Monday, July 6, 2009

We Need More DVDs That We’re Never Going To Have The Time To Watch! Part One

Here’s some flicks the National Film Board of Ivanlandia demands be released on DVD! If not, the Ivanlandia Secret Police will unleash the gamma-gamma-crush-kill-destroy-pods!

DVD MIA ONE: Teenage Wasteland

I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957)
Directed by Gene Fowler Jr.
Produced by
Herman Cohen
Written by Ralph Thornton (pseudonym for Herman Cohen and Aben Kandel)
Cinematography by Joseph LaShelle
Music by Paul Dunlap
Edited by George A. Gittens
Cast: Michael Landon, Whit Bissell, Guy Williams (Dr. Robinson from Lost in Space)

“I'm going to TRANSFORM him, and unleash the savage instincts that lie hidden within... and then I'll be judged the benefactor. Mankind is on the verge of destroying itself. The only hope for the human race is to hurl it back into its primitive norm, to start all over again. What's one life compared to such a triumph?”
--Whit Bissell’s mad doctor about his teenage test subject during its pre-werewolf stage

Under hypnosis, a horny teen from the wrong side of the tracks (Michael Landon in his first movie, I believe) turns into a werewolf. The song by The Cramps is a good synopsis of the movie actually.

Legal hassles from crazy old lady lawsuits will prevent this flick (and a few other fondly remembered American International drive-in movies, like Invasion of the Saucer Men and It Conquered the World) from ever being released onto DVD until some of the parties involved kick the bucket, and someone realizes there’s $$$ to be made.

But I remember I Was a Teenage Werewolf being broadcast quasi-regularly on the local NYC TV stations’ horror movie shows back in the 1970s.
According to an absurdly well-researched article at the awesome and highly recommended site DVD Drive-In, I Was a Teenage Werewolf was broadcast at least once on Channel 11/WPIX’s Chiller Theater—on Saturday, August 24, 1974, at 11:00 p.m.—which means I didn’t see it then—my bedtime was 7:30pm until I was 10 years old.
The article was too long (and I was too lazy) to check whether I might have seen I Was a Teenage Werewolf in the afternoon, or on the 8pm broadcast of Chiller Theater. (Like you really give two shits when I saw this flick…)

I Was a Teenage Werewolf’s got several memorable scenes (the parallel bars! Foaming werewolf drool!), and was one of the first horror flicks to transplant “old world” concepts (like the vampire or werewolf) into the modern American world of teens, suburbia and psychiatry, jazzing the horror genre, giving it a shot in the arm.

Not to mention, causing a bit of a cultural hubbub by its strong indication that the “teenager” was here to stay as a social and economic force.

Release Verdict: Probably never; crazy old lady lawsuits are the kiss of death. But who knows, maybe the flick’s rights will revert to somebody somewhere.
Although, there’s a lot of flicks released by American International that are in limbo still…

But the interested can always read the transcript to
I Was a Teenage Werewolf HERE.

And the super-neato site Trailers From Hell features special effects and makeup god Rick Baker providing an informative commentary to the movie’s trailer—turns out Baker is a fan of the Cramps song!

The highly recommended (and thankfully no longer defunct) site Monster Movie Music has a neat series of frame-grabs from I Was a Teenage Werewolf that you should check out.

Additionally, I Was a Teenage Werewolf introduced us to the once-heard, never-forgotten phrase,
And you call yourself a scientist!

DVD MIA TWO: Tropical Paradise

The Island (1980)
Directed by Michael Ritchie
Produced by Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown
Written by Peter Benchley, based on his novel
Cinematography by Henri Decaë (director of photography for The 400 Blows and Bob le flambeur, but also the grimy and incredible counter-culture/anti-counter-culture mindfuck Joe.)
music by Ennio Morricone
Visual Effects by Albert Whitlock
Starring: Michael Caine, David Warner, Angela Punch-McGregor, Frank Middlemass, Don Henderson, Dudley Sutton, Colin Jeavons, Zakes Mokae, Brad Sullivan, Jeffrey Frank

“The best I can describe it is [if] The Goonies periodically had scenes of the Fratelli gang graphically slitting throats of innocent people while cracking jokes.”
—from Morbid’s review of The Island at Crime Critics

Ahoy matey:
Some quotes from the terrific review (which I agree with whole-heartedly) at the magnificent Kindertrauma by unkle lancifer:
“MICHAEL CAINE stars as a delightfully lenient dad (nudie mags and a gun are allowed for his 12-year-old son) who just happens to be trying to solve mankind’s greatest and most relevant natural mystery, that of the dreaded Bermuda Triangle!
What he finds instead is a bunch of crazy pirates who like to plant axes into tourists’ skulls and swipe their luggage. CAINE’s son is brainwashed and groomed to become one of the pirates, thanks to his excellent marksmanship and CAINE himself is kept on a leash and used for breeding purposes.

