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Quaid sues over financial rose-stemming

Posted by Ty Burr  March 24, 2006 04:37 PM

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If you're a lawyer (or, like me, just live with one), there's some interesting reading in the complaint that actor Randy Quaid filed yesterday against Focus Features and the producers of "Brokeback Mountain," James Schamus and David Linde. The gist is that the longtime character actor is accusing the defendants of "movie laundering," signing him up for what he was told was a "low-budget, art-house" film when they in fact intended all along to take the film wide with the backing of Universal Pictures marketing and distribution and, indeed, availed themselves of a higher budget with Universal's help. While Quaid agreed to waive his fee for the film, believing the producers' claim that "we can't pay anything, everyone is making a sacrifice to make this film," he now feels he's owed $10 million for "true fees and contingent compensation plaintiffs would have earned, all out-of-pocket expenses plaintiffs have incurred, and disgorgement by defendants of their unjustly obtained profits."

God, I love legal talk.

Beyond the fact that this represents the only time Randy Quaid would be paid $10 million to appear in a movie, the complaint has some amusing high-falutin' characterizations of Quaid. "An instantly recognizable household name and much-admired actor on the world's stage," runs one passage. Goes another: "The creative process of preparing for the role of Joe Aguirre was one that would require months of Randy Quaid's time and meticulous efforts as an artist."

Don't get me wrong: I love Randy Quaid. He is responsible for one of the most deathless quotes in cinema history (that would be "I don't know why they call this Hamburger Helper; it tastes jes' fahn by itself," from "National Lampoon's Vacation.") He has played indelible roles, from the geek in "The Last Picture Show" to LBJ and "Colonel" Tom Parker on TV. The part of Joe Aquirre is fairly crucial to "Brokeback" -- he hires the two men and sets the tone of the macho, inarticulate culture in which they live and will love -- and Quaid makes it matter.

But $10 million in compensation and for pain and suffering -- for less than five minutes of screen time?

What the lawsuit really exposes -- and about time -- is the entire Hollywood house of cards on which notions of "independent film" vs "studio movies" are built. If Quaid actually considered a movie starring two hot young male actors, directed by Ang Lee, and produced by one of the premiere boutique outfits in town to be a no-name indie, then he's as guilty of self-delusion as -- well, everyone in the film industry and the media that covers it.

For the record: independent movies are what's playing at the Boston Underground Film Festival (see the blog entry below). Films like "Brokeback Mountain" -- in fact, almost all the "little" movies up for Oscars this past year -- are made by industry insiders who have taken over a middle-to-highbrow turf conceded by the studios themselves.

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Ty Burr is a film critic with The Boston Globe.

Mark Feeney is an arts writer for The Boston Globe.

Janice Page is movies editor for The Boston Globe.

Tom Russo is a regular correspondent for the Movies section and writes a weekly column on DVD releases.

Katie McLeod is Boston.com's features editor.

Rachel Raczka is a producer for Lifestyle and Arts & Entertainment at Boston.com.

Emily Wright is an Arts & Entertainment producer for Boston.com.

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