I have been spending a bit of time recently watching and reading about flops.
The other day I settled down to watch infamous 1980s flop Ishtar for the first time. I know, there are thousands of classic movies still to see and I'm wasting my time mooning over pop culture detritus like Ishtar.
I was inspired to give it a go by Nathan Rabin's great book My Year of Flops. It is a brilliantly written and very funny book in which Rabin sifts through failure after failure searching for gold. Well worth a read.
Ishtar is a curious beast. It failed at the box office and was panned by most critics. Roger Ebert's review of Ishtar from the time makes great reading. He did not like it all. In fact, he descibed it as "a truly dreadful film, a lifeless, massive, lumbering exercise in failed comedy''.
If you're now curious, here's the trailer:
The film was made in famously difficult and tense circumstances with three perfectionist control freaks - Warren Beatty, Dustin Hoffman and director Elaine May - spooling through feet of film in the Morrocan desert. The making of the film is brilliantly captured in Peter Biskind's recent book about Beatty. You can read the chapter about Ishtar here. It is fascinating stuff.
But, what did I make of Ishtar? Well, I thought it was great. For a start, it is very funny. Surprisingly funny. Beatty and Hoffman are great together as a pair of no-hoper songwriters caught in the political turmoil of the Middle East in the 1980s. It was conceived as a modern version of the Bob Hope and Bing Crosby road movies and it works as one.
Songwriter Paul Williams, the genius who wrote the songs for Bugsy Malone, The Muppet Movie and Phantom of the Paradise, was tasked with writing songs that are so bad they are good. He succeeds brilliantly. The terrible songs are one of the funniest things in Ishtar. I love them.
Here he is talking about the songs just before the film's release. You can sense he is nervous of impending disaster.
There is something about a flop that fascinates a film critic. We are delighted when we can draw people's attention to a neglected gem. You see, any fool can pile on when a film is taking a beating, but it takes guts to say you liked a much-maligned film.
And it's magical when a film is rediscovered after disappearing at the box office. I recently blogged about my discovery that John Carter wasn't the car crash I expected. In the comments below, somebody wrote this:
"John Carter became an obsession for me and my sister after witnessing the magic of this amazing film on opening day. We saw it 37 more times over the course of the following four months! We are lucky enough to live in an area which has plenty of first- and second-run cinemas, and luckier still that 'John Carter' remained in theatres from March 9 through June 21. This gave us a very unique chance to watch the audience grow from the seven of us who saw it on opening afternoon to a room of 300 loud, happy, enthusiastic fans by late April, and then on and on.''
That is the dream: that a neglected film will slowly be discovered and transform from an object of derision to one of love.
Are there flops that you secretly love? Do you like Rocketeer or True Romance? Do you have a soft spot for Cutthroat Island? What about Gigli? No, surely nobody loves that?
I have set up a new Facebook page for this blog. ''Like'' if you want blog updates, want to put a trailer my way or suggest a blog topic.
Follow on Twitter.
Post a comment