How Michael Flatley’s Spy Thriller ‘Blackbird’ Attained Cult Movie Standing – The Hollywood Reporter

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At a cinema in London’s central Leicester Sq., an space house to frequent star-studded premieres, additional screens have been swiftly added to the opening week’s schedule to deal with demand. A number of hours’ drive away within the metropolis of Bristol, a former Imax display screen — the largest within the area — has been booked, as has a pink carpet and a troupe of Irish dancers. 

The film getting this additional particular remedy forward of its Sept. 2 launch isn’t the newest Marvel outing. Neither is it the subsequent status drama from a buzzy director starring an ensemble of A-listers. 

It’s removed from it — a four-year-old cult movie from a first-time filmmaker higher identified for throwing his oiled-up torso throughout phases around the globe. And it’s a movie whose cult standing has been attained, fairly uniquely, with out anyone having seen it. 

Blackbird, the function directorial debut of famed, fast-footed Lord of the Dance and Riverdance legend Michael Flatley, is “a spy thriller of the basic style,” in line with the 64-year-old Bostonian. It’s additionally a film he wrote, produced, directed, self-financed and stars in (because the lead, no much less) and a movie that had one thing of a contentious begin when it first got here to public consideration in 2018, after which it promptly — and mysteriously — vanished from sight. 

And for one cinema programmer, that’s precisely what provides Blackbird its cult credentials.

“Yow will discover just about something you need from the historical past of cinema nowadays,” says Paul Vickery, head of programming at London’s Prince Charles Cinema, a two-screen website famed for its common film marathons (together with a recurring Nicolas Cage triple-feature) and month-to-month showings of Tommy Wiseau’s so-bad-it-is-good masterpiece The Room. “However when there’s a movie that has been seen by only a few and mentioned by many, a movie that individuals are conscious of however has been taken away, then it turns into cult.” 

In fact, it’s not strictly true to say that no person has seen Blackbird.

The movie — during which Flatley performs Victor Blackley, “a troubled undercover agent” whose lifetime of retirement working a “luxurious nightclub within the Caribbean” is turned the other way up when “an outdated flame arrives and reignites love in his life, however she brings hazard along with her” — had a glitzy world premiere at London’s Raindance Movie Competition in August 2018. 

Nonetheless, for causes that may solely be speculated upon, the screening shut out press (invitations had been rescinded on the day) and produced zero opinions or reactions. The choice might have been linked to a spot of on-line backlash over two early posters that includes Blackbird’s older, sharp-suited and really a lot credited male stars (together with Eric Roberts and Patrick Bergin) alongside an assortment of youthful, bikini-clad and uncredited girls (notably Nicole Evans). However makes an attempt to search out out had been met with silence. 

It then went darkish, even on Flatley’s social media pages, beforehand crammed with excitable updates in regards to the movie and sun-soaked behind the scenes snaps. Had Blackbird been buried in one in every of Flatley’s gardens? Had he made the movie purely to fulfill his personal cravings to get in entrance of a digicam and play James Bond? 

With movie followers’ curiosity piqued, a following slowly started to emerge. 

Nothing was then heard about Blackbird for nearly three years till it made a peculiar look because the opening night time movie of 2021’s inaugural Monaco Streaming Competition (a screening, regardless of the competition’s identify, not really streamed), the place Flatley gained one of the best actor award. Then silence once more.

However in early July this summer time it was introduced, very a lot out of the blue, that the movie — which lots of its watchers had assumed would by no means see the sunshine of day, no less than publicly — was set to be popping out in cinemas in Eire and the U.Okay. Wildcard Distribution, a Dublin-based banner greatest identified for releasing a number of famous indie titles throughout Eire, had been behind the discharge. Aided by its first trailer — which instantly attracted consideration because of a big dollop of melodrama, plus a wholesome assortment of unique areas, engaging girls, blood-splattered white tuxedos and Flatley sporting a jaunty fedora — the information was met with wild celebration (and a contact of comedy derision) on social media. For the various on the market who hadn’t been conscious of the movie earlier than, the speedy response was principally one in every of dumbfounded shock. As one tweeter succinctly famous: “holy fuckballs”. 

