May 15th was the thirtieth anniversary of a crucial release: Elaine May’s “Ishtar,” a great film in itself but a catastrophe in terms of the benighted critical response and the modest box-office returns, which ended her career as a director (so far, at least). May is one of the comedic—and, for that matter, dramatic—geniuses of the modern cinema; two of her other three features are streaming: “A New Leaf” (Amazon and iTunes) and “Mikey and Nicky” (the Criterion Channel on FilmStruck). The one that, at the time, shook viewers with the unleashed energy (not all of it positive) of new freedoms, “The Heartbreak Kid,” from 1972, is still, shockingly, unavailable to stream (officially).
Speaking of disasters, Michael Cimino’s “Heaven’s Gate” is another masterwork that blinkered critics dismissed owing to its high budget and the stories of its grandiose production—every touch of which is sumptuously and movingly reflected onscreen. (Or they rejected it because they were rendered insensate by its deceptively aggressive modernism.) It’s on Amazon and Vudu, as is another of Cimino’s great films, the one that is the best gateway drug to his cinematic world: “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot,” his first feature, from 1974, a wild and off-kilter open-road crime caper with a rhapsodic streak, starring Clint Eastwood and a twenty-five-year-old Jeff Bridges.
Peter Bogdanovich’s films of the nineteen-seventies are among the most impressive work in modern cinema, and some of the best of them were trashed by oblivious critics—such as “Daisy Miller,” one of the most stylish literary adaptations, and the one Henry James film I know that has an apt streak of humor, plus exquisitely deft performances by Cybill Shepherd and the tragically short-lived Barry Brown. It’s on Amazon; so is the comedy “What’s Up, Doc?,” starring Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal, which, by contrast, was no flop. When it comes to seventies distillations and reconfigurations of classic-Hollywood tropes and styles, I’d take Bogdanovich’s films over, say, those of Brian De Palma. Bogdanovich films feature a loftier level of abstraction; his neo-musical “At Long Last Love” has a sensation in the head.' class='tooltip'>giddy and oblique profundity that blew right by the critics and hardly reached viewers; unfortunately, it’s not available to stream. (There’s a documentary, “One Day Since Yesterday: Peter Bogdanovich & the Lost American Film,” that’s ordinary in form but exceptional in substance; it’s on Netflix. The film that’s lost, “They All Laughed,” isn’t streaming officially, either.)
Speaking of classics grossly unappreciated in their own time, there’s Roberto Rossellini’s “Fear,” from 1954, an adaptation of a story by Stefan Zweig, and Rossellini’s last film with Ingrid Bergman (they were married to each other at the time), and Max Ophüls’s lavish spectacle about the agony of lavish spectacles, “Lola Montès,” from 1955. Both are on the Criterion Channel. As for overlooked classic-Hollywood rarities, Howard Hawks’s terrific 1967 Western, “El Dorado”—his own radical remake of his 1959 classic, “Rio Bravo,” driving the original to its extremes of comedy and tragedy—is playing this Saturday at Museum of the Moving Image, in Queens, and whenever you want on Netflix.
I went looking for another exotic treasure from another directorial hero—Alfred Hitchcock’s “Under Capricorn,” starring Bergman, Joseph Cotten, and Michael Wilding, in a story of self-destructive erotic passion that’s one of his most lavishly inventive films—and I fell into a rabbit hole of cinematic wonders. “Under Capricorn” is available only from Filmbox (available on its own site or on Amazon), and it turns out that this site (or sub-site) is a trove of other treasures, classic and recent, such as my favorite film by Luis Buñuel, “The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz,” from 1955, and a batch of superb American independent films, including Sophia Takal’s “Green” and Amy Seimetz’s “Sun Don’t Shine.” There’s Luchino Visconti’s “Bellissima” and Ousmane Sembene’s “Mandabi”; there are two of my favorite films by Satyajit Ray, “The Big City” and “Distant Thunder”; there’s the last of the many remarkable films by the novelist Marguerite Duras, “The Children,” from 1985, a loopily rigorous comedic drama, in which the forty-something actor Axel Bogousslavsky plays a recalcitrant genius of a schoolchild; and there’s an amazing historical oddity, Isidore Isou’s 1952 phenomenon, “Treatise on Drivel and Eternity,” also called “Venom and Eternity” (listed on Amazon in simplified French as “Traite de Bave et Deternite”). Isou was a literary avant-gardist of the Lettrist school, which essentially meant chanting nonsense sounds with a ludicrous earnestness, blended with a scrappily poetic drama about a madly ambitious artist (played, of course, by Isou) adrift in Paris. At the time of its release, it got an enthusiastic review from none other than Eric Rohmer. (Orson Welles, as seen here, also exhibited an admirably straight-faced interest in Lettrism.)
Share this Post