It’s all as insane as it sounds, and is probably one of the few examples of a big budget exploitation flick.

Later, in the comments at Kindertrauma, unkle lancifer elaborates:
THE ISLAND goes above and beyond the call of duty…. Besides the gore (throats slashed, axe in head), violence (gunning down dozens of men at a time), and sex (CAINE is a sex slave, though not complaining) the overall tone celebrates mayhem like most Hollywood pictures wouldn’t dare dream.

Damn, looks like The National Film Board of Ivanlandia will have to go digging through the storage facility to find our VHS pan-&-scan copy!
[I’ve always loved the font used for the poster, the way the “S” and “L” form knives. This and the Space: 1999 font are not used enough.]

Personally, I feel The Island is a gorehound’s absurdist delight—an imperfect but totally unconventional movie that’s exciting B-movie madness.

And it’s also director Michael Ritchie’s spoof of Michael Winner films.
Think about it—Winner has a sick sense of humor (that often was apparent only to him and a few others), lots of violence and muddled ideas about sociology and anthropology.

Winner’s made two classics (The Mechanic (a flick whose heavy-handed existentialism is wonderful) and Death Wish, both with Charles Bronson—with whom Winner has worked a lot), and some items that have gathered cults (The Stone Killer and The Sentinel—click the respective links, the articles are good), but also a bunch of rotters, as well (I hate, hate, HATE Winner’s I'll Never Forget What's'isname).

I could totally see one of those “wacky” Hollywood mix-ups happening: Producers Brown and Zanuck tell their secretary to call up Michael Winner.
But the regular secretary is out to lunch and the cute intern from Harvard is at the desk, and she’s just seen Michael Ritchie’s Smile on TV last night and thinks it’s a great movie (it is!) and meanwhile that nasty Mr. Winner makes all those icky movies with that mean Bronson-man hurting people—why would Misters Brown and Zanuck want to deal with the likes of him?
And Michael Ritchie’s a Harvard alum! So…

Because Michael Ritchie is an ODD choice as a director for this sort of project. At the time, his career was kinda stalling, so I won’t blame Ritchie for taking the job—but was he REALLY the producers’ first choice?

Did they even think of offering the gig to Peckinpah (still alive at the time)? Or had Sam fucked up his rep so bad that he was radioactive? Was Michael Winner even in the running?

Other directors more temperamentally and stylistically suited for directing a film version of Peter Benchley’s The Island who were working /available at the time (some of whom might’ve been very willing to take a job because their careers were also stalling, and some who were getting started and maybe would’ve been willing to work under the eye of Zanuck & Brown for the opportunity of A Big Studio Flick) include:

John Frankenheimer (at the time, he had just done giant mutant bear flick, Prophecy—the animal vs. man subgenre given a kick-start by the Zanuck & Brown-produced Jaws)
Joe Dante (just finished the Jaws-ripoff/tribute/spoof Piranha)
John Carpenter (just finished working on his own old-ships-so-it-might-as-well-be-pirates ghost story The Fog)
Wes Craven (he had just done the similarly themed The Hills Have Eyes)

And imagine if Universal had offered David Lynch The Island instead of Dune after The Elephant Man? Yow.

(Walter Hill or John Milius would’ve had interesting takes on the Benchley’s material as well, I think—Milius probably would’ve had the pirates take the Coast Guard cruiser and attack an aircraft carrier—and win, dammit!—but at the time of The Island’s production, they were respectively involved with The Long Riders (a lyrical Peckinpah tribute if you ask me) and Conan the Barbarian (very underappreciated).)

Personally, my only gripe with The Island is that the penultimate shoot-out, when Caine wastes the buccaneers, wasn’t done in a more Peckinpah-ripoff style: it needed lots of slow motion gunshot wounds and gallons of spurting blood.

However: Old school special effects wizard Albert Whitlock provided his usual excellent matte painting effects for a few moody scenes in The Island. And I love Whitlock’s work. He can do nothing wrong, and his presence adds quality to any film.

Last year, Drew Fitzpatrick wrote an excellent article for Cinefantastique about the flick:
Assessing the true worth of THE ISLAND has been impossible, as the film hasn’t been seen in its original Panavision ratio since its theatrical engagement. Universal owns the film and has shown no interest in a US DVD release, but for those with all-region/PAL capable players Koch has released a beautiful, 16×9 enhanced edition in Germany that should earn the film a few more fans. The disc features English and German audio tracks, but unlike some European releases, the German subtitles are not forced when the English audio is selected. The extras consist of the German trailer (under the title Freibeuter Des Todes) and – one of the more interesting items we’ve seen in a while – the 8mm filmstrip version! We vividly remember the ads for these in the back of Fangoria, back in the 70s and early 80s and it’s fascinating to finally see one (particularly for the choices made in editing – the 8mm versions never ran over a half hour).
(Freibeuter Des Todes: Freebooters (pirates) of Death)

More good background on the making of The Island HERE--but I absolutely disagree with its critical assessment, however—I never find The Island tedious!

