The film The Canyons, starring Lindsay Lohan, written by Bret Easton Ellis and directed by Paul Schrader opens in New York and on VOD August 2 and in Los Angeles on August 9. This is no small victory for the film makers, considering that when the movie was first completed, it was unclear whether it would make it to movie theaters at all. As of the January publication date of the New York Times Magazine article, Here Is What Happens When You Cast Lindsay Lohan in Your Movie, by Stephen Rodrick, the film had been rejected by both Sundance and SXSW.
Reviews have been mixed, but the volume of press coverage about the film and its star, Lindsay Lohan, who was recently released from a 90-day court-ordered stint in rehab has reached a recent crescendo, with many observers noting that The Canyons has that mix of camp, zeitgeist and notoriety needed to become a cult classic. "People either love it or hate it," says Stephen Rodrick, who plans to attend the film's premiere in Los Angeles next week. "But it doesn't surprise me, the controversy. They knew they were making a film that wasn't for everybody."
Paul Schrader has stated repeatedly, in interviews and on the film's Facebook page, that he regrets how coverage of The Canyons has been largely commandeered toward Lohan's legal and personal problems. But it is not likely that any other B movie with a $250,000 budget would receive such wide public attention without Lohan at its vortex. Indeed, Schrader himself has not received such frenzied press coverage since he wrote the screenplay for Scorsese's 1988 film The Last Temptation of Christ. But none of the hoopla would matter if it wasn't for the big idea which made The Canyons so unique: Schrader, Ellis, Lohan and Braxton Pope (the film's producer) set out to sidestep the Hollywood studio system and create a new template for how movies are made. Not just another indie film, but rather "the most open film ever made," with daily production updates on Facebook, funding raised through Kickstarter, and a New York Times reporter on set with unfettered access.
There's good chance that The Canyons will turn a profit once VOD rentals and box office sales are tallied, but more important than critical acclaim or box-office boom, is the very distinct potential that The Canyons will come to be known as one of the most influential films in decades. Given that a major studio can easily spend over $100 million dollars to produce and market a film, it's no surprise that the industry has become increasingly risk-averse. Character-driven masterpieces like Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver from 1976 (for which Paul Schrader wrote the script) are less attractive to a studio head than another formulaic rom-com or superhero romp. But a fledgling filmmaker who sees The Canyons and understands how it was produced cannot help but be inspired by the possibilities it presents. And like Taxi Driver's notorious protagonist, Travis Bickle, who rescued a teen prostitute from a brothel with a few firearms and a great deal of personal conviction, we can only hope that some fledgling filmmakers storm Hollywood and take matters into their own hands.