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. [?]
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]
“Prozac Nation” (2001)
Length of Delay: 4 1/2 years, between its TIFF premiere in 2001 at which Miramax bought it, till its eventual quiet U.S. debut in 2005 on Starz! channel and DVD.
What’s it About: Based on author Elizabeth Wurtzel’s literary phenomenon memoir of the same name, the film follows Lizzie (Christina Ricci), a scholarship student to Harvard who, despite success and recognition, finds herself turning more to the abuse of drugs and sex to combat her growing depression. After a suicide attempt, and a long period of psychiatric treatment and medication that her mother can ill afford, Lizzie is stabilized, but at some cost to her sense of self.
Why Was It Delayed: Actually there are several reasons. The film was snapped up by the Weinsteins, despite its cool-to-middling reception at TIFF, and it’s understandable that they might have hoped they’d have something akin to the successful 1998 picture “Girl, Interrupted” on their hands, with the added boon that this was based on a hugely buzzy book, and featured a well-received Christina Ricci performance (and her first ever topless scene). However it simply seems a case of buyer beware as Miramax quickly lost faith in the project (directed by original “Insomnia” helmer Erik Skjoldbjærg, btw), apparently disheartened by subsequent test screening responses, despite various attempts at re-editing. Add to this a controversy that arose after Wurtzel made some thoughtless comments about her lack of emotional reaction to the events of 9/11 (she would later recant and claim that she was speaking while in fact still under the influence of the profound shock she’d received), and the decision was made to delay the immediate release for pragmatic reasons too. However despite the film getting a release in the director’s native Norway and some other territories in the interim, Miramax, despite pressure from self-identifying “Wurzelites,” never regained their faith enough to give it a decent U.S. release and it premiered on TV in 2005.
Was It Worth The Wait: Not really. Loath though we might be to suggest that Miramax had a point, the film is a slog, with Ricci giving it her all (though unforgettably being dubbed “Christina Screechy” by one critic) but in a thankless, unsympathetic, self-involved role. While the film’s defenders suggest that one reason for Miramax’s gun-shy attitude was that it was simply too accurate a portrait of the difficult topic of depression, in fact the the film doesn’t actually serve that agenda at all well, trivializing the portrayal of the disease as a series of whiny, ego episodes that, watched with all the empathy in the world don’t come close to offering any insights for those seeking a better understanding of this much-misunderstood affliction. It’s a relentless downbeat, dramatically inert movie that even Ricci’s unwavering commitment can’t save, and while it doesn’t deserve to go to prison forever (certainly doesn’t deserve the martyr status it might then acquire) yeah, a five-years-later Starz debut seems about right. [C-]
“Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer” (1986)
Length of Delay? The picture finished shooting in 1986, but only received a theatrical release in 1989.
What’s it About? A loose retelling of the story of murderer Henry Lee Lucas.
Why Was It Delayed: “Henry” debuted at the Chicago International Film Festival, but it gained no favor from the MPAA, who refused to suggest a proper way to cut the film to achieve an R-rating. It took years, and the outspoken support of Roger Ebert, before the picture saw release, though it was unrated.
Was It Worth The Wait: “Henry” is one of the most sickening films ever made, and none of that has to do with graphic violence. There’s plenty of bloodshed in the film, though most of the attacks and the film’s examples of brutality are either bluntly non-gory, or short, upsetting bursts. Instead, the picture emphasizes the mundane nature of killing, showcasing how easy it can be to shift from normal to insane in a relatively brief time. Most of this comes from Michael Rooker, a hammy character actor who nonetheless brings a terrifyingly real edge to his role as this murderous loner. Rooker’s been a dramatic lightweight in several pictures, but in “Henry” he gives one of the genre’s great performances as a man who manages to hide his unhinged nature behind a mask of everyday banality, never once implying that this normal guy couldn’t possibly be hiding a sociopath underneath. It’s an upsetting film like no other, accurately illustrating the line between Average Joe and Bloodthirsty Killer in a way no other film has since then. [A-]
“The Other Side of the Wind” (1972)
Length of Delay: 41 years and counting
What’s it About: An eternally unfinished epic, uber-meta magnum opus from Orson Welles, “The Other Side of the Wind” (which is also the name of the film-within-the-film, large portions of which were shot), is the story of Hannaford, a larger-than-life, Hemingway-esque film director (Welles considered casting himself but settled on his friend, the larger-than-life, Hemingway-esque John Huston instead) on the last day of his life, which happens to be his 70th birthday. At the party, skeletons come roaring out of closets as friends, enemies and frenemies are shown scenes from the film he is shooting, and Hannaford gets progressively drunker and by turns abusive, maudlin, violent and flirtatious, with female and male guests alike. As the revelations and confrontations of the night finally die back, Hannaford drives his car into a drive-in screen showing his film, and dies whether accidentally or by suicide remains unclear.
