‘Illusionist’ vs. ‘Illusionist’

Posted by · 6:03 am · October 29th, 2010

I stumbled upon this days-old THR story via Anne Thompson, and while I’m glad to see it hasn’t caught on in the blogosphere, I feel compelled to point out just what bullshit it is. (My bad: Kris alluded to the news before THR did.) It would appear that Sylvain Chomet’s probable animated Oscar contender “The Illusionist” is being hassled by parties attached to the 2006 Ed Norton-starring magician drama of the same title, who curiously feel that some kind of trademark is being violated:

Illusionist Distribution, LLC, claims to be the rights-holder of that [2006] film, and is upset that Sony intends to release its Illusionist, with a “strikingly similar” storyline about a touring master illusionist who falls in love.

Illusionist Distribution has filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court against SPC and Pathe on grounds of trademark infringement and unfair competition, asking a judge to enjoin the November release of The Illusionist. The company is also seeking disgorgement of all profits plus compensatory damages.

This is idiotic in so many ways it’s hard to know where to begin. Did they even see the 2010 “Illusionist” before levelling these charges? It may surprise them to learn that the protagonist of Chomet’s film is not a “master illusionist” but an unremarkable music-hall entertainer, and that he has no romantic life in the film whatsoever. I don’t recall any murder-mystery subplot in it either.

The films are both period pieces about magicians, I’ll give them that — but if that counts as a “striking similarity,” they could have gone through this four years ago with the near-simultaneously released, markedly more similar, “The Prestige.” (Uh, wasn’t that greater “competition” for the 2006 film than a European animated arthouse pic?)

That’s not even taking into account the fact that Chomet’s film is based upon a Jacques Tati script written a whole half-century before the 2006 film hit screens, so if they’re trying to imply some kind of creative infringement has taken place, they’ll need to get hold of a time machine.

The only solid fact this really comes down to is that the films share a title — except it’s well known that titles cannot be copyrighted. (If they could, a 1983 Dutch comedy that precedes both films would have some say in the matter.) Hey, ever notice all those “striking similarities” between David Cronenberg’s “Crash” and Paul Haggis’s 2005 Oscar champ? How about the two 2010 releases — one an Amy Adams romcom, the other a Mexican sadomasochism study — called  “Leap Year?” Good luck in court, fellas.

[Image: Sony Pictures Classics]

→ 26 Comments Tags: , , , | Filed in: Daily

26 responses so far

  • 1 10-29-2010 at 6:09 am

    Glenn said...

    This is beyond absurd. It’s fantasy.

    “unfair competition”

    Wouldn’t a tiny, arthouse animated film with no dialogue be the one in the position of being compared/confused with the other, the one that stars a bunch of household and acclaimed actors?

    “The company is also seeking disgorgement of all profits plus compensatory damages.”

    Can’t Sylvain Chomet just give them $5, since it’s quite obvious that “The Illusionist” circa ’10 ain’t gonna be raking in the big bucks.

  • 2 10-29-2010 at 6:40 am

    Carson Dyle said...

    So Norton is the illusionist, Biel is the little girl, and Giamatti is… the rabbit?

    Pretty much identical, now that you mention it.

    Also, I haven’t seen The Messenger, but I’m assuming that Ben Foster gets burned at the stake in the end.

  • 3 10-29-2010 at 6:55 am

    Yabby said...

    TWILIGHT will always be the Newman/Sarandon/Hackman film to me.

  • 4 10-29-2010 at 6:57 am

    billybil said...

    Oh my God this is annoying! I hate this shit!

  • 5 10-29-2010 at 7:05 am

    Graysmith said...

    I wish the U.S. had laws against people making frivolous lawsuits. I can’t even imagine how much time, money and energy is wasted in courts because of utter idiocy like this.

  • 6 10-29-2010 at 7:14 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Yabby: Indeed. I actually saw the Benton film on a bargain rack the other day and had a gleeful vision of careless Twihards blindly seizing upon it, only to be baffled at home.

  • 7 10-29-2010 at 7:23 am

    Bradley said...

    Guy, I know it’s slightly off topic but did you get to see How I Ended This Summer last night? I was at the 20.15 screening and am curious to hear your thoughts, I’d imagine it’s something you’d admire a great deal.

    The weight of the film and the implications of their actions hit me more this morning on the train into work, I feel last night I was too tired to appreciate it fully on the spot. Other than a slight pacing issue in the last third and one decision in particular I couldn’t quite get behind I thought it was quietly powerful. Sorry for being vague, but I’d hate to spoil it for others.

  • 8 10-29-2010 at 7:30 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    I did, and I’ll write about it in my final LFF review piece. I did post some brief thoughts on Twitter:

    “HOW I ENDED THIS SUMMER (Popogrebsky ’10, A-) Who am I to disagree with @trim_obey, @NicksFlickPicks AND Patti Clarkson? Well chosen, #LFF.”

    “The film itself? Shivery study of isolation, brotherhood and so much weather, canvas shrinking and swelling from scene to scene. A knockout.”

    I guess you could say I liked it.

  • 9 10-29-2010 at 7:33 am

    kel said...

    and isnt THE CRYING GAME just a BEACHES remake

  • 10 10-29-2010 at 7:45 am

    Michael said...

    @ kel

    That made me LOL. Thank you for that (:^D)

  • 11 10-29-2010 at 9:05 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I actually mentioned this in my Megamind piece:


    And the thing is, if the film is indeed held from release this year, it would certainly make the animated feature race interesting, I think.

