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Tuesday, January 27, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 25.0° F  Fog/Mist
The Daily
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What's the big deal about Public Enemies?
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There's something about all the hysteria surrounding Public Enemies, the blockbuster gangster movie opening July 1, that makes me recoil.

Why is it that this city and state go all weak in the knees at the slightest whiff of Hollywood perfume? Even if this kind of mass behavior is not unique to Madison or Wisconsin, the phenomenon appears all the more acute here in the hinterlands. During the filming of scenes in Madison, Columbus and elsewhere around the state last year, there was a palpable sense of otherwise reasonable people behaving like impressionable schoolgirls at a Hannah Montana promotion.

The rush by public and private interests to lure the production to Wisconsin and the frenzy of swooning fans angling for the slightest glimpse of Johnny Depp and Christian Bale induced a dynamic akin to mosquitoes drawn to a bug zapper. Dzzzt!

Look, Depp and Bale are good actors. But offscreen, when they're walking around in the vicinity of a film set, they're only two people out of almost 6.8 billion on the planet. And it's only a movie. Movies happen all the time. According to Motion Picture Association of America stats, more than 600 domestic movies were released in the U.S. in 2008.

Since the Public Enemies crew passed through Madison and other parts of the state, there has been a lingering debate regarding the advisability of using tax credits to entice filmmakers to America's Dairyland. As Isthmus arts and entertainment editor Kenneth Burns has reported here, Gov. Doyle's budget proposal for the coming biennium would strip out these incentives, despite protestations by Scott Robbe -- executive director for the Milwaukee-based nonprofit Film Wisconsin -- that doing so would void any chance the state would ever land another summer blockbuster like Public Enemies.

Even if that proves to be true, so what? Let's say Depp's switch from swashbuckling pirate of the Caribbean to gangster pirate of the Depression proves sufficient to make Public Enemies a blockbuster rivaling Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which opens two weeks later. Is that somehow important to Wisconsin? Before you answer, you might want to cast your memory back to the mid-1980s, when Back to School was partially shot in Madison. Fun times, sure, but none too substantial a quarter century later.

How Public Enemies will fare in a recession (during a summer of abundant movie choices and a heavy release schedule) remains to be seen. Whether it will prove a boon to Wisconsin in terms of media attention and public interest is also an open question. Jaded after watching thousands of movies, my best contrarian hunch is that it won't prove as much of a boon to Wisconsin as Up will to balloons and the sky, Star Trek to space (the final frontier) or Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to Hogwarts.

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