Why Was It Delayed: Well, the actual story of the delay would probably take about four decades to tell, so we’ll topline it here: Welles, never one wanting in ambition, actually shot footage for ‘Wind’ over the course of seven years, largely self-financed (down to paying some cast and crew members in “Citizen Kane” Oscar statuettes or boxes of cigars), weathering crippling tax audits, embezzlement scandals and self-imposed delays alike. He did not even settle on John Huston for the lead role until 1973, meaning that some conversations at the party had one half filmed in 1970, and the responses shot three or four years later. It was furthermore prey to Welles’ astonishing perfectionism and desire to experiment with the avant-garde while also sending up its excesses—the film within the film was at one point estimated to run to 50% of the total film’s running time, with it being described by Welles as an “old man’s attempt to do a kind of counterculture film, in a surrealist, dreamlike style… Not the kind of film I’d want to make; I’ve invented a style for [Hannaford].” And even outside of Hannaford’s film, Welles was experimenting—‘Wind’ employs black and white footage alongside color, photomontage alongside motion pictures, and was largely improvised by a cast stacked with filmmakers, sometimes playing themselves, but sometimes acting—Peter Bogdanovich, Dennis Hopper, Calude Chabrol, Henry Jaglom and Paul Mazursky all turn up playing more or less fictionalized versions of themselves. Mostly, though, the film is a victim of three things: Welles’ age and infirmity at the time, his inability to find a steady finance source so he could edit it full-time and the wrangling and reverence for him now that he’s gone, that had some of the players even asserting it would be a “betrayal” to have anyone try to finish and release the film.
Was It Worth The Wait: At the moment it still languishes in “what if” limbo, as following Welles’ death, the full extent of the catastrophic tangle of ownership and copyright issues over the film gradually made itself known with successive attempts to complete it. As it is, 40-50 minutes were completed by Welles, and there remains ten hours of footage from which to cull the remaining portions. The most promising of the ongoing attempts to complete it is probably that spearheaded by Welles scholar, friend and star of the movie Peter Bogdanovich, who has reported that the negative is in good condition and that he believes at some point he will get to bring it to as finished a standard as possible. However money is again the problem, with backers Showtime not committing so far to a specific budget for completion, and with the specter of Welles’ “Don Quixote” looming large—that film was widely panned after being rather cheaply cobbled together posthumously. Still, no cinephile worth their salt can fail to be intrigued by this project, for its meta, inside-baseball look at a fascinating period of movie history if nothing else. That’s if our tiny heads could actually handle it—from what we hear this may be as close as we ever get to a real-life 70s movie-industry version of Charlie Kaufman’s “Synecdoche, New York.” It’s been forty-odd years, but is the world ready for that? [?]
“Pride and Glory” (2008)
Length of Delay: 2 years, until its release in October 2008, actually some months earlier than was originally threatened.
What’s it About: The Gavin O’Connor-directed, Joe Carnahan-co-scripted film follows the story of a family of NYPD cops—the patriarch (Jon Voight), the two sons (Ed Norton and Noah Emmerich) and the son in law (Colin Farrell), as The Good One (Norton) discovers that his brothers may be involved in high-level corruption that he ultimately has to choose to conceal in the name of family or reveal in the name of truth.
Why Was It Delayed: At one point a vehicle for Hugh Jackman and Mark Wahlberg, “Pride & Glory,” a long-standing, apparently very personal passion project for O’Connor, originally got a green light all the way back in 2002, but production stalled until 2005, with co-writer Carnahan citing 9/11 as a good reason to postpone a film that presented a critical portrayal of the New York police. New Line got the rights back, however and the film was recast and shot in early 2006, but instead of the prompt release that the director, writer and stars felt it warranted, New Line then sat on the property for some time, eventually even adding insult to injury by shifting its already delayed release date of March 2008 back to “sometime in 2009.” In fact they ended up releasing it in October of 2008 but not before a great deal of public bitterness had been aired, by O’Connor, Carnahan, Norton and Farrell about the studio’s treatment of the film.