  • 12 10-29-2010 at 9:12 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Ah, I didn’t spot that.

  • 13 10-29-2010 at 9:31 am

    Erik815 said...

    Personally, I always find myself confusing “the Illusionist” with the obscure 1984 Dutch film of the same name. I simply assumed everyone in the world had this problem, no?

  • 14 10-29-2010 at 10:37 am

    /3rtfu11 said...

    Crash (1996) David Cronenberg (****)

    Crash (2005) Crap Best Picture Winner (*1/2)

  • 15 10-29-2010 at 12:44 pm

    Graysmith said...

    I think they could just as well release the film with the original French title.. L’Illusioniste. Sounds way classier, even if it means the exact same thing.

  • 16 10-29-2010 at 3:04 pm

    Maxim said...

    Your righteous anger doesn’t hide complete failure to give any actual thought to the situation.

    Imagine, if you will, that you are on a movie blog and are reading a comment from someone who says, “I just saw Crash and absolutely hated it. It was terrible! (note: title picked at random).

    How would you know which of the two films this comment reffered to. I’ve seen situations like that before where there was absolutely no futher context to differentiate between the films. The situation with movies that have characters with similar professions can lead to genuine confusion.

    And Tapley, since you did bring up Crash, it would have been worthvile to mention that Cronenberg wasn’t very pleased when Haggis’ title was announced.

  • 17 10-29-2010 at 6:59 pm

    Glenn said...

    Maxim, common sense goes a long way. Why would someobody just write on a blog “Crash is a bad movie” as some sort of random nonsequitor? If someone wrote that in 2010 it would surely be because people were actually discussing one version or the other and people would be smart enough to figure it out.

    common sense… smart… i see where you got confused.

  • 18 10-29-2010 at 7:19 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Maxim: There’s a vast difference between confusion and “trademark infringement.”

  • 19 10-30-2010 at 5:32 am

    RichardA said...

    I didn’t think titles can be trademarked like book titles.

    This is a shame because The Illusionist with Ed Norton was a really good movie that was poorly marketed–probably by the same idiots that’s making this suit.

  • 20 10-30-2010 at 5:34 am

    RichardA said...

    FYC ads: It’s nice to see Gemma Jones being FYC’d for You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger.

  • 21 10-30-2010 at 1:09 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Read the byline before snapping at me, Maxim. Not that hard. This was Guy’s post.

    Why so nasty?

    Also, what Glenn and Guy said.

  • 22 10-30-2010 at 5:44 pm

    Erik815 said...

    When someone writes “Crash is a horrible film” it’s not likely to come out of nowhere. It’s likely that one can infer from context which one is being discussed (i.e. a discussing on Cronenberg, or a discussion on oscar winners, etc.)

    There is to an extent a common knowledge that there are two well-known films called “Crash”, and to date there is one well-known film called “the Illusionist”. In this year’s oscar debate oscarwatchers will come to know the other, and not think anyone is discussing a four year old live action film is being discussed for the quality of its animation. If the French film is successful and acquires a following, there will soon be two well-known films called “the Illusionist”, and any discussion of either film that does not contan contextual markers to indicate which is being discussed will have the writer most likely (and often without being aware) pointing out which one is discussed.

    Similarly, there are literally dozens of films called “Hamlet”, for obvious reasons. Sometimes you can discuss one where the version you’re referring to is obvious (i.e. “I thought Glenn Close was great in Hamlet”), and sometimes you’ll have to indicate which one you’re referring to with the understanding that the person you’re discussing the film with is aware that there is more than one Hamlet (i.e. “Did you see Branagh’s Hamlet? I thought it was indulgent. etc.”)

    And does anyone think people will confuse Bruce Willis’ new film with the Kieslowski classic? Look up “Red” on imdb. There’s 23 films called “Red”. And I’m sure there will be more.

    Bottom line: If I wanna make a film called “the Illusionist” tomorrow, no one can sue me, because it is a common word in the English language, and cannot be trademarked. Same if I made a film called “Red” or “Crash” or “Hamlet” (because it is very much in the public domain). Now if I decided to make a film called “Harry Potter and the deathly hallows” or “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” that might be slighly different case.

  • 23 10-30-2010 at 5:46 pm

    Erik815 said...

    Oops. Guess I’m not winning the oscar for best editing this year.

  • 24 10-31-2010 at 1:13 am

    Glenn said...

    Erik, everything I was trying to say but better. Very well put.

  • 25 11-06-2010 at 9:43 pm

    Duder NME said...

    Like Erik said, but I doubt just anyone could get away with “Star Wars” or “Star Trek”, unless you’re the government.

    I’ve always wondered where the line would be drawn concerning generic terms, especially in the case of “Gladiator”. Was there ever a suit of the 1992 vs 2000 films? But I don’t think that ” it’s well known that titles cannot be copyrighted” because, if so, cases like this wouldn’t be made at all. And if not copyrighted, than at least registered or trademarked, whichever applies.

    Now, back to making “Birth of a Nation”…. IT’S ABOUT AN EVERQUEST STORY. Jeez.

  • 26 11-20-2011 at 10:22 pm

    Gigan737 said...

    Hmm…let’s see?

    The Illusionist (1904)
    De Illusionist (1973)
    De Illusionist (1984)
    The War Illusionist (2001)
    The Illusionist (2009)

    What? They think they own the title? At this rate, might as well sue everything with the word “illusionist”.