Coco Chanel: Take One

Just as film studios have produced rival theatrical films (Fox’ Volcano versus Universal’s Dante’s Peak), so has TV tried to ride one film’s attention (and publicity budget) with a more modest production, often released prior to a film’s theatrical run.

The dueling biopics Harlow (1965) may not really count, although one can’t imagine someone actually believed shooting a movie using black & white TV tube cameras and dumping the footage to 35mm film had a chance at competing against Joseph E. Levine’s glossy big budget production.

Perhaps the most infamous example of dueling media actually reversed the formula: both Raid on Entebbe and Victory at Entebbe were 1976 teleplays, and were followed by Menachem Golan’s Israeli film Mivtsa Yonatan / Entebbe: Operation Thunderbolt in 1977 (a movie that’s still unavailable here on DVD, let alone with English subtitles).

Next came Rene Cardona’s theatrical sleazefest Guyana: Crime of the Century (1979), and William A. Graham’s teleplay Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones (1980).

The most recent examples of dueling productions include the 1996 Titanic mini-series being broadcast before James Cameron’s 1997 theatrical opus; the direct-to-video War of the Worlds released the same year as Steven Spielberg’s 2005 film, and the 2005 Poseidon Adventure mini-series that preceded Wolfgang Petersen’s 2006 big budget extravaganza.

Sometimes, as with the Entebbe films, there are enough strengths in each production to regard them as, well, worthy, if not distinguished, whereas the 2005 Poseidon mini-series failed as miserably as the feature film to rework a famous story into something dramatically sound and rewarding.

Anne Fontaine’s Coco avant Chanel (2009) is slated for a French Region 2 DVD release in October, but those intrigued by the designer’s early life as a struggling designer can enjoy a sampling of Chanel’s backstory in Coco Chanel (Canada: Anchor Bay Entertainment Canada / U.S.A.: Screen Media), a 2008 French-Italian co-production that aired on the Lifetime Network, and stars Shirley MacLaine, Malcolm McDowell, and Barbora Bobulova.



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