Tom Tykwer’s Perfume: the Story of a Murderer was released in theaters in 2006, but it’s seeing another day for a very particular reason: the rebirth of Odorama. Well, not quite. The film is getting a limited re-release accompanied by a “scent track,” with customized perfumes created to heighten the filmgoing experience by corresponding with certain scenes. In a film about a deranged killer who has a superhuman sense of smell and an obsession with getting sniffs, it’s an apt feature to introduce.
Basically, it’s ritzy Odorama, the scratch-and-sniff technology brought to theatres by John Waters in 1981 with Polyester. Instead of dog poop and sweaty sneakers, the scents are Thierry Mugler fragrances, a far cry from Odorama’s wacky, intentionally gross-out roots. Back in the early 2000s, perfumer Christophe Laudamiel heard that a film adaptation of his favorite novel was in the works and got busy with his vision: crafting scents to match the pivotal scenes of the story. Some are pleasant sounding, like Baby, Sea, and Baldini’s Boutique, but others are harsher – like Paris 1738, which mixes together notes of “sewage, rotting food and horse sweat.” Yummy.
Laudamiel then took the products to Constantin films and Mugler, who both loved the idea, but the fragrances were only available to moviegoers in limited theaters in the lobby. With the re-release of the film, the scents will be given to audience members on card-stock strips so that they can sniff away during the intended moments.
Odorama, Smell-O-Vision, and related scent tracking have never quiet caught on with audiences, because people have generally found it too distracting to exist as a feature with every film; it could be difficult to manage tracking down the corresponding smells while also trying to keep track of the movie’s plot, and in the case of Smell-O-Vision specifically, sometimes the technology just flat out didn’t work properly.
But isn’t it fun for just a special screening or two? Everybody loves a gimmick, and offering special features to amplify the moviegoing experience is another way to keep things fresh and fun. While the Perfume re-release probably isn’t going to be a big box office hit, “aromascope” found its way into our lexicon in 2011 with Spy Kids: All the Time in the World. Not only that, but the film was in 4D – what kid could resist?
Earlier this year, The Little Mermaid was back on screens across the nation with an interactive twist; kids could download an app for their iPads (their parents’ iPads?) that allowed them to play games during the movie, compete against other audience members, and look at lyrics so they could sing along with Sebastian and Ariel. Truly, a nightmare for anyone over ten years old, but probably a blast for the children.
And by far, the reigning champion of special screenings is The Rocky Horror Picture Show, featured any given Friday night at the junkiest theater in your hometown, brought to you by some people from the drama department at your high school. Rocky Horror is as much about the props and callbacks as it is about the film at this point, a collaborative experience where people throw toast at the screen just because they can, wear the trashiest costumes they can procure and have mastered the same dance to be performed like a glittery ritual at the altar of Tim Curry. The formula has lept to other cult movies as well; if you’ve never been to a screening of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room where a thousand plastic spoons rain down on you every time they show that bizarre framed photo of a spoon, you’re really missing out.
So maybe, just maybe, Laudamiel is onto something here with his fancypants fragrances and artistic collaboration. He certainly thinks so, calling scent “3D in your mind,” and the only aspect of cinema that hasn’t been exploited yet. It doesn’t seem like it will be as viable and commercial as he is hoping, but in terms of special screenings, it’s a fascinating premise.
There are just so many films with the potential to be sniffable.