Shelved Movies: 18 Films With Delayed Releases

Features
by The Playlist Staff
October 10, 2013 4:45 PM
8 Comments
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Perhaps the most interesting thing about this week’s release, Jonathan Levine's “All the Boys Love Mandy Lane” (because certainly according to our lukewarm review it’s hardly the film itself), is the story of the journey it took to get it to U.S. screens. When the trio of college friends behind the initial idea (writer Jacob Forman, production designer Tom Hammock and producer Chad Feehan) managed to pull together the resources to script and make the film, and then sell it to The Weinstein Company in 2006, it must have seemed like the end of a long, hard journey. And yet the struggle to get the film seen in their native country was only beginning, as, despite some positive word of mouth (though mixed reviews generally), TWC/Dimension started to get cold feet about the slasher genre in the wake of the box office failure of “Grindhouse” among other horror offerings, and held off on the film’s original 2007 release date, instead selling it to Senator Entertainment. That company then went out of business, and the film wound up in a strange sort of limbo until a lone Comic-Con screening in 2010. In the oddball way that Comic-Con can work, the film generated a baffling degree of geek heat off that appearance, and finally this year Radius, another TWC offshoot, brought the title back home again and announced its U.S. release.

There are many reasons why films get shelved, a few of which are demonstrated by the ‘Mandy Lane’ story—distribution company wrangling; sudden cold feet after the failure of something similar; the collapse of one of the interested parties. But there have also, over the years been even odder stories of delayed releases, some longer, some shorter, but all illuminating when it comes to the way that the film industry works. We thought we’d take this chance to take a look at just a few of these, and in fact there were so many tantalizing prospects that we're intending to revisit this feature in a part two sometime soon. In each case either the film was one we wanted to draw attention to, or the story of the shelving was just too juicy to pass up, but each of these 18 titles had an odd, rocky path to our screens (when they’ve even made it there yet) and each is its own cautionary tale: just because your your film is financed, shot, edited, and in the can, doesn’t mean you’re home free.

The Day The Clown Cried” (1972)
Length of Delay: 31 years and counting
What's it About: Oh boy. Directed by and starring Jerry Lewis, the film follows the story of a down-on-his-luck German circus clown, Helmut Doork, who is thrown into a Nazi camp after making drunken jokes about Hitler. Once there, he is mocked by fellow inmates, but discovers that the Jewish children, from whom the other inmates are strictly segregated, are amused by his clown act, and he begins to perform for them. The camp authorities, initially irritated by his breaking the rules, realize they can make use of him, and in exchange for the promise to review his case for release early, have him entertain the children who are being loaded onto trains to take them to the death camps. He ends up accidentally accompanying one group to Auschwitz, where he is again put to work leading them (Oh boy, oh boy) into the gas chamber. While he seems to believe that at some point the children will be saved by some sort of intervention, when that does not occur, he is overcome with guilt and begs to be allowed to continue to entertain them in the “shower room.” Yes. There’s a whole lot of "wow" going on here.
Why Was It Delayed: Did you read that plot description? Obviously the real question is why on earth he thought it a good idea to make it in the first place. And in fact, Lewis seems to have been rightly afraid of the material initially, which somehow then changed into him regarding it almost as the ultimate challenge for his comedic talents. So it was good intentions, mixed in with ego and a misguided belief that “the Academy couldn’t ignore” such a potent subject (indeed the film that boasts the nearest equivalent plot line, “Life is Beautiful” did find Oscar glory) which saw Lewis pretty gung-ho at the start. And once he had changed the original script (which had Doork essentially portrayed as an absolute bastard) to make his character more of a naif, he clearly thought the essential utter tastelessness of the endeavor had been mitigated. Production woes ensued, however, with the film running out of money prior to completion and Lewis sinking in his own cash to get it finished, and then getting embroiled in intractable litigation with the original producer. Quite at what point it changed from Lewis not being able to release the film to Lewis actively suppressing it, is unclear, though. He initially claimed it was going to premiere at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival, but that obviously never materialized and soon after Lewis, who reportedly owns one of only two prints of the film that exist, went very quiet on the subject and began his policy of stonewalling any questions about it, which pretty much continues to this day—at this year’s Cannes he reiterated “It was bad work. You'll never see it and neither will anyone else.”
Was It Worth The Wait: Well, of course we’re still waiting. But those rare individuals who’ve seen it (Harry Shearer famously being one) are unequivocal in just how face-meltingly bad it is, how misguided and tone-deaf, which, coupled with Lewis’ emphatic assertion that it will never be seen, makes it a kind of holy grail for film cultists. Its myth has built to the degree that this youtube video featuring rare footage from the film became something of a sensation recently, and while it only offers the occasional glimpse (as well as backstage footage featuring people like Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin), what’s there does seem to suggest that Shearer’s comment that, “It’s a perfect object. This movie is so drastically wrong, its pathos and its comedy are so wildly misplaced, that you could not, in your fantasy of what it might be like, improve on what it really is,” might actually be accurate. We can’t rightly grade, having never actually seen it, but the consensus appears to be that we might have to invent a lower grade than F if we ever do. [?]

