For years, the people behind the biopic of the FBI official who leaked details of the Watergate scandal have faced an unusual challenge: Everyone knows who he is, but he’s not quite a household name. Worse, the name people do know him by just so happens to also be the name of a famous pornographic film about a woman whose clitoris is located in her esophagus. What the heck are you supposed to call this thing?
Unwilling to use the words “Deep” or “Throat” in the title of their Mark Felt biopic — the filmmakers wanted to avoid any association with mob-funded pornography — the people involved in the film have bounced around a few titles over the years. Let us relive their struggle.
When the project was first announced back in 2006, only a year after Felt went public, the film was still untitled, a possible foreshadowing of the difficulty to come. It stayed that way throughout the long development process, in which surely, a good title must have seemed just around the corner.
The movie finally got off the ground nine years later with Liam Neeson’s casting, and by now it had a name: Felt, the kind of bog-standard biopic title that worked for Trumbo, Nixon, and Capote. (Heck, Neeson had even starred in a last-name biopic before, with Kinsey.) It’s the kind of name you come up with at the end of a two-hour meeting that’s failed to produce any real winners.
The movie kept this title throughout production, but on the eve of the film’s release, somebody somewhere must have gotten worried the American public would confuse it for a documentary about soft textiles. When the film was acquired by Sony Pictures Classics in May, it suddenly had a new title: The Silent Man, a name seemingly inspired by Bob Woodward’s 2006 book about Felt, The Secret Man.
But no matter how silent or secret Felt was, the powers that be must have considered that title too generic to make a splash in the wave of fall releases. Only a few weeks later, the first photos from the project would reveal it had yet another title: Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House, 11 words that not only tell the public who the movie will be about, but also give them a helpful reminder of what he did. To put this mouthful in context, word count–wise, it’s somewhere between The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.
And so, to the dismay of theater-marquee operators everywhere, the film is now arriving in theaters on Friday with that verbose title, which is already on its way to entering the pantheon of meme-able titles alongside Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. (Try it with other biopics, it’s fun: Abraham Lincoln: The Man Who Won the Civil War; Alan Turing: The Man Who Revolutionized Computing But Was Persecuted for His Sexuality.) It’s just a pity Nora Ephron’s not around anymore. She would have figured out what to call this thing.