing successes, is breaking his screenplay cherry.

All things considered, The Canyons is far and away from being a safe bet.

The only judgment call one can really make so far is on the brief clip dumped online a couple of weeks ago following the fake trailers. It shows a shrieking Lohan trying to get her phone and leave the house before Christian, Deen’s character, wakes up. Naturally he wakes and confronts her and a screaming match erupts. This is hardly the stuff of Oscar-winning performances however given the completely out-of-context nature of the clip it’s too early to make a hard call. Deen is impressive, given his porn-star background, but he’s got a long way to go yet before he could consider a newfound home in the mainstream (by comparison, Sasha Grey went from The Girlfriend Experience and Entourage to no-budget indie horrors).

I for one am barracking for a successful film. It’s the very definition of independent cinema and it deserves a chance. Sure, we’re not talking the Led Zeppelin reunion; this is more akin to The Banshees without Siouxsie. It’s currently suffering from a mix of journalism integrity and complete absence of but doesn’t deserve to be written off just yet. Ellis, given his twitter page, is an easy target for vitriol and hate but it seems to come from a place of sour grapes. I’ll keep my fingers crossed in the meantime. 

Nicholas Brodie - follow Nick on Twitter here: @fodusempire

The Canyons has no release date at time of writing.