Vickery claims he had confirmed Blackbird for the Prince Charles Cinema, the place he says the movie completely falls into the world of “curio” titles it focuses on, inside 24 hours of the U.Okay. launch being introduced (by way of THR). 

“I booked this solely on the understanding that I do know that folks, myself included, are intrigued by this film due to its origin and its journey,” he says. “There’s simply going to be a pool of individuals on the market which are determined to see what the hell it’s about. It’s going to be an expertise.”

British cinema chain Showcase goes a step additional and giving Blackbird the total schedule remedy throughout all its 17 U.Okay. websites. “We’re very completely happy to embrace it,” says its director of movie shopping for Richard Leonard. “Persons are ready for one thing that essentially goes to be enjoyable and one thing which you could speak about forward of time. The truth that it’s already getting cult standing reveals there’s an enormous buzz. It’s such a rare transformation, isn’t it? Has anybody ever had the picture of Michael Flatley as Russell Crowe?”

As a result of it’s not merely the bizarre four-year journey from world premiere to launch that has helped create Blackbird’s near-mythical standing. There’s additionally the person — a person who made a fortune from his frenzied toe-tapping and whose ft had been famously as soon as insured for $57.6 million — on the helm.

Leonard describes Flatley’s shift from super-hoover to super-spy as one thing not seen since “Liam Neeson first began chasing villains,” however others counsel it’s a way more dramatic leap.

“It’s type of like if [British TV gardener] Alan Titchmarsh all of a sudden introduced he’d made an motion movie,” says Timon Singh, founding father of the Bristol Unhealthy Movie Membership, one of many U.Okay.’s best-known film golf equipment specializing within the celebration of enjoyably terrible titles. 

“It’s bought nothing to do with Michael Flatley himself, or the actual fact it’s a person of his age, health stage and experience, it’s simply such a wild swing from what he’s finished earlier than that has bought individuals fascinated.”

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Michael Flatley as Victor Blackley in ‘Blackbird’

Courtesy of Dancelord Footage

There’s nonetheless the query of the place Blackbird will ultimately land relating to movie categorization.

Lots of its early followers had been, comparable to Singh, followers of cinema that falls into the band of being so unhealthy that it crosses the brink into one thing to be relished. Early clues definitely pointed to some tell-tale indicators, most notably Flatley’s multi-hyphenated credit (very like Wiseau’s). And, like The Room, as soon as described because the “Citizen Kane of unhealthy motion pictures,” it’s additionally a movie that seems to have been fueled by ardour and self-belief and made and not using a shred of irony, not like a number of B-list options typically put collectively by filmmakers with tongue firmly in cheek hoping to money in on cult infamy. 

A number of on-line have famous that the trailer for Blackbird closely reminded them of the episode in The Workplace the place Steve Carell’s Michael Scott unveils his personal self-made spy movie Risk Degree Midnight (starring himself as Agent Michael Scarn). 

For Rob Hill, writer of The Unhealthy Film Bible and an skilled in so-called “Egosploitation” movies, the very important aspect for a nasty film to transcend into the cult unhealthy film realm is that it must be “utterly delusional.” Basically, it must have given the filmmaker the chance to “present how they see themselves,” he says. So in The Room, Wiseau’s character Johnny isn’t essentially the best man or one of the best fighter. He’s the most well-liked man, beloved by everybody round him. “That entire film is simply individuals telling Tommy why they assume he’s good,” says Hill. 

In Blackbird, it ought to be famous, Flatley performs Blackley, a suave, well-dressed and highly-capable spy with a beautiful (and youthful) blonde lady seemingly vying for his affections.

However vainness mission or not (Flatley assured The Hollywood Reporter again in 2018 that it undoubtedly wasn’t), what is evident from the trailer is that Blackbird isn’t some cheaply thrown collectively affair.

For all of the overblown drama (a clip of an open-shirted and red-faced Flatley screaming “I’ll by no means get previous this!” has already develop into a much-tweeted favourite), it’s a really slick-looking manufacturing that quite a lot of time, effort and assets have gone into. It additionally options settings that embrace components of Flatley’s personal multi-million greenback property portfolio (a lot was shot at his Castlehyde mansion in Eire’s County Cork, not too long ago up on the market for Euro 12.5 million, whereas his house in Barbados can also be believed to have been used). And as for the music, when the discharge was first introduced in July, Flatley excitedly revealed that none aside from Sinead O’Connor had recorded the closing tune.