Was It Worth The Wait: Well, here’s the irony. Where the vocal complaints from the cast and filmmakers might have led you to believe that the film was a neglected masterpiece being unjustly left to languish by a chickenshit studio that didn’t understand its value, the film that finally made it into cinemas was a little more than a desperately unoriginal retread of every single dirty-cop cliché in the well-worn book. In fact the only thing that really elevates the film out of sheer forgettability is the caliber of the cast, but even there, they all seem so sure that the tired lines they’re delivering are pearls of profane tough-nut wisdom, and the story beats they’re negotiating are hugely inventive and surprising, that the effect is a huge, sometimes nearly comic, disconnect between what they think the audience is thinking, and what the audience actually is thinking. Seriously, one more po-faced “Because I’m a cop!” or “Because I’m your brother!” and we may have actually LOL’d. It’s not that it’s a particularly bad film at all, it’s just completely by-the-numbers and certainly not worth getting so aereated about. [C+]
“Repo Men” (2010)
Length of Delay: 2 years, from the film’s completion in 2008 to its release in 2010
What’s It About: Not to be in any way even partially, tangentially confused with Alex Cox’s punk cult classic “Repo Man,” “Repo Men” (retitled from “Repossession Mambo”) is set in a dystopian future where a thriving business exists in artificial replacement human organs, and in being the guys sent to “repossess” those organs when the exorbitant payments can’t be met. Jude Law and Forest Whitaker play two such characters, Remy and Jake, regarded as the best in the business, which puts strain on Remy’s relationship with his wife to the point that he transfers out of the department. However when Remy himself finds he needs to pay for a replacement organ, he’s forced back into the repo game, where he meets and falls for a new girl (Alice Braga) with whom he eventually plots to take down the evil corporation that employs him once and for all, having had his eyes opened to the immorality of what they’ve been doing all these years. At least that’s what we think is the plot.
Why Was It Delayed: Well here’s where the story gets nearly as confusing as the movie. There’s another film, you see, released in 2008 called “Repo! The Genetic Opera,” which was a low-budget ‘Rocky Horror’-esque rock opera starring Alexa Vega, Paul Sorvino, Anthony Head and Paris Hilton(!). And it dealt with a story, set in the future in which a ruthless corporation “repossesses” organ implants from customers unable to continue to pay for them. So, yeah. With the script for that film, and the source material, predating “Repo Men” by several years, and with a small but vocal cult springing up around ‘Repo!’ the latter film was the target of quite some vitriol, despite both sets of filmmakers officially denying any connection or rip-offery. In fact, while it might seem that “Repo Men” was delayed to leave some clear air between it and ‘Repo!,’ in fact the intervening years were actually taken up with constant postproduction tinkering and re-edits, as clearly producers felt they had something sellable in the high-concept sci-fi premise, gory violence, and potential draw of two biggish stars, but struggled to find just what. It may seem too coincidental, but as anyone who’s seen it can tell you, it’s quite clear that, aside from any potential copycat issues, no one knew what the hell to do with the film which seems to show all the enthusiasm of the neophyte from debut director Miguel Sapochnik, but none of the competence or storytelling confidence that a few more years in the saddle might have lent him (he’s been banished to TV ever since).
Was It Worth The Wait: Really the surprise is that while they clearly knew they were in trouble with the film to the point that they tried reshaping it considerably at post-production stage, somehow it was this cut that producers let loose on the world. A mess of flashbacks, plot contrivances, and characterization that longs in its wildest dreams to be called cardboard, the film actually feels a bit like watching a rough cut. And it’s actually kind of a shame, because there are moments and elements that are good, quite aside from a pleasantly screwy, Cronenberg-minus-the-cerebrality premise: Law, and Liev Schreiber, in one of his oleaginous company-man baddie roles, kind of manage the film’s abrupt tonal shifts from gentle satire to gory violence to rebel-with-a-cause narrative (though Whitaker feels miscast from the off). Mostly, though, the choppiness makes it difficult to navigate and the film feels more like the warmed-over remainder of a bunch of other, better movies. We’ll leave you to judge whether “Repo! The Genetic Opera” is one of those. [C]
“White Dog” (1982)
Length of Delay? Shot in 1981, “White Dog” was actually pulled from the schedule by Paramount Pictures, and it never saw a theatrical release in America, though it was released overseas.
What’s it About? A young actress adopts a German shepherd, learning that her new companion has led a life where he’s been trained to attack black people.