Hopefully goofball attempts (like this post of The United Etc. of Ivanlandia) to keep The Island in the public eye (sort of) will give Universal Pictures the hint that there’s a cult following out here.

But I have to ask: Why only the German market? Was that the only locale The Island was financially successful in? And if so, why?
(Interestingly, and similarly: For the longest time, it was only the South Korean market that offered the letterboxed director’s cut DVD of Peckinpah’s Cross of Iron. Why? I dunno. But at least that version of Cross of Iron made it to the Yankee market eventually.)

With the right marketing, I think Universal could do okay moneywise with a DVD release of The Island—push the flick as a forgotten gore masterpiece—or include it in a Michael Caine retrospective multi-pack?
If the New Global Depression forces the studio to cut back on current productions, would old unreleased flicks, like The Island (or others on this list) be used to fill in a DVD release schedule?
Universal has a lot of flicks in its vaults that have never seen the laser-light of DVD and many that need a proper widescreen DVD release—
especially Colossus: The Forbin Project (if you’ve seen the pan-&-scan version, check out these frame blowups and realize what you’ve been missing!).

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Universal Studios (guys, love the theme park, BTW!) started doing what Warner Archives is doing? [If you are unfamiliar with Warner Archives, go to Cartoon Brew for a good explanation.]

Three of the formerly unreleased DVDs Warner Archives has now made available (I mention this as these are three films that I used to carry on my “Not On DVD Yet” list) include:

Jack Webb’s The D.I., Soldier in the Rain (a dark, bittersweet comedy with Steve McQueen, Jackie Gleason (!) and Tuesday Weld—a perfect double feature with Lord Love a Duck, if you ask me—although not as good as the book, whose last lines couldn’t be said in a 1963 film) and Pride of the Marines (which has a nightmare sequence that’s unforgettable).

Of course, that means buying them, so for a lot of film geeks, until N-flix starts getting discs from Warner Archives, these flicks might as well be still unavailable.

Arrrrr, back to The Island:
Hopefully Universal realizes that fanboys are like cockroaches: for every one squawking on the Intertubes, there’s one hundred more scurrying in the dark. The Island does have a cult following, you know!

Some movies I can see why they haven’t been released—legal reasons, rights issues, whatevs—but others I can’t.
Even the meanest of you would have to say that The Island is no worse a violent action flick than hundreds of others—so why no release?

Could the producers of Michael Bay’s The Island (a flick I also like and think is underappreciated) have put some sort of injunction against the 1980 film being released? Clones vs. pirates?

Or was The Island simply forgotten?

BTW, Peter Benchley’s unfortunately out of print novel is great: an almost perfect page-turner—and it’s even sicker and more depraved than the movie: highly recommended reading if you can find it!

DVD MIA THREE: Fish out of water

Scalawag (1973)
Directed by Kirk Douglas (and Zoran Calic, uncredited)
Produced by Anne Buydens
Written by Sid Fleischman and Albert Maltz
Based on a story by Robert Louis Stevenson
Original music by John Cameron
Cinematography by Jack Cardiff (also director of the MIA DVD Dark of the Sun)

Now let us continue to explore twists on the pirate genre that are as yet, unavailable on DVD…

As I mentioned in a previous Ivanlandia post, Kirk Douglas’ first directorial effort was the bizarre pirate movie/Western-musical Scalawag from 1973.
Douglas plays Captain Peg, a one-legged pirate in the desert (!) who always carries a Bible around—because the Good Book’s pages are the perfect type of paper for rolling cigarettes!
Also in the cast were B-movie giant Neville Brand (playing feuding twins in an involved inheritance/buried treasure plot), Mark Lester (remember when this kid was a star? And everywhere? BTW, he’s also the godfather to Michael Jackson’s kids! Go figure!), Don Stroud (biker and action movie stud) Lesley-Anne Down and a VERY young Danny DeVito with Mel Blanc as a wisecracking parrot’s voice (natch)!
I remember this movie was basically an almost incomprehensible mess—a Treasure Island rip-off, but goofy fun, still.

During the musical numbers, there’s often very Richard Lester-style camerawork and editing: for no apparent reason, in the middle of a song, say, taking place on a dock, there’s a jump-cut and the pirates are in a tree on a hill near the desert. Just stuff like that. It’s crazy!
And Douglas was well suited to play this sort of over-the-top character; he chews the scenery with aplomb, and was really endearing to me as a kid viewer.

Unfortunately Scalawag will probably never be on DVD:
Who knows who owns the rights to this, a Yugoslavia-Italy co-production? Yugoslavia doesn’t even exist anymore! Scalawag will probably never see the light of day.

The only shred of hope regard this flick’s possible DVD release is if some fly-by-night outfit markets a copy (duped from a TV station’s old 16mm print) when Kirk Douglas passes away.

