I’m still outraged by what happened at the Oscars. No, not that little millionaire versus millionaire brawl that brought out the worst possible takes from the worst possible people. (White mates – you really need to stop telling each other off so easily.)
No, I’m seething about the Oscars for a different reason this year. Of course, “CODA” was a feel-good choice that, despite all its good intentions, will sink into the soft and mean Oscar quagmire of former undeserving Best Picture winners. (Say hello to “The English Patient,” “Forrest Gump,” “Titanic,” “The King’s Speech,” “Argo,” and “Green Book” while you’re at it.) So, so bad is nothing new, nor particularly interesting, so I’m going to skip the Oscars by relegating some compelling and reliable real-world feel-good moments to a non-televised pre-show.
After all, who would want to see screen legends like Samuel L. Jackson, Liv Ullmann and Danny Glover receive well-deserved statuettes in front of an adoring crowd of their peers? Oh wait, everyone. Everyone would like that. But most glaring (to me, anyway) was the fact that legendary writer, director, and comedian Elaine May received her freaking Bill-Murray award, and I still don’t see it. (The Governors Awards ceremony isn’t even online to watch — and I watched.)
Naturally, the iconic May is used to being scorned by Hollywood — and being hilariously funny about it. As one of the only women to direct Hollywood films in the 1970s, May was unsurprisingly both brilliant and perpetually overlooked. Of his four career achievements, three (“The Heartbreak Kid”, “A New Leaf”, “Mikey and Nicky”) are rock killers. (And “Ishtar” isn’t quite the hacky punchline that sarcastic would-be critics would have you believe.) I highly recommend checking them out — except, in one blatant case, you can’t.
May’s 1972 film “The Heartbreak Kid” is a darker than dark comedy starring Charles Grodin as a honeymooning groom who immediately abandons his sunburned new bride (a very funny Jeannie Berlin, Oscar-nominated daughter of May) to pursue the insipid beach bunny (Cybill Shepherd) who Grodin imagines will make all his male fantasies come true. As well as practically inventing what we call “gritty comedy,” the film functions as a typically sharp, May-based dissection of the self-obsessed male ego, and a kind of referendum on the 1970s. themselves. May, in addition to directing, served as a de facto co-writer on Neil Simon’s screenplay, his improvisational style shaping the story and performances into a uniquely biting classic.
And you can’t see it.
“The Heartbreak Kid” is just one worthy movie that fell into cinematic limbo, a fate far more common than you might think. Not to get all the “I told you so” here, but when that longtime video store clerk warned everyone to resist the lure of the all-digital streaming oasis that ultimately destroyed your store local video (RIP, Videoport, you were too good for this world), that’s the kind of thing I was talking about.
Physical media persist. Once a VHS tape, DVD or Blu-ray is hit, it exists, no matter what the vagaries of the market. “The Heartbreak Kid” has never been on DVD legitimately, and there are no plans for it to be. Thank those finicky capitalists at chemicals giant Bristol Myers Squibb, whose brief foray into film acquisition saw plenty of movies (besides “The Heartbreak Kid,” don’t bother looking for “Sleuth” by 1972) left behind in the money. profit market.
We think movies are forever. They are not – unless someone (with money) decides they are worth preserving. Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation estimates that around 90% of all silent films have simply disappeared, while half of all films made before 1950 no longer exist in any form. For moviegoers, it’s a tragedy, and like all national tragedies, the damage and neglect has fallen disproportionately on the least represented. This means that films made by women, people of color and others marginalized by the industry are far more likely to be deemed unworthy of restoration and preservation.
A group of directors like Nancy Savoca (“Household Saints”), Mary Harron (“I Shot Andy Warhol”) and Shola Lynch (“Chisholm ’72: Unbought and Unbossed”) have banded together to form Missing Movies, dedicated to unraveling the distribution rights to films hitherto deemed unworthy. Besides the three movies mentioned, other notable movies you can’t see include Julie Taymor’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Titus”, the concert film “Home of the Brave” by Laurie Anderson, “Black Girl” by Ossie Davis and films from directors Charles Burnett, Robert Duvall, DA Pennebaker, Mira Nair and so on. (Just a note that Videoport made pretty much all of these movies. I told you.)
The fact is, with every shiny new innovation in home viewing, the money-conscious market determines what stays and what gets lost, sometimes irrevocably. As a hardcore seeker of the weirdest fringes of cinema, I am a hoarder of physical media. My home-made movie shelves groan under the weight of cheap box sets from companies — thank you Mill Creek Entertainment, you kooks — that almost literally sweep up discarded movie ephemera and slap them on plastic. Famous cult director Frank Henenlotter (“Basket Case”) once came across a warehouse full of rotten reels of forgotten (and, of course, mostly forgettable) indie exploitation films from the 1960s-70s, bought them for a song and teamed up with distributor Something Weird Video (bless their filthy hearts) to release dozens of doomed movies under Frank Henenlotter’s Sexy Shockers from the Vaults banner. (I have many)
There should be a discount for people like that. Of course, the film industry wouldn’t bother to televise such a thing. No money in it.
Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.
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