Why Was It Delayed: Obviously, the concept of “White Dog” is incendiary, dealing with a dog forced by a black trainer to stop attacking other black people. But in addition to that questionable plot, there was the fact that this differed highly from Romain Gary’s original book, where the dog was owned by a black man and forced to chase whites. The decision to make the film more confrontational than its source was challenged by a number of groups. Even Paramount seemed skittish: for all intents and purposes, it seemed like they were aiming for another ”Jaws”-alike when Roman Polanski was first involved to direct. Protests and boycotts made the studio realize it wasn’t worth the trouble, and its first official American release was on DVD in 2008.
Was It Worth The Wait: “White Dog” has a borderline camp aesthetic, but legendary film noir director Sam Fuller plays the film completely, upsettingly straight. This is a picture that finds Paul Winfield basically playing a fantasy construct (the skilled professional perfect to heal this ridiculous predicament) with the sort of weight best saved for the theater. Not a laugh is heard, and Ennio Morricone’s gorgeous score sternly takes this pulp and shapes it into something more broadly operatic and engaging. [A-]
“Phone Booth” (2002)
Length of Delay: 5 months, from November 2002 to April 2003.
What’s it About: An amoral publicist (Colin Farrell) engaged in an adulterous affair picks up a ringing payphone on the street, and is informed by a voice on the other end (Kiefer Sutherland) that there is a sniper’s rifle trained on him and he must do exactly as he says in order to survive, and also that he is not a random victim, but has been chosen by the sniper because of his moral failings, and is to be given a chance to “atone.” The Joel Schumacher film then unfolds in real time, primarily in and around the phone booth, which the victim cannot leave for the duration.
Why Was It Delayed: The highest of high concept scripts, which was apparently, in a nascent form pitched by screenwriter and B-movie maven Larry Cohen to Hitchcock all the way back in the 1960s (Hitch liked the premise, but neither man could work out the plot’s logistics at the time), had actually been the subject of a bidding war once Cohen hit upon the sniper idea as the chief driver of the plot. However, once it got made (Mel Gibson, Michael Bay, and Jim Carrey were all reported to be interested in the property at one time or another) the timing of its projected release proved unfortunate, as it coincided with the Beltway Sniper attacks. The series of shootings that left ten dead and three others critically injured across DC, Maryland and Virginia, took place over a three week period in October 2002, and the seemingly random nature of the killings terrorized the local population and obsessed the national media for weeks. The film’s front-and-center plot device involving a sniper meant that its publicity had to be pulled, and the release date pushed back. Perhaps the most surprising thing is that it was only moved back by five months.
Was It Worth The Wait: A measured yes. “Phone Booth” is a fun, mostly well-realized B-movie thriller that only unravels (like so many single-location movies) in its last few minutes. That said, it is super dumb all the way through, which somehow makes the ease with which we can suspend our disbelief for it all the more impressive. Making not a lick of sense and somehow meting out “justice” to a guy who’s main crime seems to be horniness and a little moral relativism when it comes to his life choices, the film is still a pretty entertaining schlock thriller, even if a lot of its power derives from simple curiosity about how on earth they’re gonna keep this up. [B-]
Length of Delay? The picture was wrapped and ready for a summer 2007 release, but if eventually shifted to early 2009.
What’s it About? Five lifelong friends team up to infiltrate Skywalker Ranch and see an early cut of “Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace” before one of them dies of cancer.
Why Was It Delayed: Classic Weinsteins! The Weinstein Company would not agree to that cancer subplot, and original director Kyle Newman was junked in favor of Adam Sandler devotee Steven Brill. Brill presided over a reshot cut of the film that eliminated the cancer subplot completely, but once news of this cut hit the internet, the core audience of 500 nerds for this film were vocal in their displeasure. Eventually Newman came back on to restore the film to its original version, and that cut was quietly dumped into theaters in February ’09.
Was It Worth The Wait: Ultimately, you’re dealing with the sort of fan service here that is for nerds, by nerds. Removing the cancer subplot would have been dumb, as it reeks of the sort of market-testing that nerds don’t necessarily go for. But cancer can’t make or break this amateurish film, one that thinks making “Star Wars” jokes in the early aughts is at all fresh or interesting. The film has a decent cast, as Jay Baruchel is slyly charming and Kristen Bell is an absolute delight, and the picture is loaded with show-stopping cameos by the likes of Seth Rogen, Danny McBride and William Shatner. But the compromise of those first two to tailor their personalities for a PG-13 is similar to the shallow pandering not only to George Lucas and his lemming-like fans, but to nerds who otherwise have no qualms with reductive sexism and homophobia. Making a movie like “Fanboys” in 1990 would have been inspiring, but making it in the mid-aughts when the nerds have already won seems utterly pointless. [C-]
“Fast, Cheap and Out of Control” (1997)
Length of Delay: Difficult to tell, but up to 5 years, between 1992 when we know director Errol Morris was working on it, till its eventual release in October1997.