But since we’re on the subject of death—
Check out Mel’s headstone: how frickin’ cool is that?

DVD MIA FOUR: Kick the unreleased DVD habit

Cold Turkey (1971)
Written, directed and Produced by Norman Lear.
Story by Norman Lear and William Price Fox Jr.
Based on the novel I'm Giving Them Up for Good by Margaret Rau and Neil Rau
Music by Randy Newman (his first film!)
Cinematography by Charles F. Wheeler
Edited by John C. Horger
Cast: Dick Van Dyke, Bob Newhart, Edward Everett Horton, Jean Stapleton, Vincent Gardenia, Pippa Scott, Barnard Hughes, Tom Poston, Paul Benedict, M. Emmett Walsh, Bob Elliot and Ray Goulding

With Norman Lear being who he is, and with the anti-tobacco guild in a frenzy, it's surprising this flick—with so many recognizable faces in it (look at that cast!) isn’t available.

A nasty, bitter satire—there are hardly any guffaws or belly laughs, despite the on-screen histrionics—Cold Turkey is about an economically depressed Iowa town of 4,000 people trying to quit smoking for 30 days to score a $25 million check that Big Tobacco is offering as a goodwill gesture (but it’s actually a publicity stunt; Big T, represented by a deliciously oily Bob Newhart, doesn’t think the town can do it.)

I remember watching Cold Turkey first on NBC one night in the early 1970s, then a few years later on WNEW Metromedia channel 5 one weekend afternoon, but I’m not sure if there’s ever even been a VHS release of this flick.

While I never thought the movie was particularly funny as a kid, I found its acidic view of humanity’s worst qualities fascinating—such bleakness in the heartland! Who knew?

There’s a further and more elaborate assessment of Cold Turkey at the swell blog The Horn Section—check it out! (The Horn Section has a reoccurring feature about MIA DVDs that has some very interesting choices—worth reading!)

Island of Lust Souls, or: Oedipus Sea Wrecks

The Savage Is Loose (1974)
Directed and produced by George C. Scott
Written by Frank De Felitta and Max Ehrlich
Executive Robert E. Relyea (executive producer of Bullitt (!))
Music by Gil Melle (The Andromeda Strain, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, the original Killdozer TV movie (and when’s THAT coming to DVD?))
Cinematography by Álex Phillips Jr.
Edited by Peter E. Berger and Michael Kahn (who edits Spielberg’s flicks now)
Cast: George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, John David Carson, Lee Montgomery

Here’s IMDB’s concise synopsis of The Savage Is Loose: “A husband, wife and their son are stranded on a remote island with no way off; as the son grows older, sexual tensions emerge.”

Why make this incest flick, George? Why go Oedipal? Was it hubris?
I think George C. Scott thought the controversy would bring the audiences.
George told the NYTIMES:

“It’s worth it to me, because I think this movie is saying something important; it’s saying that this must be a world of change and accommodation, that the old ideas, the old taboos, must change if we are to survive. This is a serious statement which the movie makes in a sexual framework. No, I didn’t like the sound of that; I prefer sociosexual framework.”

Supposedly director, producer and distributor (!) George C. Scott pumped almost $1 million of his own bucks into this flick, so he had to believe in it.

George told the NYTIMES:
“The picture ran into a lot of trouble because I originated a unique way of releasing it, with direct sales to exhibitors. I bypassed the distributors, and that got me into hot water. So now I’m four-walling the movie - leasing the theater for $240,000, paying for everything, including advertising, and taking whatever receipts I can get. It’s been running for over three months, and the money is coming in at about $400 per week.”

Image Journal quotes George C. Scott as saying, "I lost my ass on that picture; there were all kinds of lawsuits."

The Savage Is Loose will probably never have a legitimate DVD release due to its lawsuits.

I saw it as a bootleg VHS from Kim’s Video (RIP), and no, it’s not a good film, but certainly a weird one, worth a second viewing: big, bold ideas that needed a steadier hand as director, I think. George C. certainly does chew the scenery, I seem to recall…

From Vincent Canby’s review (a great read, check out the whole thing) of The Savage Is Loose, published November 16, 1974, New York Times:
The Savage Is Loose works neither as an adventure film, as a psychological exploration, nor, heaven help us, as a family melodrama. Although I think that Mr. Scott has been talking through his hat in recent public statements that the movie is not about incest, the subject is so genteelly handled that I can't imagine children seeing the film would be anything but confused and probably bored.

The production, photographed entirely on location south of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, looks pretty and has the studied blandness of a film directed according to a 50-year-old textbook on movie making. What force it has comes entirely from the performances of Mr. Scott and Miss Van Devere, though the banality of the script has a way of letting them seem overwrought when they mean to be believably passionate. The less said about the other performances, the better.

NOTE: George C. Scott’s first directorial effort, Rage (1972), was recently made available on DVD-R via the aforementioned Warner Archives.