"Margaret" (2011)
Length of Delay? “Margaret” began shooting in 2006, slated for a 2007 release, but it didn’t reach theaters until fall 2011.
What's it About? Anna Paquin stars as a disillusioned high schooler who finds herself involved in a legal and moral mess when she watches a horrible accident claim the life of a stranger.
Why Was It Delayed: Kenneth Lonergan spent just about all of his professional capital on this follow-up to his debut picture, the well-received “You Can Count On Me.” This picture reportedly emerged from a massive, and massively ambitious script Lonergan penned, the entirety of which was shot as is. Ultimately, Lonergan would not, or could not (depending on who you ask) cut the picture down to the mandated 150 minute length, preferring a sprawling three hour cut instead. Several people attempted to assist Lonergan in trimming the runtime, including Executive Producers Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella, both of whom passed away while this picture languished in purgatory. Even Martin Scorsese came aboard to provide edits; he praised the picture effusively, but could not cut it down to the ideal runtime. After years of struggle, a 150-minute cut, reportedly without much participation from Lonergan, hit a handful of theaters in 2011, though a three-hour version was able to see the light of day on DVD.
Was It Worth The Wait: “Margaret” attained something of a reputation as a lost film for years before its release, and publicity stills of a teenaged Paquin and then-younger co-stars like Matt Damon and Matthew Broderick might as well have been cave drawings. But while Fox Searchlight sought to bury it upon its contractually-mandated theatrical release, the support for the film was vocal, enough to boost the awards consideration despite zero campaigning from Fox. And for good reason: the theatrical release of “Margaret” feels maddeningly imperfect, littered with abrupt pacing shifts, eerie montages, and hypnotic time-lapse photography wallpapering over the holes in the story. But what remained was a massive tapestry for Lonergan’s characters to play within: Paquin’s wisecracking student was both intensely familiar and completely alienating, a terrible, but relatable person who misinterpreted the tragedy she witnessed as being about her grief. Almost a corrective to the precious notion that everyone is the star of their own story, Paquin’s Lisa Cohen is torn in all directions by a frayed relationship with her parents, and an awkward sexual coming-of-age, both complicated by the First World burden she feels for being peripherally responsible for the loss of a life. The DVD cut is even richer, building bridges that didn’t already exist, reconfiguring what has to be one of the great American films of the new millennium. [A]