What’s it About: Well here we go attempting a one-line summary of a film that Morris himself said “utterly resists the possibility of a one-line summary.” The film follows four interviewees, none of whom know each other and who are only very tangentially connected in that all four have extremely odd occupations that involve animals somehow. They are a lion tamer; an animal topiarist; an expert on hairless mole-rats; and a scientist who is creating small robots based on his observations of insects. As the film progresses, the absurd, and seemingly random choice of the four participants begins to make an odd kind of sense as moments of synergy and confluence happen between the strands always, of course, without the subjects themselves being aware of them.
Why Was It Delayed: In the absence of absolute evidence to the contrary, we’re tempted to say the long delay, which was not unprecedented in Morris’ career to that point (it was seven years between “Gates of Heaven” and “Vernon, Florida”) was simply the minimum time it took for Morris to be able to carve a film-shaped object out of the material he had gathered. But the fact that it’s also an almost indescribably esoteric documentary, one that builds to a tremendously moving and rather philosophical portrait of nature and mankind, mortality and the very future of humankind’s existence, among other lofty topics, is hardly marketing-friendly either. When, especially in an ever more crowded documentary market, the one-line sellable pitch becomes ever more important (“it’s about a pet cemetery”; “it’s about the death penalty,” etc.) a film that makes virtue out of not having one of those is going to have a hard time getting out there, even if it is by a bona fide proven genius of the form.
Was It Worth The Wait: Yes indeed. While not as immediately punchy as some of Morris’ work “Fast Cheap and Out of Control” is a wonderful, peculiar, meditative film that quite literally had us thinking thoughts I’m not sure we’d ever thought before. It’s a strange, inspirational palimpsest that plays out in a minor key and somehow become far, far greater than the sum of its oddball parts, using the Caleb Sampson score and interspersed sections of vintage stock footage to great effect. And in the almost uncanny way it threads together a somewhat coherent, though poetic, train of thought from such disparate fragments, the whole endeavor itself feels like a metaphor for how we try to make sense of our random world, and bring forth thoughts and patterns out of the chaos. [A-]
Length of Delay: 5 years, from its festival premiere and European release, till being released in the U.S. in 1992
What’s it About: A typically nihilist William Friedkin movie that boasts some pretty nasty moments, whichever version you see, “Rampage” is about a serial killer, Charles Reece, who drinks the blood of his victims in an effort to mitigate the blood poisoning he believes that Satan himself is visiting upon him. However his crimes are so perverse and horrible that it drives formerly liberal prosecutor Anthony Fraser (Michael Biehn) to try to prove that Reece is in fact sane, so that he can avoid an insanity plea and be sent to the chair.
Why Was It Delayed: Really it was a victim of bad timing—“Rampage” premiered just before the the company that financed it, the De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, went bankrupt. After the smoke from that company’s dissolution cleared, Miramax picked up the rights to Friedkin’s film, but this is Friedkin so the story couldn’t possibly end there. In fact, Friedkin had undergone a major change of heart with regard to the film’s stance on the death penalty in the meantime, and he used the delay to re-edit the film. And not just to refine what had been there before, but arguably to change the whole moral of the outcome, including a very different ending and fate for the killer. So while the film that played in 1987 (that is to this day the more common version found in Europe) was more subtle in the moral complexity it gave to the central conundrum, the re-edit is arguably much blunter, making it clearer that Friedkin is putting across a vehemently pro-death penalty argument.
Was It Worth The Wait: Without wishing to get too political in our argument, we’d have to say that the film in general is definitely worth checking out for anyone with even a passing interest in the kind of creepy, horror-tinged and often salacious morality plays that Friedkin deals in, though its courtroom-heavy drama may come as a surprise to some expecting something splashier. However, our preference is for the earlier “European” cut, not merely because it more closely lines up with our own ideals, but also because it feels more organic and the 1992 ending struggles rather gracelessly to hammer its point home (we are left in no doubt that the killer will walk free and kill again). Aside from that, though the film is an interesting, somber-textured and somewhat subdued outing from Friedkin that still retains the filmmaker’s distinctive griminess in terms of both its visual aesthetic and its moral absolutism. [B]
Length of Delay? One year, at least for the U.S. It debuted at the 52nd London Film Festival on October 16, 2008, never got a theatrical release and then was dumped onto DVD in November 2009.