A decent and arty thriller, Rage features Scott as a rancher who goes on a rampage blowing up bioweapons research centers after he and his son are poisoned by a leaking gas canister on a passing Army helicopter.

Released in 1972, Rage was a nice expansion on “David vs. Goliath” themes prevalent at the time, especially in B-movies (and really, that’s what Rage is), and it did decent business I suppose—I remember seeing this in a theater in upstate NY back then, and then on the ABC Sunday night movie and then the CBS Late Show years later.
I guess Rage helped get George C. Scott some financing for The Savage Is Loose.

Kapò & Ogro—Two Unseen by Gillo Pontecorvo)

Kapò (1959; released in US 1964)
Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo
Produced by Franco Cristaldi and Moris Ergas
Written by Gillo Pontecorvo and Franco Solinas
Music by Carlo Rustichelli
Cinematography by Aleksandar Sekulovic
Cast: Susan Strasberg, Didi Perego, Laurent Terzieff

Ogro (1979)
a.k.a Operación Ogro
a.k.a. The Tunnel
Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo
Produced by Franco Cristaldi and José Sámano
Written by Giorgio Arlorio, Ugo Pirro and Gillo Pontecorvo
Based on the book by Julen Aguirre (pseudonym of Eva Forest)
Music by Ennio Morricone
Cinematography by Marcello Gatti
Cast: Gian Maria Volontè, José Sacristán, Ángela Molina, Eusebio Poncela, Ana Torrent

Director Gillo Pontecorvo is one of the most entertaining agitprop filmmakers, neither sacrificing politics nor dramatics for each other.

The Battle of Algiers is rightly considered a classic, Burn! is one of my faves, and The Wide Blue Road (La Grande Strada Azzura) is a fine directorial debut, a well-crafted low-key movie, so of course The United Provinces of Ivanlandia wants to see these other films of Gillo Pontecorvo, Kapò and Ogro!

In Kapò:
A Jewish teenager pretends to be a dead Parisian thief to survive the Nazi death camps, and she sells her body to gain favor with the guards. She’s eventually made a “kapo,” sort of a prison trustee, at the camp—then she starts an affair with a Russian prisoner…

From the Guardian’s obituary of Pontecorvo, about Kapò:
In 1959, Pontecorvo was asked to make a film on the Nazi concentration camps in which he concentrated on the systematic destruction of human dignity, particularly that of the "kapos" who had the role of keeping their fellow prisoners in order, thus saving their own lives.
With Susan Strasberg in the main part, Pontecorvo began his experiments with the negative to produce a grainy, newsreel effect that he would use on The Battle of Algiers.
Kapò failed to capture the degradation of the camps and had no sense of real drama, but it received rapturous applause at the Venice Film Festival. It was nominated for best foreign film at the Academy Awards, an event Pontecorvo missed, his past membership of the Communist party causing problems for US immigration.

Not that his assessment is necessarily incorrect (there are plenty of award winners I despise), but it seems that this reviewer didn’t like Kapò, so proceeds to call its awards and accolades some form of mass hysteria…. (Something I’m sure I’ve been guilty of, too.)
Anyway, I’d still like to see Kapò, so I can make up my own mind.

Kapò was, though, an Italian-French-Yugoslavian coproduction, and who knows who’s got the rights to it now, or where the negative is. But it does have a page at Netflix, so fingers crossed!

Here, Netflix reviewer AM 1855541 (of Kensington, Maryland; who’s only 32% “similar” to me, according to N-flix’s weird metrics), writes about Kapò:
Every bit as good as Pontecorvo's much better known Battle of Algiers.
The moral dilemma faced by the Strasberg character is brilliantly portrayed from the beginning to the end, and the film's climax is almost unbearable.
For those who are fans of serious political movies that don't reduce the characters to caricatures, Kapò ranks up there with the great Hungarian movie of the postwar Communist takeover, Angi Vera, which also features a young woman trapped in an equally impossible conundrum. Both of these films should be seen by anyone who wants to know what filmmaking at its finest is all about.

TCM also has a long and very fair essay on Kapò, which is also worth reading.

Pontecorvo doesn’t hurry between projects, and it was 10 years after 1969’s Burn! before the director released another flick: Ogro.

Covering the December 20, 1973, assassination of Spain’s prime minister (the one who followed Franco) by Basque freedom fighters, the flick was only screened a couple of times at NYC's Walter Reade Theater, but I doubt it’s had any sort of wider release in the US.

Here’s a synopsis of Ogro from the Walter Reade’s 1999 retrospective of the director’s work (which also included a screening of Kapò):
In long flashback, Pontecorvo investigates the kind of terrorism that accomplished the spectacular assassination of Admiral Carrero Blanco, Francisco Franco's hand-picked successor, in 1973.
Basque separationists had excavated a tunnel beneath a street Blanco often traveled and loaded it with plastic explosive; so powerful was the blast that the Admiral's car was blown 100 feet upward, onto the roof of a church.
In this ambitious effort to differentiate between terrorism within a democracy and under a dictatorship, Pontecorvo actually interviewed the men responsible for Blanco's death.

