MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: The unrated and sexually explicit trailer for Nymphomaniac was accidentally played at a showing of the children's animated film Frozen.
There’s a journalism adage that states, "Everyone reads the false report and no one reads the correction." That’s true enough with newspapers but it’s an even bigger deal in the Internet age, where not only does news circulate faster, but that widespread original story is likely to show up in searches long after the report was disproved or corrected. That appears to be the case with the story of how the sexually explicit "red band" trailer for Nymphomaniac was accidentally shown at a theater filled with moviegoers there to see Disney’s animated Frozen.
Tracking the story is a fascinating exercise in how an urban legend is formed.
The original report came from a Tampa Bay, Florida, Fox affiliate, which reported simply "Sexually explicit movie shows instead of Disney film." In the article, it notes:
A Pinellas Park 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 states, "A spokesperson for Regal Cinemas said the other scene was part of the wrong movie playing accidentally."
That article was published on Nov. 30, 2013. A couple of days later, the British movie website Mosh News 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 websites to suddenly start running the story as though it were fact (something that, as you can see, Mosh News specifically did not do). The U.K. newspaper The Guardian posted a story on its 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, five-hour film by Danish writer/director Lars von Trier that tells the life story of a nymphomaniac named Joe. Actress Stacy Martin plays young Joe and Charlotte Gainsbourg the older Joe. As you might note from the title, it involves a lot of sex scenes. The trailer is quite explicit, and thus is a "red band" trailer.
There are two types of movie trailers: Green band trailers were initially those trailers deemed acceptable by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to be shown to all audiences, while red band trailers were those only permitted to be screened with R or NC-17 rated films. They gained their names because they’re 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 through international news outlets, many of whom cited The Guardian (although it appears as though the popular website Gawker was the first place to pick up on the Mosh News article). It makes sense that it would spread so far, as it’s 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 TheWrap was quickly on the case, and in an interview with Matt Cowal, senior vice president of marketing and publicity for Magnolia Pictures, he learned the trailer was never actually sent out to distributors -- let alone this specific Regal Cinemas multiplex, which was never going to play Nymphomaniac (the film just came out in the United States and sure enough, it’s 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 download the trailer and load it on to the Regal digital projection system, much like Brad Pitt's character in Fight Club (which was set back in the days when a projectionist actually could splice in frames from different movies into a 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 effort for another film or trailer in the hub to be shown. It would still be a pretty notable mistake, but one that’s certainly more likely. One film that was playing at that multiplex was Dallas Buyers Club, which opens with a roughly minute-long sex scene (after roughly a minute of opening production titles). The sex scene is all silhouettes, and the name of the film doesn’t appear on screen until nearly two minutes in, so it’s reasonable that no one in the Frozen audience would immediately identify it as Dallas Buyers Club. That fits in with what Regal says 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 appeared), 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 the chances are slim enough that it was not Nymphomaniac shown that I’m 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."
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Be sure to check out my Entertainment Urban Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the worlds of TV, Movies and Music!