Warner Bros.: Avada Kedavra, Healy
'Wizard People, Dear Reader,' Brad Neely's wonderfully wacked-out homage to 'Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone,' is no more
So, Harry Potter has awakened to another tequila sunrise only to find the liquor cabinet locked. A little less than a year since the first public screenings, Warner Bros. has called the kibosh on performances of Brad Neely's Wizard People, Dear Reader, though no official legal action has been taken, and none appears imminent. In fact, the studio hasn't directly contacted the Austin-based comics artist, though according to The New York Times, a Warner Bros. spokesperson suggested he should have contacted them ... but, then, they seem confused about his name.
Wizard People basically consists of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone played in its entirety with the original sound muted to make room for Neely's dizzy narration laying bare the film's adult subtexts, fudging character names and hallucinating rampant alcoholism at Hogwarts (for an interview with Neely during his creation's live-show salad days, see "Dark Side of the Potterverse: Brad Neely's Wizard People, Dear Reader and the Volatility of Artistic Alchemy," July 23, 2004). Early in March, the studio contacted venues in Boston and New York, as well as our own Alamo Drafthouse, to demand cancellation of planned screenings unless the film was played as originally intended. Furthermore, they stipulated that this is to be the case with any and all Warner Bros. properties. So no commentaries, no dubbing, and that Clockwork Orange sing-along? It's off.
The funny thing about this is that Warner Bros. actually loses money by canceling: They're paid rental fees any time Neely does a show (for which he isn't paid). "Who'd be renting 35mm prints of Sorcerer's Stone at all if it weren't for Wizard People?" he jokes. "But I guess that probably made it that much easier to crack down all they'd have to do is call every theatre that had it booked."
And it did happen remarkably quickly. Coolidge Corner Theater in Boston was contacted first, followed by Anthology Film Archives in New York in the same afternoon, and upon return from his canceled bookings in the Northeast, there was bad news on Neely's answering machine at home. "Basically, they called and said they'd found out about Boston and put a stop to it," says Kier-la Janisse of the Alamo, "and they said it sounded like something we would do, so they just wanted to give a head's up that we couldn't show the film altered in any way. ... We'd need express permission, and [they're] not interested in promoting the film in any different form.
"We never would have thought that they would care about anything other than the rental to play the movie," notes Janisse. "We didn't think they'd care, especially since it's really done with reverence for the movie. The fans are Harry Potter freaks, big fans of the original. ... And it never crossed our minds that there'd be any kind of problem."
But after its mention in Boston papers, the jig was up. "What really brought down the house," says Neely, "was I did a really quick little interview for an indie paper, in a section called 'Defend Yourself,' and I was in the hot seat or whatever. And the guy was into bringing out all the adult stuff, the homoerotic undertones, the drinking, and the cuss words. ... And then the Boston Warner Bros. rep called the theatre, and there we go."
Beyond that, the theatres are understandably nervous about offering further details, and Neely clams up whenever he suspects he might get the venues into trouble. "Of course, one really odd thing that emerged was that [the studio was] apparently looking for a guy named 'Healy.' Like, 'We're onto this Healy guy,'" he laughs, finding it bizarrely in tune with his own mangling of character names into monikers like Hardcastle McCormick, Ronnie the Bear, or Catface Meowmers. And then upping the Pynchonesque quality was a bizarre misprint in the New York Times story saying the soundtrack could be downloaded from IllegalArt.com for $35, when it is and always has been free. "The guy who wrote it told me he had no idea where that came from, though they did retract it. Still. It's a little creepy."
As of now, IllegalArt.com has not been contacted, nor have any video stores who rent the soundtrack to go with the movie. But as Roger Ebert encourages cinephiles to make and share their own film commentaries, the backyard Raiders of the Lost Ark remake continues to play around the country, and a snarky Showgirls fan commentary has gone from the underground to a studio-sanctioned extra on the VIP-edition DVD, copyrights and wrongs remain unclear. When the New York screening was canceled, the organizers suggested that they could simply move the event to the planned site of the afterparty in Brooklyn and have Neely do a performance to video projection, but no go.
"I totally balked. I was scared. I had this vision of someone suddenly standing up and going, 'Healy! You must stop!'"