So. Tchoupitoulas. How many of you can pronounce the word? And I bet most of you who can, are from South Louisiana. Bill and Turner Ross, whose documentary 45365 won awards at SXSW and Full Frame last year, are currently working on a film about New Orleans nightlife -- amazingly and promisingly, the title is the name of a street that is not in the French Quarter. I grew up in the New Orleans suburbs and I still had to check my spelling on Tchoupitoulas -- it's going to be difficult for people to get right. Still, 45365 was good and I never could remember that title properly, either, entangling it with my zip code and Social Security number and having to describe the movie to people instead.
Do unpronounceable movie titles hinder a movie's popularity, or are they simply part of the fun? In Hollywood Shuffle, the "Sneakin into the Movies" guys hate Amadeus automatically because the title's too hard to say. I can think of some movies with titles I can pronounce, but they're spelled so weirdly that I curse every time I have to look up the exact title: Baadasssss! (I kept chanting "two a's, five s's" as I wrote an essay on it), Se7en, [REC] ... not to mention Inglourious Basterds, which my inner copy editor despises. Finally, there are titles that I can pronounce but hate to do so in public because they're incredibly stupid, like Pootie Tang. Gaaaaah.
The following seven (or so) movies are difficult for some of us to pronounce, or we may be too embarrassed to speak them aloud around others. I'm not saying I can't pronounce any of these titles, but in a few cases it was a challenge. You all can school me in the comments.
Synecdoche, New York (2008)
This movie was my favorite of 2008 but it's also at the top of everyone's list of tough-to-pronounce titles. I found several articles online explaining the phonetic spelling of the name, how it should be said, which dictionary pronunciation was preferable, and so forth. You can always do as certain friends of mine and call it "That Charlie Kaufman film that looks even weirder than its name ... no, I don't want to see it. Let's watch Slumdog Millionaire instead." Your loss.
Koyaanisqatsi (1982) and Powaqqatsi (1988)
I'm proud that I got the spelling right on Koyaanisqatsi without having to look it up. And I did eventually figure how to pronounce it correctly, when we scheduled it to show at LSU back when I was in college. But I never did learn the proper pronunciation for Powaqqatsi, the follow-up film. Apparently there's a click or a pop or something my mouth just did not want to do in mid-word. You can always refer to them as "those experimental 80s films with the Philip Glass scores" if you're hesitant.
I do know how to pronounce Ratatouille. But a lot of people don't ... or so Disney believed. Many posters and ads for this film had a phonetic spelling listed underneath the title in parentheses, to help everyone out. And at least one of the trailers stressed the title in a silly way so we'd all know how to say it. I find it hard to believe that was just for children, either. I'm absurdly pleased Disney let such a potentially difficult title stand for the Brad Bird film and didn't force it to be changed to The Great Rat Chef Adventure or something equally lame.
Thank goodness this Ben Affleck-Jennifer Lopez movie bombed. Not only did we have to have the pronunciation explained to us, but even when pronounced correctly, it sounds really dorky. "GEE-lee." On the other hand, once a movie becomes universally popular and beloved, we stop caring how stupid the title is (Braveheart, Cloverfield). So if this had been the smash hit of the year, we'd probably all be naming our kids Gigli. What a thought.
Zzyzx (2006) and Zyzzyx Rd (2006)
I have no idea how to pronounce either of these movie titles, which to my mind could have benefited from some vowels and a few letters from the front end of the alphabet. What's weird is that movies were made around the same time, too. They take their name from a street in Las Vegas. Zyzzyx Rd, a thriller starring Katherine Heigl and Tom Sizemore, holds a record for the lowest official box-office take ever -- it opened in one Dallas theater and took in a whopping $30. Zzyzx, an even lower-budget film, is also a thriller -- and seems to have gone straight to DVD. Looking at these titles together is making me reach for the Advil bottle.
Admittedly, when Dick had its brief run in theaters in 1999 I was a bit of a delicate flower and the idea of talking about Dick in public was against my shy and retiring nature, even though we are talking about a U.S. President's first name and not any other slang. I had to keep referring to it as "you know, that comedy about Richard Nixon, what's it called?" and therefore made everyone else say the title instead. I would probably be less flaky about it now, or at least take some amusement in it. Other titles along the same lines: Good Dick, Blow and Snatch. "Wanna see Snatch?" sounds like a joke out of Blazing Saddles, for heaven's sakes.
Fortunately, I was too young when this movie was released to have the problem of talking about it in the general public. Because how do you work this into a conversation? "What do you think we should see tonight?" "I heard good things about Ssssss!" "About what? Did you just spit on me?" It could get very Abbott-and-Costello very quickly. The movie is about a serum that could turn people into snakes, and apparently in some countries the title was changed to Ssssnake, which would have been a bit annoying (the old "count the s's" game again") but at least understandable when spoken aloud.