What’s it About? Well, when you’re watching it, you have absolutely no idea what this unintentionally hilarious hodge-podge mess is about, but if you read a basic log-line it’s about how four souls bound by fate, romance and tragedy collide in the parallel worlds of London and the futuristic Meanwhile City.
Why Was It Delayed: Let us count the ways. Aside from being awfully silly and yet taking itself super seriously, “Franklyn” was likely delayed and dumped onto DVD for the simple reason that it’s a terrible movie that should probably land filmmaker Gerald McMorrow in director’s jail for a good decade. Why a studio didn’t change the title to something more commercial and/or at least something that appealed to all the genre fanboys that were dying to see it something of a mystery because that would have at least been a step in the right direction from a marketing perspective.
Was It Worth The Wait: Fuck, no. A tonal and narrative mess, “Franklyn” is Terry Gilliam/”Darkman”/Jeunet & Caro/ “Blade Runner”-esque in the Meanwhile City world (steam-punky and dark in a deeply derivative manner) and then “normal” when things are in London. But the movie makes few inroads to describe the who and where and so while you’re meant to be a bit lost until the movie congeals, by the time it gets there you can hardly give a damn. Rather amusingly, the movie touted a performance of Ryan Phillipe inside a mask of which he never removes, that actorly commitment and all that. And yet 15 minutes into the movie Phillipe has taken the mask off and spend half the movie without the mask on. Why does he bother putting it back on once he’s revealed himself? Or more importantly, why was this movie ever even made? [F]
“The 13th Warrior” (1998)
Length Of Delay: Over a year. Trailers started popping up for “The 13th Warrior,” then titled “Eaters of the Dead,” in late 1997 and early 1998, with an assumed summer of 1998 release date. That didn’t happen. In fact, the arduous post-production process (and creative tug-of-war) took so long that John McTiernan was able to make and release another movie (“The Thomas Crown Affair“) before “The 13th Warrior” ever came out (finally, in late summer 1999).
What’s It About: Based on the best-selling 1976 novel by notoriously protective Michael Crichton (more on that in a minute), “The 13th Warrior” is a historical riff on the epic poem “Beowulf.” Antonio Banderas plays a Muslim poet who is taken in as “the thirteenth warrior” by a band of Vikings (led by Vladimir Kulich as the Beowulf surrogate Buliwyf), who are hunting down a band of monstrous murderers. (In the book, they’re explained as Neanderthals that have somehow survived; so such explanation exists here.) Swords are unsheathed; heads roll.
Why Was It Delayed: There are so many reasons for the delay. Mostly, it was a combination of corporate unease and creative compromise. After initial, dismal test screenings, studio Disney got cold feet. Out went the more evocative title “Eaters of the Dead,” replaced by the comparatively anonymous “The 13th Warrior.” Then Michael Crichton himself got involved. The studio also got concerned about the perceived “Arabness” of the project; the Muslim aspect of Banderas’ character was toned down and the original score, heavily flavored by Middle Eastern influences, by Graeme Revell, was jettisoned in favor of a more traditional score by Jerry Goldsmith. The whole thing was repositioned, away from a supernaturally-tinged historical horror epic and more in line with old-timey action movies like “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (or “The Mummy,” released that same summer). Few remember that Crichton considered himself something of a filmmaker, having directed things like science fiction oddities “Looker” and “Runaway,” and when he was dissatisfied with McTiernan’s cut (seemingly supported by the lukewarm test screening results), he decided to start shooting things himself, with Disney’s blessing. Actors who worked on the movie recall showing up to the studio and going from one soundstage, where Crichton was directing, to another soundstage, where McTiernan called the shots. As Kulich explained on the special edition DVD that was released in France: “I would get stuff like one guy would say, ‘Don’t tell the other guy what we’re doing.’ It was a little bit tragic because one day Crichton said, ‘Valdimir, it doesn’t matter what you do over there, because I have final cut.’ And sure enough, his cut was the final cut. For better or for worse.” Gone was a romantic subplot involving Banderas and a queen (played by Diane Verona) and the climax of the film, involving the Grendel’s mother equivalent, was shot at least three separate times (with different actresses each time). McTiernan, who is currently serving a year-long prison sentence connected with the Joseph Pellicano wiretapping scandal, has a more philosophical approach: “There is a director’s cut that was different in several ways but I can’t claim that there was a magnificent movie that’s sitting in a can somewhere. There are many things—I put the Arabs back in and put the Arab music back in. Maybe it’s better leaving it as a myth.” Maybe, John.