Here’s Gillo Pontecorvo himself interviewed by Gerald Peary about Ogro:
It's the contemporary story of the Basque fight for independence. I don't consider it a good film.
I was telling a story of an act of terrorism against Franco as the same time I was strongly against the 1978 terrorist death of Aldo Moro.
You can feel it in the film, that I am contradictory.
Because of European stars Gian Maria Volonte and Angelina Molina, Ogro made money in Italy and I won the prize in Italy that year for Best Direction. Critics were divided. In Spain, right-wing people threw things at the screen, so they had to stop showing it.

Just because the director doesn’t “consider it a good film,” does not matter! I still want to see this flick!

Since weird old foreign flicks turn up often via various venues,
and maybe a reassessment of Pontecorvo’s career via an outfit like Criterion
will bring these movies out of the woodwork.
Here’s hoping!

DVD MIA EIGHT: Heck Up in Harlem

Coonskin (1975)
Written and directed by Ralph Bakshi
Produced by Albert S. Ruddy
Music by Chico Hamilton
Cinematography by William A. Fraker
Edited by Donald W. Ernst
Cast: Scatman Crothers, Charles Gordone, Richard Paul (voice), Philip Michael Thomas, Barry White, Al Lewis (voice, uncredited)

One of Ivanlandia’s favorites,
Coonskin was originally seen during a rare screening taking place at the gone-but-not-forgotten Thalia Theater, and then later after I bought a VHS tape of it (the tape then retitled Streetfight to avoid controversy).

Wild, rude, raw—Coonskin is a very adult, almost experimental, wonderfully inventive retelling of Brer Rabbit (or, Disney’s Song of the South) that blew my mind when I first saw it: the flick’s a lysergic sociopolitical hand-grenade, a napalmed-charged attack on all the lies of the USA. It’s an angry, angry flick—which often makes Coonskin scattershot, if not confusing—but who cares? For every flaw, there’s ten moments of great.

The flick was stupidly accused of racism by the usual knee-jerkers and its original distribution was FUBARed—I remember the movie had either a full-page or ¾-page ad in The NY Times when it originally opened, but then it was gone.

Coonskin was produced by Paramount who dumped it when they started smelling trouble, and the movie was picked up by Bryanston Distributing Company, who also released Dark Star and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

“Two weeks after the film opened, the distributor went bankrupt,” it says in Coonskin’s very thorough and recommended Wiki-entry.

So along with possible Bryanston legal hassles, and the absurd accusations of “racism,” there may be some music and archival footage rights issues that could be holding up the release of Coonskin, as well. Which really sucks!

BUT: Y’know, if Bakshi, Ruddy and the Wu-Tang Clan make Coonskin 2, there’s no reason the original flick couldn’t be released on DVD, right?

BTW, Song of the South will NEVER be released on DVD—this from a former coworker of mine who now works for Disney Animation. He said getting that flick released would require a massive policy shift at the Haus of Maus that isn’t going to happen. Ever.

DVD MIA NINE: Getting Wood

Sometimes a Great Notion (1970)
Directed by Paul Newman
Produced by Frank Caffey, John Foreman and Paul Newman
Screenplay by John Gay
Based on the novel by Ken Kesey
Music by Henry Mancini
Cinematography by Richard Moore
Edited by Bob Wyman
Cast: Paul Newman, Henry Fonda, Lee Remick, Michael Sarrazin, Richard Jaeckel

I don’t remember how I saw this, perhaps on the Late Show when I was in college?
Newman’s second go-round in the director’s chair, Sometimes a Great Notion is a straightforward but detailed and engrossing tale of a logging family under pressure from outside and in, with some documentary-style footage of Oregon logging, and an awesome and atypically comedic performance by Richard Jaeckel.

The Stamper family logging operation refuses to join the strike—not being a union shop, and believing honoring contracts is more important than solidarity with the workers—
and are effectively rendered as scabs by the town.

It’s a pretty good—although simplified—adaptation of Kesey’s incredible novel, a multivoiced epic of experimentation with point-of-view, which for part of one chapter even takes place through the eyes of the family dog.

At TCM, commenter Stacy R writes:
"Unfortunately, this classic was not adequately supported by the studio (Universal) with adequate publicity, so it eventually went the route of so many movies which had suffered similarly, and had its name changed to "Never Give an Inch" and edited to varying levels, leaving it a fractured tale, with its audience dispersed."

Meanwhile, according to “Forgotten Movies Filmed in Oregon: Paul Newman's 'Sometimes a Great Notion,'
Paul Newman so far has refused to release it on a special edition DVD.”

