Park Sloper John Turturro might be famous all over the world, but his latest film barely made it onto the big screen.
“Romance & Cigarettes,” a love story/musical that Turturro wrote and directed, opened last week in Manhattan, but won’t have the chance to screen anywhere else.
“It’s a business that’s based on fear and perception and buzz,” Turturro told GO Brooklyn. “The studio thought [the film] was kooky and odd, but that’s what can make something distinctive.”
The film’s limited distribution might not mean boffo B.O., but fans of Turturro (and his star-studded cast) will still have an opportunity to discover the film — albeit on DVD.
“What’s sad about that is [the movie is] great to watch with a group of people,” Turturro said. “That’s what it was designed for.”
And plenty of time went into that design; Turturro said that he had been thinking about making this film for 20 years. “I grew up in a house with a lot of music,” he said. “Like a lot of people, I used that as an escape and way to fantasize and take flight from my life.”
“Romance & Cigarettes” is not a traditional film. Its cast, including James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon, Kate Winslet, Christopher Walken, Mary-Louise Parker, Mandy Moore and Steve Buscemi, makes its way through the ups and downs of life with an usual reliance on karaoke-style song and hilarious outbursts of dance.
While he found a cast with little trouble — “Everyone wanted to be in it” — getting permissions for the songs he wanted to use proved a bit more difficult.
After two years of negotiations, rights were finally secured to songs by artists like Janis Joplin, Tom Jones, James Brown and Bruce Springsteen. The Boss was the first crooner to give in, letting Turturro purchase “Red Headed Woman” for what the director called “a modest price.”
The musical numbers in “Romance & Cigarettes” are lips synced along to the original music, resulting in a bit of a visual disconnect, but to Turturro the songs only add to the authenticity of a story about regular people. “There aren’t a lot of people like Fred Astaire,” he said. “I thought singing along would be what people would do in real life.”
Real life is also about serious disappointment, and Turturro is still feeling it about the film’s weak distribution.
“Sometimes all the stars align and sometimes they don’t,” he said. “And when they don’t, you’re stuck in a difficult place.”
But, at the end of the day, Turturro is happy with the film and whatever audience it can reach. “If you feel like it works, then you have to believe in your creation,” he said. “Otherwise why get up in the morning?”
The Big Lebowski (1998)
In this cult favorite, Turturro plays oral-sex-obsessed bowler Jesus Quintana, while Buscemi is the talkative, naive Donny.
Edge: Turturro, whose performance is still quoted daily by “Lebowski” fans and frat boys.Barton Fink (1991)
The Coen brothers’ film noir send up starred Turturro as the title character and Buscemi as his hotel’s overeager bellman.
Edge: Turturro, who won the best actor award at the Cannes Film Festival for his work.Miller’s Crossing (1990)
Both Buscemi and Turturro had supporting roles in this Coen Brothers’ gangster flick, playing second fiddles to leading man Gabriel Byrne. We wonder if they carpooled to the set.
Edge: Buscemi, for playing a character named “Mink,” which only reminds us more of his inevitable role in a John Waters biopic.Mr. Deeds (2002)
This Adam Sandler comedy introduced Turturro’s chameleon comic prowess to a whole new generation. Buscemi is no slouch as “Crazy Eyes,” a town loon only he could play.
Edge: Turturro. As Emilio, Turturro upstaged Sandler left and right, but ultimately let us all down by not stopping him before he went on to make the same movie another 10 times.
And the winner is: Turturro!