Was It Worth The Wait: Yes. While the internet was still in its infancy, it’s interesting to go back and see the reports that were posted on rudimentary message boards in response to advance test screenings (some erroneously mentioned that Arnold Schwarzenegger filmed a cameo towards the end of the film as a kingly Viking). One wonders, if the braided web of social media had been better established, if more outrage would have been spilled over the creative compromise that ultimately enveloped “The 13th Warrior.” As it stands, the movie had some early defenders (among them Lisa Schwarzbaum from Entertainment Weekly, who compared the movie to Akira Kurosawa), who were dazzled by McTiernan’s surefooted storytelling and the film’s wonderfully dingy cinematography, but it has grown in the years since as something of a cult classic. “Casino Royale” director Martin Campbell, on the set of the second ‘Zorro’ movie, told Banderas how underrated he thought “The 13th Warrior” was. It’s hard to disagree. [B+]
“Ordinary Decent Criminal” (2000)
Length of Delay: 3 years, from Irish/Euro release in 2000, till 2003 when it limped onto home video in the States.
What’s it About: Michael Lynch (Kevin Spacey), a character loosely based on infamous Dublin gangster The General, struggles to balance his newfound local celebrity with the demands of his life of crime and his commitment to his family, including his two “wives.” Who are sisters. So they are.
Why Was It Delayed: A January 2000 release in its native Ireland, Thaddeus O’Sullivan’s utterly put-your-hands-over-your-ears-and-run-into-another-room dire “Ordinary Decent Criminal” gradually rolled out that year around Europe, eventually sputtering to a standstill mid-2001. As to why it took a further year and a half for it to make it across the Atlantic, perhaps the better question is why did they bother at all? Admittedly it has a fairly high-profile cast, with the Oscar-winning Spacey at its center, and a respected if hardly big-name director in O’Sullivan whose underrated, offbeat 1991 film “The December Bride” we still have quite a fondness for. But it also had poisonous word of mouth and, worse still, was roundly beaten to the punch by John Boorman’s infinitely superior telling of essentially the same story, “The General” which came out a full two years before, to quite some acclaim. ‘Criminal’ had elements of its plot changed to try and differentiate it but really, even if the films had been equal in quality (which they were emphatically not,) did the world really need two movies about Caravaggio-stealing Dublin-based gangsters and the odd loyalty, and even affection, they inspired?
Was It Worth The Wait: No. Just no, not at all. Featuring a pantheon, all-time, hall-of fame bad Irish accent from Spacey and even worse (though she has fewer lines) from Linda Fiorentino, even if the story were more engaging, and the tone less all over the map (veering from straight-up comedy to odd, dour kitchen sink drama) we wouldn’t have been able to get past those mangled, gargled vowels and the butchered dialogue. And the many great character actors featured here (Peter Mullan, Patrick Malahide, Stephen Dillane, Christoph motherfucking Waltz ) don’t fare much better, and certainly can’t compensate for the cacophonous result. It gets so bad that when Colin Farrell turns up in a small role, (Farrell who can more or less only do a Dublin accent) our ears have been warped to the degree that he sounds wrong too. We’re lifelong crusaders against the practise of dubbing films for foreign release, but we wonder if German audiences who got to hear a translated, revoiced version might not have had a less excruciating experience. [D-]
“A Clockwork Orange” (1971)
Length of Delay: 27 years (kinda) in the U.K.
What’s it About: Stanley Kubrick’s masterful and incredibly influential adaptation of the equally brilliant Anthony Burgess novel, “A Clockwork Orange” follows Alex and his gang of droogs as they indulge in an ongoing orgy of drugs, rape and murder—the old ultra-violence. Alex is then caught by the authorities, sentenced and subjected to an experimental rehabilitation process which neuters his violent tendencies, at least for a while.
Why Was It Delayed: So this is kind of a cheat entry, but it’s such an interesting, and frequently hazily reported story that we thought we’d include it. “A Clockwork Orange” in fact did get a more or less simultaneous release in the U.K. and in the U.S. in early 1972. However in Kubrick’s home country, a series of high-profile violent crime cases were linked to the film in the following months, leading to something of a public outcry against it. With pressure mounting, and possibly threats being lodged against Kubrick’s family, the filmmaker made the unprecedented decision to request that Warners withdraw the Oscar-nominated picture from U.K. release, and Warners made a similarly unprecedented decision to do just that. Not only that, but the ban stood until after Kubrick’s death (even to the point of one cinema in London being sued to the verge of bankruptcy following an unauthorized screening of the film in 1993.
