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The film debuted at No. 2 in both France and Italy, generating the year's third-best box office return on an opening weekend in Italy. Said Roberto Proia, distribution chief of the film's Italian distributor Moviemax, about its surprisingly warm reception, "Almost two years after his death, Ledger has a huge fanbase which, along with the rest of the stellar cast, certainly contributed hugely. [...] We also found out that teenagers massively love Gilliam, and we did not expect this. He really has rock star status." (source)

The structure of this sentence strikes me as unusual. Can you say something like

Said John, "I didn't like the movie."

Can "said" appear at the beginning of the sentence like this?

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This style doesn’t strike me as odd in the context of journalism.

I wouldn’t expect to see it in a short sentence like yours, but in a newspaper article where a quote is preceded by a person’s name and role or job title, it seems fine, especially with that part about the “surprisingly warm reception” thrown in.

Perhaps the writer did not want to put a lot of words between the word said and the person’s name, which is what would happen if we rephrased it like this:

Roberto Proia, distribution chief of the film's Italian distributor Moviemax, said about its surprisingly warm reception, "Almost two years after his death, Ledger has a huge fanbase.”

Journalists often try to pack a lot of information in a single sentence, so you’ll sometimes run across constructs that might seem out-of-place in other settings, like a novel.

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You're right that it's unusual, but it is a valid use of 'said'. You'll often find it in poetry rather than prose; in this case, I think it's used so that the writer can give the speaker a full introduction without breaking up the text of the quote. A more conventional structure would be something like this:

"Almost two years after his death," said Roberto Proia, distribution chief of the film's Italian distributor Moviemax, about its surprisingly warm reception, "Ledger has a huge fanbase which, along with the rest of the stellar cast, certainly contributed hugely. [...] We also found out that teenagers massively love Gilliam, and we did not expect this. He really has rock star status."

This has the same meaning, but it's difficult to read. We start with a quote, then go into an attribution that's longer than the part of the quote we've already read, then go back to the quote.

Since hardly anybody is going to know who Roberto Proia is, he needs to be introduced so that readers can understand why what he said is important. The same applies to the name Moviemax, a name that most people will not recognise. Both of these names have to be introduced in order for the quote to be relevant, but putting them in the middle of the quote breaks up the flow. Putting them at the end of the quote is awkward, since we need to read the quote first and THEN find out why it's important.

Another way to structure it might be:

Roberto Proia, distribution chief of the film's Italian distributor Moviemax, about its surprisingly warm reception, said "Almost two years after his death, Ledger has a huge fanbase which, along with the rest of the stellar cast, certainly contributed hugely. [...] We also found out that teenagers massively love Gilliam, and we did not expect this. He really has rock star status."

This also works, but it puts a lot of space between the name at the beginning, and the Said at the end. By starting with said, we can read the introduction knowing that we're going to be reading something this person has said.

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It's valid but unusual.

We usually write:

John said, "I didn't like the movie."

Or

"I didn't like the movie," said John.

Writing

Said John, "I didn't like the movie."

sounds strange, I'd say it sounds archaic, like you're trying to sound like someone from hundreds of years ago. I'd only do it if you deliberately want to sound odd.

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