Blogging logger Joe McMaster makes an interesting point—and maybe Paul Newman’s guilt is why the flick isn’t on DVD—
I find the movie quite ironic in more than one way. Loggers in the United States were and still are too independent and thick-headed for their good.
I can say this because I have been a logger all of my life. If the loggers [had] unionized, we would still be logging today.
Now most of our logging… and mills are shut down and the finished lumber is imported from Canada and New Zealand.
Combine bone-headed, independent loggers with-ultra environmentalists and we get to watch our forests go up in flames.
The second ironic thing about the film is that Paul Newman directed and starred in it. Paul Newman is one of the most active environmentalists in the country. He made more money by acting like a logger in one film than most loggers do in a lifetime of actual work in the woods, then Newman lobbies to shut them down.

But McMaster notes:
Is the film worth seeing? You bet it is, it is one of my favorite movies…. The directing by Newman was excellent as well. The logging scenes are many and authentic. This gives the viewer a real idea of the sort of back breaking and dangerous work that these men did, day in and day out….
Holy moly!
Sometimes a Great Notion was recently released on DVD in the UK, so maybe it’ll be happening here soon!

DVD MIA TEN: Feeling Groovy

What’s So Bad About Feeling Good? (1968)
Directed and produced by George Seaton
Written by Robert Pirosh & George Seaton
Based on the story "I Am Thinking of My Darling" by Vincent McHugh
Original Music by Frank De Vol
Cinematography by Ernesto Caparrós
Edited by Alma Macrorie
Cast: George Peppard, Mary Tyler Moore, Don Stroud, Susan Saint James, Dom DeLuise, Frank Campanella, Thelma Ritter

What’s So Bad About Feeling Good?,
a disease makes everybody happy, but ruins the economy (people are too happy to work or buy stuff).
So the toucan spreading the virus has to be destroyed, hunted by manic government agent Dom DeLuise in an early role.

The toucan had dialog but it was presented in the form of animated superimposed cartoon word balloons, like the “comic book people” in the wild Czech fantasy Who Would Kill Jessie? (1966).

I remember a manic attitude about What’s So Bad About Feeling Good?, with a severe emphasis on “whacky,” that I liked.
Also: When I was a kid, I wanted to be George Peppard (especially circa The Carpetbaggers and The Blue Max), and I seem to recall he’s really likable as this movie’s chief drop-out.

It probably wouldn’t be off the market to consider
What’s So Bad About Feeling Good?
part of the same “Squares Failing at Making Sense of the Counterculture” subgenre as Otto Preminger’s awesome Skidoo or Don Knotts’ The Love God?, where the satire is so off the mark, it crashes back upon itself and becomes genuine weirdness.

From Vincent Canby’s May 25, 1968, NYTimes review:
Although What's So Bad About Feeling Good? was photographed in color entirely (and quite beautifully) on New York locations last summer, it has the point of view of an insular, slightly out-of-date Hollywood. It's as anti-intellectual and—in some ways—as uninformed as the people and institutions it purports to satirize.

I dunno, that sounds kind of interesting to re-explore!

I saw most of this movie on TV when I was a kid and thought it was good smart fun.
I saw it either on the old 4:30 Movie or the WOR-TV 4 O’clock Movie or the Million Dollar Movie when I was a kid.
I haven’t seen it since then, and I don’t think this flick was even ever released to VHS.

Mary Tyler Moore is the female lead and I wonder if she’s holding up this flick’s release. Moore’s public persona is now that of the virginal Mary Richards. And in What’s So Bad About Feeling Good?, her character does several questionable things to get her boyfriend to marry her, like faking pregnancy.

But the real reason this flick hasn’t seen the light of day is money. What’s So Bad About Feeling Good? was a flop when it was originally released, and since then it’s been probably forgotten.

This flick was originally released by Universal--who has little financial interest in re-releasing it. You’d be better off renting a print from Universal’s vault, then showing it somewhere yourself.

LET MY MOVIES GO!; or: Since listmaking is probably the favorite sport of filmgeeks, who is Ivanlandia not to jump on board?

As you’ve noticed,
it’s not just cheeseball action and horror-infused mayhem, like from some useless, dumb-ass genre like Biker Movies, that doesn’t get on DVD:

The flicks not yet on DVD are a varied lot, including even universally well-regarded films like John Huston’s The African Queen (which movies lovers should note is screened on TCM routinely, so check the schedules!
—Not enough good things can be said about TCM, you know? They’ve also screened such awesome, not-on-DVD stuff like Brighton Rock, Skidoo (although I stayed up till dawn to catch that screening of Skidoo--and then TCM went and broke my heart by showing a washed-out pan&scan print! Grrrrrr...), Seven Days to Noon and even the absolutely insane The World’s Greatest Sinner!).

