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The Disc-Less: 5 Re-Evaluated Classics Not Available On DVD, Including 'Greed,' 'Song Of The South' & 'Ishtar'

Features
by Peter Labuza
November 13, 2012 11:04 AM
12 Comments
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The Disc-less is a bi-monthly column exploring films not available on DVD in North America. While physical media is becoming less and less relevant with the advent of online streaming, the best quality for films outside of a theater are still DVDs and Blu-Rays. The release of major and minor cinematic works on physical media has lead to reevaluation of cinematic history. The Disc-less hopes to point cinephiles to films still not available, as well as possible ways one can see them.

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.

The Movie: "Greed" (Erich Von Stroheim, 1924)
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).

The Movie: "Ishtar" (Elaine May, 1987)
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.

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12 Comments

  • Jef Leeson | November 19, 2012 5:21 PMReply

    Ishtar was released on DVD in 2004... just not in North America. Great to read this review, nonetheless.

  • Richard Schitz | November 15, 2012 11:43 AMReply

    I actually own a copy of Ishtar on blu-ray. It was briefly available in Canada a couple years back and I was able to get a copy before it was pulled. Great film.

  • Joseph Millett | November 14, 2012 8:28 AMReply

    And of course, if you're a retro geek like me, you still have your laserdisc player and your Japanese import disc of "Song of the South" (in English! And you can even suppress the Japanese sub-titles for everything except the songs)

  • Criterion10 | November 13, 2012 1:50 PMReply

    This is a good list indeed and I quite like this new column. I'd love to be able to see Greed and The Last Movie, but I'm currently holding off, hoping someone releases them.

    Similar to Song of the South, another controversial film I'd love to see released is Ken Russell's The Devils, which has been denied a release by WB for the past decade due to its depiction of sex, violence, and religion. It was recently released in the UK by the BFI who convinced WB to license the film to them. Maybe Criterion can work out something similar.

  • WRT | November 13, 2012 1:37 PMReply

    Wild River is available on Region 1 DVD, as part of the Elia Kazan box set.

  • drew | November 13, 2012 12:33 PMReply

    Ishtar was an all-time favourite of my friends and I.
    Hoffman and Beatty are at their best! I'm glad to read
    a nice review of it for once. Elaine May is brilliant. I
    would add her film with Walter Matthau "A New Leaf"
    to this list of under-appreciated disc-less movies.

  • Fred | November 14, 2012 3:16 PM

    Drew, A New Leaf is recently available on DVD and BluRay from Olive Films.

  • Archer Slyce | November 13, 2012 12:18 PMReply

    And to think that Cimino "won" a Razzie award for Heaven's gate !

  • KW | November 13, 2012 12:18 PMReply

    I heard of a really obscure movie that has yet to be released titled 'The Farmer'. I heard nothing but praise for this revenge flick. I have never heard anything of it. Another great movie that has never been given an official and proper home video release is Tsui Hark's Blade. One of Tsui Hark's last great films before he really floundered. Not too crazy about his new works. Blade stands as one of his best.

  • Archer Slyce | November 13, 2012 1:28 PM

    There has been one great collector edition of The Blade on DVD but sadly that was in France (by Christophe Gans' HK Video) and years ago ...

  • carter | November 13, 2012 11:53 AMReply

    Thanks for list. I caught "Wild River" on TMC last year, looking forward to seeing it again.

  • Allen | November 13, 2012 11:49 AMReply

    "Wild River" Blu-ray is available for pre-order as a part of the "Kazan at Fox, Vol. 2" box over at foxconnect.com.
    Individual Blu-ray release will be available for pre-order on January 15th.

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