This film was shown on the Disney Channel during one of their free
subscription drives only a short time before it got a limited release in New
York (and I'm not sure where else). This does represent an interesting and
novel strategy, as films, even documentaries aren't often showed several
times on cable before a commercial release, even a small one. The exception
is PBS, who shows documentaries before limited arthouse releases. Disney
copying a strategy from PBS is an odd twist indeed.
Further, the subject matter is pretty far removed from the "family
values" that Disney promotes so heavily during these subscription drives.
I.e., "Here's a cable family you can feel comfortable about leaving your
children home to watch. To wit, here's a black-and-white documentary about
a depressed pop star whose career foundered as his artistic aspirations rose."
The film is quite interesting from the perspective of the recent
spate of documentaries which have focused on famous, once-famous, infamous
or cult icons: *Nico/Icon*, *Crumb*, and the new documentary on Heidi
Fleiss, to name only a few. A cover article in this last Sunday's *New
York Times* suggested that recent Broadway plays like *Mrs. Klein* and
*Master Class* have focused on famous figures because so little else is
capable of motivating a Broadway production of a 'straight' play (i.e.,
A similar case could be made for these documentaries, which have the
potential for lining up an audience that's already interested in the subject
matter. Thus documentaries of this kind can use a strategy for insuring
some box-office, however small, in the same way as fiction films have relied
on stars and well-known literary properties to help secure the investment by
depending upon an existing market.
It also seems like these films further the blurring of the
cult/mainstream distinction which is legible in the cinema marketplace by
the increased earning potential of independent films from *Clerks* to *Pulp
A few thoughts on the significance, if not the merits, of *I Just
Wasn't Made for these Times*.
Edward R. O'Neill
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