On November 19th, Criterion will be putting out the infamous maudit film, Michael Cimino’s "Heaven’s Gate." The film is a masterwork, a tragedy that is both extremely intimate and expansive in scope, rich in both its visual feast and its emotional narrative. Studio clashes and misguided reviews made it one of Hollywood’s most notorious flops, essentially killing United Artists. However, reevaluation and this new restoration has finally shed light on this great work of cinema. This week, we highlight five more American epics that were dismissed at their release, and hope DVD releases will lead to their reconsideration.
What’s Going On: An adaptation of the classic novel "McTeague" by Frank Norris, in which a San Francisco dentist and his wife grow increasingly perverse and insane after winning the lottery.
Why You Need To See It: "Greed" is perhaps the most lauded film on this list to have never made it to DVD. Von Stroheim’s film is ripe with raw human emotion, stunning visual images, and a brutal and cynical view of America. It features some of the most naked silent acting to ever appear on screen, and Von Stroheim captures it with a lived-in reality, even in the film’s most often screened two-hour cut.
Why You Can’t Get A Disc: The original screening of "Greed," according to lore, runs over 8 hours, and MGM producer Irving Thalberg had that cut destroyed, and much of the footage reportedly burned. As such, a complete "Greed" will never be found, though TCM made a four-hour cut in 1999 using a combination of footage and still photos to hint at the larger epic that was originally produced. As we reported a couple years back, TCM does have plans to one day bring it to DVD, but at that time there were only talks, so who knows when it will actually happen.
How You Can See It: The VHS is still quite popular, and 35mm screenings pop up here and there occasionally in various repertory theaters, but otherwise one must watch it on YouTube (which sadly won’t capture its epic vistas).
What’s Going On: Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty, playing the two worst songwriters in all existence, accidentally start a revolution in the fictional country of Ishtar as they travel to Morocco for a gig.
Why You Need To See It: Forget everything you’ve ever heard—"Ishtar" is one of the funniest movies ever made, full stop. This is a Will Ferrell-esque political satire way too ahead of its time, full of some of the dumbest gags (blind camels, made up languages, and more) ever produced, but sometimes dumb comedy is also genius. Too much writing on Elaine May's film focuses on its gargantuan budget and its critical shellacking, but Beatty and Hoffman make every terrible song into pure comedy, and the satire is surprisingly fresh (though the references to Libyan leader Gaddafi are finally dated).
Why You Can’t Get A Disc: For many years, nobody has really wanted to revisit "Ishtar" by making a disc of it. Sony announced a Blu-Ray coming out in January 2011, but it ended up only being a R2 release. May commented during a screening in May 2011 that there still might be a release sometime soon.
How You Can See It: The R2 Blu-Ray and DVD are quite good-looking, though bare bones for a film that should have endless special features. Otherwise, torrent sites have continued to spread the film.