Romance and Cigarettes” (2005)
Length of Delay: 2 years, from the film’s premiere in Venice 2005 till its limited, self-financed release in 2007.
What's it About: Featuring an all-star cast, John Turturro’s oddball but endearing film follows ordinary schlub Nick (James Gandolfini), who is cheating on his wife (Susan Sarandon) with a pretty but trashy English girl (Kate Winslet).  As his infidelity is revealed, it forces him to reevaluate his life, often through the medium of full-throated song and dance numbers set to contemporary pop hits that better express the characters’ emotions than they can.
Why Was It Delayed: It’s not the most marketable project in the world, granted, but “Romance and Cigarettes” does seem a prime example of a studio simply losing faith in one of its properties. Greeted with hardly effusive but measuredly positive reviews from the trades after Venice, it got a release in a few smaller territories before distributors United Artists appear to have put it in some “to-do” file that they swear was just right there a second ago, that then got shuffled around and lost during the company’s corporate switch to Sony. Eventually, tired of waiting for something to happen, Turturro (who is fast becoming our awesome go-to dude du jour on the back of stories like these) self-financed a very limited U.S. release in 2007, which at least got the film out there, and forced UA’s hand into putting it out on DVD in 2008.
Was It Worth The Wait: We’re going to buck the trend and say yes.The whimsicality of the film’s premise may make it too twee for some, but for the most part “Romance and Cigarettes” is a well-achieved, off-kilter film that is different in almost exclusively good ways from the average indie movie. It’s a sweet but melancholy story that doesn’t take itself too seriously but is still anchored by the groundedness of both Gandolfini and Sarandon in their central roles, while the day-glow colorful supporting cast swirls around them, including Winslet, Aida Turturro, Mary-Louise Parker, Mandy Moore, Bobby Cannavale and Christopher Walken (who sings Tom Jones’“Delilah”). And while it may overstay its welcome just a tad, it still boasts enough genuine brio, inventiveness and Englebert Humperdinck to make it a satisfyingly offbeat and occasionally quite moving, diversion. [B]

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8 Comments

  • dwhelm | October 31, 2013 4:25 AMReply

    Where do you guys stand on Roar (1981). It took 11 years to make because of floods, and cast members getting messed up by the lions.

  • Steve Din | October 16, 2013 3:46 PMReply

    The Brave?

  • gary | October 11, 2013 7:48 PMReply

    Space Milkshake not on the list?

  • Patrick | October 11, 2013 5:11 PMReply

    Interesting that "Margaret" got an 'A', I read the script and it's like 3 unrelated scripts in one and 2 of them should've been plays. I'd like to see the full version now.

  • JESSE PINKMAN | October 11, 2013 10:12 AMReply

    Farrell who can more or less only do a Dublin accent ? ?

    have you seen PHONE BOOTH and TIGERLAND

  • welshevs75 | October 11, 2013 7:03 AMReply

    I have owned the 'Mandy Lane' film on DVD in the UK for at least a couple of years...funny how it has taken so long to get screened in the US and why it just simply did not go straight to DVD

  • Theoc | October 10, 2013 6:29 PMReply

    Excellent list this. Side note, not only is Ordinary Decent criminal shockingly bad, it was the third time the story had been told, as Ken Stott had played the character in a fairly good TV drama around the same time. Kevin Spacey's accent?? hard to believe it's directed by an Irish man. Shit.

  • James | October 10, 2013 5:46 PMReply

    P.J. Hogan used the heat he had from 1997's "My Best Friend's Wedding" to get the thoroughly weird but fascinating dark comedy "Unconditional Love" made in 1999.

    It starred Kathy Bates and MBFW's breakout star Rupert Everett in the bonkers story of an unappreciated housewife who decides to attend the funeral of her favorite pop singer, loosely based on Tom Jones, after he is murdered. She meets his gay lover, and they team up to catch the crossbow-wielding serial killer who murdered the singer, joined every so often by Julie Andrews (playing herself) leading a sing-along.

    The studio was obviously horrified when they saw the result. Though why that was is beyond me, as it's exactly as Hogan wrote it.

    They buried it for three years, before finally releasing it on the Starz cable network, and then sending it direct to DVD. It's the most incomprehensibly big budget indie film you'll ever see. How anyone thought it could be a mainstream success, justifying its huge budget, is beyond me, but it's witty, original, and fun.

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