Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about movies and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the movie urban legends featured so far.
MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: The unrated and sexually explicit trailer for Nymphomaniac was accidentally shown to attendees of a showing of the children’s animated film, Frozen.
There is an old journalism adage that goes “everyone reads the false report and no one reads the correction.” This is true to this day, where rarely anyone actually reads the corrections section of a newspaper, but it is an even bigger deal in the era of internet news, where not only does news spread faster, but while a false report in a newspaper might appear in a single edition of a newspaper, false reports on the internet will always remain out there and so when you search for information on the story, the widespread original story is still going to be the one that shows up the most in your searches.
This appears to be the case with the story of how the sexually explicit “red band” trailer for Nymphomaniac was accidentally shown at a movie theater filled with movie goers there to see the Disney animated film Frozen.
Tracking the story is a fascinating little exercise in seeing how a story is formed.
The original report came from a Tampa Bay Fox affiliate, which reported simply “Sexually explicit movie shows instead of Disney film.” In the article, it notes:
A Pinellas Park [that’s in Florida – BC] movie theater full of families received an unexpected surprise Friday as they waited for Disney’s newest animated movie to start: a sexually explicit scene that caused some parents to rush their children to the exits.
Lynn Greene of Largo was at the Regal Cinemas Park Place Stadium 16 with her grandchildren when it happened. She said there were some technical difficulties that delayed the start of the movie, so the theater temporarily played another cartoon.
‘They put in the filler, it looked like ‘Steamboat Willie,’ the old Mickey Mouse cartoon, and then all of a sudden it goes into this other scene,’ Greene said.
The article also quotes Regal Cinemas apology where they explain the mistake, stating, “A spokesperson for Regal Cinemas said the other scene was part of the wrong movie playing accidentally.”
That article went up on November 30, 2013. A couple of days later, the British movie website Mosh News ran a story where they repeated the original story, only adding, “it’s unclear as to which film played the explicit scene, although a reader of Mosh News said it was an ‘extended trailer of Nymphomaniac,’ which is an upcoming erotic sex based indie-film, staring Shia LaBeouf who plays a character called Jerôme.”
That unnamed reader of Mosh News was enough for other web sites to suddenly start running the story as though it was a fact (something that, as you can see, Mosh News specifically did not do). The British newspaper The Guardian ran a story on their website titled “Nymphomaniac trailer accidentally shown to Florida children: Cinema screens promo for Lars von Trier’s explicit film before showing of Disney hit Frozen.”
Nymphomaniac is a two-part, over five hour long film by Danish writer/director Lars von Trier which tells the life story of a nymphomaniac named Joe. Actress Stacy Martin plays young Joe and Charlotte Gainsbourg plays the older Joe. As you might note from the name of the film, it involves a lot of sex scenes. The trailer for the film is quite explicit and thus is a “red band” trailer. There are two different types of movie trailers. Green band trailers were initially all those trailers that were deemed acceptable by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to be shown to all audiences while red band trailers were those trailers that were only allowed to be shown with R or NC-17 rated films. They gained their names from the fact that they were prefaced by either a green or a red screen giving that information (lately, the MPAA has also allowed certain slightly more adult green band trailers to accompany certain PG-13 and R-rated films, with the new statement given that the trailer was approved “to accompany this feature” rather than being approved for all audiences).
So this story of the explicit Nyphomaniac trailer soon spread all over the world in different news outlets, many of whom cited The Guardian for the story (although it appears as though the popular website Gawker was the first place to pick up on the Mosh News story). It makes sense that it would spread so far, as it is a catchy story, but was it actually true?
The biggest problem with the story comes directly from the distributors of the film, Magnolia Pictures. L.A. Ross of The Wrap was quickly on the case and in an interview with Matt Cowal, Senior Vice President of marketing and publicity for Magnolia Pictures, he learned that the trailer was never actually sent out to distributors – let alone this specific Regal Cinemas multiplex, which was never going to actually play the film in its theaters (the film just came out in the United States and sure enough, it is not playing at that Regal Cinemas). The trailer was only available on the internet. Thus, the only way for the trailer to have been “accidentally” shown in the Regal theater was for someone to specifically download the trailer off of the internet and load it on to the Regal digital projection system, much like Brad Pitt’s character in the film Fight Club (which was set back in the days when a projectionist actually could splice in frames from different movies into a film reel). As Cowal notes, that is extremely unlikely.
And again, here is the official report on the story from Regal: “In an isolated incident, the wrong movie did start Friday evening [Nov. 29] in one auditorium at Park Place. Less than two minutes of this incorrect movie were shown before it was stopped.”
While it would take an extraordinary act to get the Nymphomaniac trailer on to the projection hub at the Regal Cinemas (the database where all the films shown at the multiplex are drawn from) it would take much less of an issue for another film or trailer in the hub to be shown. It would still be a pretty notable mistake, but one that is much more possible. One film that was playing at that multiplex was Dallas Buyers Club, which opens with a roughly a minute long sex scene (after roughly a minute of opening production titles).
(Click on the image to enlarge it)
As you can see, n the sex scene it is all silhouettes and the name of the film does not come on to the screen until nearly two minutes into the screening (counting the opening production company titles that play before the actual content of the film), so it is very reasonable that no one in the Frozen audience would immediately identify the film as Dallas Buyers Club (you really can’t tell it is Matthew McConaughey unless you know it is him to begin with) fits right in with what Regal is saying happened.
Someone accidentally programmed the wrong movie to play in the Frozen auditorium and the mistake was caught in less than two minutes (which would be before the title came up) so no one could identify the film (and, of course, they were all freaking out and trying to keep their kids from seeing or hearing the sex scene).
In any event, while I cannot prove that it was Dallas Buyers Club, I think that the chances are strong enough that it was not Nymphomaniac being shown that I am willing to state that the legend is…
Thanks to L.A. Ross for the great work on getting to the bottom of the story so quickly, even though the other version of the story kept appearing on news sites well after Ross’ story was out there. Right now, if you search for “Frozen Nymphomaniac” you will get pretty much all stories telling the original version of the tale, not the corrected version. As I said in the beginning, “everyone reads the false report and no one reads the correction.”
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.