As evidenced here. Release date, September 4th. Which is soon. This is such great news. I think it’s the first time this film is being released on video? I’ve featured it on Feature Friday, here. Wiki article’s here. It stars Walter Matthau, of course, as well as the great Ms. May.
Who has been terribly served by home video! Terribly! Horribly. Hopefully, this release will marks the start of something new, the beginnings of a turnaround!
Related: The Heartbreak Kid, and Mikey and Nicky.
I’ve already happily linked to online copies of two Elaine May films on Feature Friday—The Heartbreak Kid (1972) and A New Leaf (1971), both still up at YouTube. Now I’m happy to link to a third; I like Elaine May that much.
May directed Mikey and Nicky immediately after her first two films, in 1973. She shot a tremendous amount of footage—supposedly 3x more than was shot for Gone With the Wind—oftentimes letting multiple cameras role while she let stars John Cassavetes and Peter Falk improvise (which included, on at least one occasion, their leaving the set; May kept rolling). This (and the fact that production went way, way over budget) invoked the wrath of her producers, who tried to take the film away in editing. (Reportedly, May held some of the negative footage hostage, essentially blackmailing her way back into post-production.) A slapped-together version of the film was given a token release in late 1976, then finished by May in the following years. The result is a complex study of betrayal and guilt that would seem at least partially autobiographical—for one thing, May apparently named it after the world’s other fastest human, Mike Nichols.
I know the world is getting better because I can now read X-Men comics on my computer (and touchpad!). But I know it’s getting worse because when I search for The Heartbreak Kid, Elaine May’s brilliant 1972 feature, I find mostly the Ben Stiller/Farrelly Brothers utter-shit version from 2007. So it takes some sorting.
The Heartbreak Kid was May’s second film, her followup to 1971′s A New Leaf (already featured on FF). I don’t know much about how well it did at the time. Shepherd had of course just scored a great success with her debut, Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show (1971). Grodin’s career was picking up steam: he had just finished working with May’s former partner Mike Nichols on Catch-22 (1970); this was his first leading role. Critics liked it. I myself didn’t see it until a few years ago, because like most of May’s films, it’s often been difficult to find on video in the US. Now it’s up at YouTube, so the world’s getting better again.
I do know that, back in the day, people compared this film a lot to The Graduate; May seems to have encouraged that. (Among other things, Grodin was Nichols’s first choice for Benjamin Braddock.) And I like The Graduate fine (especially its last few minutes), but The Heartbreak Kid is clearly the better film. It’s one of the sharpest, funniest indictments of male immaturity—and how it can manifest itself through infidelity—that I have ever seen. No wonder eternal man-children like Ben Stiller and the Farrellys fucked it up.
Sadly, rumors persist that Elaine May wasn’t a good director. Sure, she wasn’t particularly skilled at finishing her films on time, or within their assigned budgets—but she delivered sheer genius every time she stepped behind the camera. Of course, it’s difficult to appreciate that now, since she’s been so unfairly served by video: only Mikey and Nicky (1976) is available on DVD. (It’s outrageous that The Heartbreak Kid, 1972, has never been released—especially after that god-awful remake—although one can sometimes find it streaming at Netflix.)
Hence, we must rely on YouTube. After the jump awaits May’s first feature, A New Leaf (1971), an wonderful, ultra-dark comedy starring both her and Walter Matthau. (Briefly: Matthau plays a spoiled brat who, having exhausted his inheritance, resolves to marry the wealthy May, then murder her.)
My last movie talk with Jeremy (about Midnight in Paris) made me want to rank Woody Allen’s films. Jeremy of course hemmed and hawed, but over a Millirahmstrudel I broke them down into:
- Near Masterpieces
Jeremy agreed to go along with this, albeit with certain objections.
[Last weekend, en route to Madagascar, Jeremy M. Davies swung by my Chicago atelier to hear my neighbor perform Mahler’s "Quartet for Strings and Piano in A Minor" on his singing saw. Fifteen minutes in, two other friends stopped by, bearing bootleg DVDs of three new films: Midnight in Paris, The Tree of Life, and X-Men: First Class. The singing saw forgotten, I fired up my video projector, and a marathon viewing ensued. Hours later, our guests departed, Jeremy and I recorded the following conversation.]
A D: Jeremy, when did you give up on Woody Allen?
Jeremy: Small Time Crooks.
Flaming Creatures (1963), directed by Jack Smith.
Noticing last September that the Features section of this site was blank, I began embedding there feature-length films that are available in their entirety at YouTube. At the moment there are links to:
- L’année dernière à Marienbad (Last Year at Marienbad) (1961), directed by Alain Resnais, written by Alain Robbe-Grillet, starring Delphine Seyrig;
- Flaming Creatures (1963), written and directed by Jack Smith (the last two minutes are missing, for some sad reason);
- A New Leaf (1971), directed by Elaine May, starring May and Walter Matthau;
- Little Murders (1971), directed by Alan Arkin, written by Jules Feiffer, starring Elliott Gould, Donald Sutherland, Alan Arkin, others;
- India Song (1975), written and directed by Marguerite Duras, starring Delphine Seyrig and Michael Lonsdale;
- Ni na bian ji dian (What Time Is it There?) (2001), written by Yang Pi-ying and Tsai Ming-Liang, directed by Tsai Ming-Liang, starring his usual cast.
You can find much better copies of Marienbad and What Time Is It There? on DVD, but the others are trickier to come by. There’s a great DVD of Little Murders, but it’s currently out of print, and not many video stores stock it. India Song finally got a US DVD release last year, but it’s not the kind of film you find lying around. A New Leaf was issued on VHS and is now severely out of print. Flaming Creatures never got any kind of video release to my knowledge (which is a terrible shame, as it’s one of the greatest films ever made). (No doubt the fact that it was seized by the police upon its premiere, and ruled obscene, has played some part in its inaccessibility. Censorship sadly sometimes works!)
Amazingly, all of these films are still up and running at YouTube. I’ll add others as I stumble across them…
In the spirit of Greg’s list from yesterday:
1. Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deren, 1943)
While writing my previous post, I grew aware that I wasn’t mentioning any women filmmakers. So I’d like to add something addressing that (because of course one can find numerous examples). And along the way, I’ll also try to say more in general about the power—and limitations—of the long take.