Although The Fox Movie Channel shows reruns of Die Hard 2 and Travolta’s Broken Arrow ad nauseum, the channel often comes up with some surprises, as well, for fans of hard-to-find/DVD MIA movies:
Recently (the July 4 weekend) the network pulled from its vaults the unreleased-to-DVD Tribes (Darren McGavin’s drill sergeant vs. Zen hippie recruit Jan-Michael Vincent) and John Frankenheimer’s 99 and 44/100% Dead.

Lemme tell ya, it’s going to take 99 and 44/100% Dead a long time to get to DVD. I can certainly see why others love it (there’s no denying it’s an absolutely unique movie), but I sat there bored by this dreadfully paced movie, grinding my teeth at its idiotic dialog, shrieking inside my head, “You mean to tell me the great John Frankenheimer—one of Ivanlandia’s favorite directors—created this?!?!”

Sure, 99 and 44/100% Dead is interesting for its plethora of lost opportunities, and worth staying up late for if you’re an unrepentant Frankenheimer-phile and completist (like me—look dude, I like Prophecy), but this flick ain’t coming to DVD soon—unless of course Fox has been having all these screenings to prep us for an eventual release?
Urgh! Brain hurting!

But I’d sure wish if FOX could somehow show Frankenheimer’s equally unavailable The Challenge (just so I can cross it off my list—BTW, John Sayles was one of the flick’s screenwriters—back when he used to work on crazed B-movie projects).

[Not that Fox might have access to The Challenge, which was originally released by Embassy Pictures (the former Avco Embassy) which was then absorbed into Columbia, then gobbled by Sony, although many of Embassy’s films wound up with Orion—which was later digested into the greater MGM/UA stable. So, are you still wondering why so many flicks fall through the cracks?]

The National Film Board of Ivanlandia has been well aware of other worthwhile DVD MIA lists— like the big crazy (and routinely updated) list of DVD Savant: a great and exhaustive resource! Check it out, that’s an order!—
and the awesome (but now unfortunately defunct) DVD Journal DVD MIA list
(not to mention the The AV Club’s impressive list and the worthwhile lists TCM’s Movie Morlocks occasionally posts)—

But primary
inspiration for this post (via example) comes from Joseph B.’s highly readable It’s a Mad Mad Blog 2 and his fab, recently started “Produced and Abandoned” series.

But maybe as more filmbloggers gripe about lost or MIA flicks, many more studios will listen? (Stop snickering!)

But I don’t worry too much—
Since 2004, a wide variety of flicks (all of which I thought would never be encoded on a polycarbonate disc) wound up being released on DVD!
This included:
Pretty Poison,
Journey to the Far Side of the Sun,
The Anderson Tapes,
Frankenstein Conquers the World,
Phase IV,
The Possession of Joel Delaney,
Royal Flash,
The Boys in Company C,
The Incredible Shrinking Man,
Robinson Crusoe on Mars,
Chosen Survivors,
Emperor of the North,
The Friends of Eddie Coyle
and so many more.
Fingers crossed!


  1. What i normally like about Ivanlandia are the extraneous, weird pictures, inserted sometimes for no reason. (The Supreme Dictator of Ivanlandia obviously has a vinyl or rubber fetish.) However, THIS post has a wealth of important information that has been a bit obfuscated by the diversions. But let me reiterate my allegiance to the flag of Ivanlandia, lest i wind up in the gulag. (Perhaps a bit of Alzheimer's or megalomania is setting in. God help the members of the Dictator's cabinet! See Barbet Schroeder's IDI AMIN-DADA.)

    "Cold Turkey" was a must-see for Iowans when it came out. Almost NO movies had been shot in Iowa, so my mother took us to see it. I don't recall what i thought about it.

    There is a short list of films set in Iowa, but only a few were actually shot there (Gilbert Grape was shot in Texas). "The Straight Story" was shot in Iowa. If i close my eyes and listen to Farnsworth, i think it's my dad talking. HD Stanton is in the movie, and he's also in "The Hostage", shot in '66 right in my childhood neighborhoods. "Field of Dreams" is the most famous Iowa movie; tourists still go to the 'field' each year for some reason. The state slogan is "Fields of Opportunities". And i believe at one time the slogan was "Is this heaven? No it's Iowa," a line from the movie!

    "Sometimes a Great Notion" has that scene where the guy gets trapped in water by the log, which shifts and he slowly goes under. I saw it in the theater as a kid, and that scene was difficult to watch.

    I've never seen "The World's Greatest Sinner," but i'm dying to because Timothey Carey is one of my favorite actors. He's even in an episode of CHiPS!!!

    More things to discuss about this post, but my comment is too long as it is.

  2. Ho-ho-ho! Ha-ha-ha! Oh, Otto Maton, here's my new pet alligator! You like go swimming with? Him lots of fun. Emperor Ivan Amin Dadaism has to explain his stolen jpegs to no one! NO ONE!

  3. wow, great blog...and it inspired me to track down The Worlds Greatest Sinner, a film I've long wanted to see.
    And boy was it worth the wait...
    Thanks for the inspiration.