Category: Archive

Corkman takes on ‘Sir’ Spielberg over ‘suppressed’ movie

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Stephen McKinley

After faltering at the box office, a Northern Irish-themed comic film will soon be playing in court, at the center of a $10 million suit for damages.

The movie, "An Everlasting Piece," was co-produced by Corkman Jerome O’Connor, directed by "Rain Man" director Barry Levinson, and — O’Connor alleges — suppressed by Steven Spielberg and his production studio, Dreamworks.

O’Connor’s lawsuit claims that Spielberg and Dreamworks never gave the movie a chance to succeed, and instead suppressed it because certain scenes could be construed as being offensive to the RUC and the British government. "I stand to lose a lot of money," O’Connor said.

Spielberg, the suit alleges, did not want to offend British sensibilities because he was recently knighted by the queen. Spielberg has also been making a large television series called "Band of Brothers," about British Army soldiers in World War II. The complaint, filed in a Manhattan court last Wednesday, said that the British government, "with the personal involvement of Prime Minister Tony Blair," has given money and lent 2,000 troops and military equipment to "Band of Brothers." Sir Steven received his knighthood on Jan. 31.

"An Everlasting Piece" is a comedy that pits two hairpiece salesmen against the IRA, the RUC, and the British Army, in turbulent 1980s Belfast. The two, one Catholic and the other Protestant, seek to sell as many hairpieces as possible throughout the fraught and dangerous city.

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One section of the movie shows British soldiers losing their hair due to stress from serving in Northern Ireland, while another shows members of the RUC as incompetent and ignorant. The L.A. Times review described it as "a comedy of high and zany spirits that effortlessly touches on matters of moral choice, reconciliation and forgiveness, and the value of the generous gesture."

"It would only be offensive to someone like Spielberg," said O’Connor, "because he’s working with the British Army, in a production that glorifies war."

O’Connor, who is part-owner of the recently opened downtown bar The Half King was already well known in New York as the owner of the Irish bar St. Dymphna’s, on St. Mark’s Place in the East Village. In February 1999, the Irish Echo reported the news that he was involved in making "An Everlasting Piece," and that Barry Levinson would direct the movie.

Originally, when Dreamworks came on board to market and distribute the movie, there were plans to release it in 800 cinemas nationwide. Eventually, the movie opened in only eight theaters, "on the worst day of the year to open a movie, Christmas Day," O’Connor said.

"Dreamworks insisted that they were the right company to promote the picture," O’Connor said, adding that the alleged suppression and censorship of the movie came to light when apparently director Levinson was contacted by Dreamworks executive Jeffrey Katzenberg asking for certain scenes to be removed. These scenes, O’Connor says, were ones that show RUC officers and British troops in a humorous, befuddled light. "They asked Levinson to take out all the politics," he said.

When Levinson refused, O’Connor alleges that Dreamworks decided to suppress, not censor, the movie, by limiting its distribution as much as it could — leading to the film opening in only eight cinemas and on Christmas Day. Fellow producer Mark Graham received a fax from Dreamworks in October 2000. A copy obtained by the Irish Echo shows a Dreamworks operative expressing concern over widely distributing the movie, given that several movie critics had given it "polite but not really enthusiastic responses," and that "people mentioned that they thought the movie would be funnier based on their perceptions from the trailer."

In Tuesday’s Los Angeles Times, Levinson is quoted as saying that he was angered by DreamWorks’ handling of the film. He is said to have written a letter of complaint to the studio last month, describing the treatment of "An Everlasting Piece," "the most disappointing experience I have ever had in this business."

Dreamworks said that it is not the studio’s policy to speak about lawsuits, "especially one that is patently ludicrous."

Speaking in his office at the Half King bar, O’Connor said that while no contract was signed binding Dreamworks to the original distribution plans, "they didn’t act in good faith."

Further information on the lawsuit can be found at the web site www.rsmithlaw.com.

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