“On paper, it feels like an enormous ego journey, however the trailer seems to be very well shot and clearly has some manufacturing worth. And I don’t know what Flatley is like as an actor, however he doesn’t look unhealthy,” notes Singh. “And the entire thing about him having finished a Wiseau in that he’s written, produced, financed, directed and starred in it… I feel you possibly can solely say he’s pulled a Wiseau if it fails. If it succeeds, he’s pulled an Orson Welles.”

Whereas “doing a Wiseau” could seem that last item any aspiring filmmaker, not simply Flatley, desires to be labeled with, The Room — as undoubtedly the best-known unhealthy movie in existence, thanks partly to James Franco’s 2017 comedic making-of biopic The Catastrophe Artist — remains to be packing theaters around the globe. Vickery says the month-to-month screening on the Prince Charles Cinema often sells out, typically with a brand new crowd every time fairly than simply returning obsessives, and Wiseau himself is booked to return in February to current a displaying — and spur ticket gross sales even additional — after a number of years away.

Whether or not Blackbird has the legs to enter the realm of a cult movie that warrants repeat theatrical viewings is nearly fully depending on whether or not the viewers will get behind it and creates a momentum. The Room, after all, landed with a near-silent thud when it was first launched in a single cinemas in LA in 2003, solely to be picked up by a small legion of movie fanatics and ultimately snowballing right into a must-see cinematic expertise around the globe, and all earlier than the age of social media. 

“We’ll solely know if Blackbird is a month-to-month screening for rep homes around the globe in two or three years time,” says Vickery. “I hope so and all people who I’ve spoken to who’s reserving it or has their eye on it’s hoping so. I’m not going to deride this film — I’m actually hoping that it’s bought sufficient into it that I can have interaction with and luxuriate in it and take it for what it’s. I need the viewers to be on that very same web page with me, which at all times makes it extra enjoyable.” 

A lot might relaxation on whether or not there are any stand-out — and maybe quotable — moments or working themes from the movie that may assist embed Blackbird into in style tradition, very like the way in which followers throw plastic spoons throughout screenings of The Room or repeat traces comparable to “oh hai, Mark”. “He must have a catchphrase,” notes Vickery. “Or put on the identical outfit all through.” Flatley’s ever-present jaunty fedora within the trailer may properly be one thing that audiences latch onto. Leonard says Showcase might be leaning closely on the road “I’m not the person I was” from the trailer in its advertising push, emphasizing Flatley’s unlikely transformation. 

And whereas Wiseau has made a whole residing out of The Room and its extended ongoing afterlife, it’s not clear whether or not Flatley would wish to or, given his dance-accrued fortune, even must. 

THR understands that he’s going to be doing the U.Okay. media circuit to advertise the movie forward of its launch, however the thought of him touring cinemas in the years that observe is one other matter fully. That being mentioned, whereas Blackbird’s finances hasn’t been revealed, as The Instances reported earlier this yr, the accounts for the Blackbird Movie Productions — the movie’s devoted firm owned by Flatley — confirmed debt of three.5 million euros ($3.6 million) on the finish of 2020, so there could also be stress from accountants for the movie to make as a lot cash as attainable (an element that may very well be behind its surprising launch). 

Given the joy, the worst attainable end result for Blackbird — and one that would instantly cancel out its cult standing credentials — is that it’s simply okay. 

“If it’s spectacular or if it’s spectacularly unhealthy, that’s high quality both manner,” says Singh. “But when it’s simply by the books, and I’m sat there with 200 individuals and after 20 minutes I’m like, ‘oh god, that is actually boring,’ that’s the worst factor I can see taking place. But when it’s flashy and enjoyable and trendy, and everybody’s having fun with it, even when it’s in a tacky manner or an ironic manner or an earnest manner, that’s nice.”

However after 4 years of wait, a mysterious and speculation-fuelled journey to display screen — maybe, most significantly — the mere thought of seeing Michael Flatley pulling a couple of 007 strikes in a film he wrote for himself and paid for, expectations are excessive. 

As Singh notes: “I feel the explanation everybody has a such a morbid fascination and curiosity round Blackbird is just because the Lord of the Dance has made a spy movie.”

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