Click to viewFor all its confectionery imagery, Christina Ricci scene-stealing and the few other things Speed Racer gets right, it still faces a box-office false start that could make Leatherheads look like a hit in comparison. We sketched a few of the hurdles here yesterday (number one being its own studio's resignation to its underachievement), but at this point there's only one that counts: Larry and Andy Wachowski need to climb out of their hole.
It might be self-serving of us to suggest they publicize their films, and in a way, we empathize with their reclusion; Larry Wachowski has been the subject of sex-change and dominatrix-dating speculation since a feminized version of himself — earrings, plucked eyebrows, manicure — showed up on the Matrix Revolutions red carpet in Cannes five years ago with mistress Ilsa Strix (née Karen Winslow) on his arm. The siblings later sneaked into the New York premiere of V For Vendetta (which they wrote and co-produced), and last week in Los Angeles they went positively presidential with subterfuge at the debut of Speed Racer. "They did not do the red-carpet press line at the Nokia Theatre on Saturday, and were well-camouflaged during the after-party," wrote Borys Kit in The Hollywood Reporter. "Photographers were sworn to secrecy as to their whereabouts, and Warner Bros. assigned handlers the mission of keeping journalists off the scent."
Like it matters; the Wachowskis haven't granted an interview in the decade since The Matrix, deferring to mega-producer and de facto representative Joel Silver and their casts to flog their work publicly. Their crews sign non-disclosure agreements. The duo's contracts entitle them to a luxury rarer than final cut — an opt-out provision shielding them from the promotion of their films. It's Stanley Kubrick/Terrence Malick/Eric Rohmer stuff, but with one crucial exception: Their films aren't that good.
Or at least they haven't been in nearly 10 years; Speed Racer is no different. But what is good about it are the things to which only they can speak — the practice of reinventing the source cartoon, the relationship of vision to execution, the extraordinary scene transitions eschewing cuts for something closer to a scrolling-head montage (like "bullet-time," you just have to see it), or, on the most basic of levels, directing a standout cast (and even a goddamned monkey) against one green-screen backdrop after another. Unlike Iron Man or Warners' even more anticipated summer offering The Dark Knight, the brands work in concert with personalities to acquire traction. Emile Hirsch's abstract praises are not enough.
Warner Bros. faced the similar scenario with Kubrick for nearly three decades, covering the director's final five films from A Clockwork Orange through Eyes Wide Shut. Obviously, his death in March 1999 put a pretty irrevocable kibosh on promoting the latter film, but he did speak out from time to time about the intervening work; his daughter Vivian's behind-the-scenes documentary about The Shining was a broadcast TV event in 1980, and he did a few select interviews in 1987 on behalf of Full Metal Jacket. Moreover, he was always involved with people — actors, writers, other filmmakers — and his 15 years of work prior to his British exile in the late '60s had installed him permanently among the world cinema vanguard.
Not so for the Wachowskis, a couple of ex-carpenters from Chicago whose one-two dynamos Bound and The Matrix boosted expectations from 1996 to 1999. Their work since has lapsed into the type of indulgence that further evokes itself in those clauses guaranteeing their immunity to press, and by extension, their audience. That audience has had nothing to latch onto for too long now; no taut narratives, no singular parallel universes and certainly no visual benchmarks that can and/or should speak for themselves. Their self-containment borders on alienating, their aloofness sharing breath with its conjoined twin, arrogance.
As the most public recluses working today (and at the highest budgets), their godfather Silver can only buy the Wachowskis their privacy for so long — especially as another of their putatively visionary summer efforts meets diminishing returns in a culture craving voices with faces and faces with names. If the Viral Era has taught us anything, it's that every mystery needs a payoff, and you have to earn your mystique if you expect to exploit it.
[Photo Credits: Wireimage, Getty]