Men flirted and showed off their muscles through tight-fitting tank tops. Women with no shoes gyrated next to men with no shirts. A D.J. played deep beats. Shachar Keizman, 24, climbed atop an armrest and peeled off his shirt to reveal a chiseled torso. People screamed and stuck dollar bills in his shorts.
Then the lights went down, and Channing Tatum got naked.
Clearview Chelsea Cinemas, a cineplex in Manhattan, had become a makeshift gay bar. It was Friday night, and four theaters were showing “Magic Mike,” the Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh’s new movie about a troupe of male strippers. The pouty-lipped Mr. Tatum, who has been open about his past as a stripper, plays the title character.
“It’s a fun night out with a bunch of gay friends to go see a movie about hot boys,” said Aaron Rhyne, 32, a theatrical projection designer who saw the film with about 10 friends. “We’ve been throwing the trailer around, laughing about it.”
Mr. Rhyne wasn’t alone in organizing a group. While the scene at Chelsea Cinemas may have been more raucous than most, interviews around the country indicated that gay men have been flocking to “Magic Mike” in numbers not seen since the release of “Brokeback Mountain” in 2005. But unlike that film, about two cowboys in love, there’s nothing explicitly gay about “Magic Mike.” Unless you count muscled men thrusting their pelvises without pants. That was enough for Bill Venne and his friends.
“Let’s be honest: it’s men taking their clothes off,” said Mr. Venne, 49, who lives in Minneapolis and saw “Magic Mike” on Sunday with 16 gay men and one straight woman. “It’s the kind of thing you want to see, but not by yourself. A middle-aged gay guy in the audience might as well be wearing a trench coat.”
Released by Warner Brothers at a cost of $7 million, “Magic Mike” finished second at the box office over the weekend, taking in about $39.2 million, a stronger-than-expected showing. (“Ted,” Seth MacFarlane’s film about a crass teddy bear who comes to life, was in first place, with an estimated $54.1 million.) The reviews for “Magic Mike” were mostly positive. Manohla Dargis, writing in The New York Times, called it a “funny, enjoyable romp about male strippers and the American dream.”
The movie has been on the gay radar since the production was announced this year. Mr. Tatum, one of its producers, appeared on the cover of the gay magazine Out, and the trailer has been posted on gay blogs. The film was also promoted at gay pride events across the country last month, like the West Hollywood, Calif., parade that featured a “Magic Mike” float. At the Chelsea Clearview over the weekend, where a stripper-theme photo exhibition was on display, giveaways included “Magic Mike” clothing, posters and dog tags.
Sue Kroll, president for worldwide marketing for Warner Brothers Pictures, said the studio coordinated a “well-concentrated and tailored” campaign intended to capture gay moviegoers’ attention. The demographic wasn’t part of the studio’s initial marketing push, but that quickly changed, Ms. Kroll said, once it became clear there was interest among gay men.
“Every single one of my gay friends was talking about how they couldn’t wait to see it and how gorgeous Matt Bomer is,” she said, referring to the gay actor who plays a stripper in the film. “It wasn’t like we sat down and said, ‘This was the target.’ But we handled it a bit more specifically and overtly for this movie.”
Warner Brothers hired the Karpel Group, a New York entertainment marketing agency, to generate buzz online and at gay bars and clubs. “Hot guys are a big part of the appeal of the movie,” said Craig Karpel, the company’s owner. “It’s something that captures gay men’s attention and imaginations.”
The film’s trailers were an essential piece of the campaign. Dennis Ayers, the editor of AfterElton.com, a pop-culture Web site owned by the gay cable channel Logo, said users of the site hated the first trailer because “it was marketed as a romantic comedy” that focused on Mr. Tatum’s relationship with the female lead, played by Cody Horn.
“It underplayed the reason why gay men would be interested in the film: the male stripper,” he said. “But their marketing changed, and they played up the male form part of it.” That included a red-band trailer, reserved for mature audiences, that showed Mr. Tatum’s posterior.
“I think there’s a change in how straight men are willing to be physically objectified and want that kind of admiration,” Mr. Ayers said. “They are happy to have gay men find them attractive.”
Ms. Kroll said Mr. Soderbergh and Mr. Tatum were “100 percent supportive” of the movie’s outreach to gay filmgoers. “A lot of actors who are at this point in their career might hesitate to make this movie,” Ms. Kroll said. “They don’t want to mess with the broad appeal they have. But Channing’s taking off his clothes, talking about his past and supporting the movie. He’s confident in who he is.”
As much as the movie winks at a gay audience, it was still mostly women who went to see “Magic Mike” over the weekend. According to the database BoxOfficeMojo.com 73 percent of the audience for “Magic Mike” was female. And around 60 percent of women who saw the film went with more than two other people, according to a spokeswoman for Warner Brothers.
Roger Gore, 42, said the gay quotient was low when he and five friends saw the movie in Nashville. “The women were hooting and hollering in the theater,” said Mr. Gore, an-owner of Arrow, a male strip club in Nashville that closed in 2010. “We were a little more subdued.”
Donnajean Ward took a group of straight women and gay men to see the film in Washington.
“It was sexy and fun,” Ms. Ward, 49, said. “But I don’t think anybody walked out of it hot and bothered.”
One of the few straight couples in the audience in Chelsea on Friday was Abraham Fellner and his wife, Diane. She ran an exotic lingerie boutique in Manhattan called the Secret Self that closed four years ago.
“We used to sell things for strippers,” said Ms. Fellner, 78. “I want to see how it’s evolved.”
Mr. Fellner, 87, said he knew the film “was something about male strippers or what have you.” But he also heard it was about “a critique of capitalism.” He added: “That caught me more. I’m interested in ladies, not men.”
from The New York Times
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