Was It Worth The Wait: Well, yes, obviously, it’s one of the most influential and uncompromising films ever made, and shows the great Kubrick at the height of his powers. More to the point in this case, perhaps, is the question of whether the ban achieved anything in particular. In fact the reasons behind it are widely misreported, with the topline version usually ending up that Kubrick was motivated to withdraw it because he somehow did believe it was having an incendiary, and potentially violent effect on the nation. But as he was quoted saying “to attribute powerful suggestive qualities to a film is at odds with the scientifically accepted view that, even after deep hypnosis in a posthypnotic state, people cannot be made to do things which are at odds with their natures,” it seems clear this is not the case, and rather more likely that he was motivated by a desire to protect himself and his family from further harassment. Which I guess we can understand. However what’s truly remarkable is that the ban, (which was only ever a request, remember, as Kubrick technically didn’t have the power to restrict the film’s distribution) lasted as long and was as enforced as it was—clearly a mark of the respect that Warners had for the director. Furthermore it did serve to increase the mythos around “A Clockwork Orange,” and promoted a roaring trade in bootleg cross-channel VHS copies, which all contributed to the film’s eternally edgy, countercultural reputation for cool. Probably not quite what Kubrick was going for, but undeniable nonetheless. [A]
“The Plot Against Harry” (1969)
Length of Delay: 20-odd years between being initially screened for distributors and finally showing theatrically in New York and also playing out of competition in Cannes in 1990.
What’s it About: Berlin-born director Michael Roemer’s rediscovered film is widely believed to have anticipated the New York independent cinema of Cassavetes et al, in its loose-limbed story of a recently released small-time Jewish gangster, Harry Plotnick (the humorously downcast Martin Priest) who finds the respect he’d gained in racketeering circles has totally evaporated during his time inside. Through a series of chance encounters, however, Harry discovers a family and a heart problem that he didn’t know he had, and has the prospect of going it straight as an ordinary, decent middle class man dangled enticingly in front of him.
Why Was It Delayed: It feels fitting to close out this feature with a success story, but essentially when “The Plot Against Harry” had its first test screenings, the reaction to the comedy was bafflement, and worse—silence. “It was just a comedy that made nobody laugh.” director Roemer told the New York Times in 1990 ”That’s pretty funny.” And with his one shot at getting distribution apparently blown, Roemer seems to have left it at that, and regarded the film as an expensive home movie if anything. And in fact, it was during the process of transferring the film to home video to show his children in 1989 that Roemer noticed a heartening phenomenon—the young man doing the transfer was laughing at the film. It was apparently enough to make him wonder whether in fact the film was any good, and to seek out a few other opinions. And in what had to be a pretty satisfying reversal of fortune, the film was immediately hailed as a lost classic and given the gala treatment at Cannes and a long-overdue U.S. release, just about twenty years exactly after that disastrous test screening.
Was It Worth The Wait: For many reasons, yes. The film does really feel of a spirit with the freewheeling ’70s independent filmmaking movement, but it’s also a genuinely enjoyable ride that if anything has benefitted from its rocky journey to the screen. It feels like a time capsule taken from a different era, and as much as it succeeds as a movie in its own right, there is also a great buzz of discovery, and of freshness to be had from watching something so long neglected, but so perfectly preserved. And one has to feel a little sorry for the nearly unknown cast, especially Priest who is a terrifically droll centerpiece here who could have had, say Alan Arkin’s career had the stars aligned themselves a little differently, and the permanently smiling Ben Lang who plays his brother in law. Mostly though, it’s a lovely rediscovered example of a style of filmmaking that we’re now nostalgic for, but that at the time was clearly ahead of its time, and in its madcap pace and plotting (gangsters! caterers! lingerie models! secret societies! charity telethons! televised federal investigations!—seriously this picture is bats) and its lovely black and white photography, it’s a fun watch even without the storied context. [B]
There are obviously a thousand other titles whose stories we could have outlined, but rather than try to list all of the “Red Dawn“s and “Blue Sky“s and “Case 39“s here, we’re going to save them up for Part 2 of this feature to come in 2014. It’s been an interesting trek through some of these stories, and we’d like to do it again, so if there’s something you’d particularly like us to cover, sound off below.
—Jessica Kiang, with Gabe Toro, Drew Taylor and Rodrigo Perez