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(YouTube) Video Saturday Cinema, Ishtar 1987 - Probably the biggest flop since Heaven's Gate, this sprawling comic adventure spawned headlines for years ahead of its release and so no-one bothered to see it   (youtube.com) divider line 22
    More: Video, theatrical trailer, Ishtar, Charles Grodin, Warren Beatty, Dustin Hoffman  
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1201 clicks; posted to Video » on 01 Feb 2014 at 3:48 PM (29 weeks ago)   |  Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook   more»



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2014-02-01 10:05:16 AM
Ishtar is the story of two failed song writers (Warren Beaty and Dustin Hoffman) trying to make a buck. They end up touring the Middle East and stumble into a revolution with spies and soldiers on either side of them. The plot was lifted from the Bing Crosby and Bob Hope films of the 1940s where the singer and comic went 'On the Road' to this or that foreign local but unlike those corny comedies that were cranked out at low cost, a huge amount of money was invested in Ishtar. Here's a bit from Wiki:

Beatty felt indebted to May who, in addition to co-writing his 1978 hit Heaven Can Wait, had done a major uncredited rewrite on the script of his Academy Award winning Reds and helped immensely with its postproduction. He began looking for a project that she could write and direct. She had never, he believed, had a sufficiently protective producer, and by starring in and producing her next film he could give her the chance to make the film he believed her to be creatively and commercially capable of making.


The problem may be summarized as the old adage: Never do business with friends or family.

At the time, Beatty had a strong negotiating position because of a string of hits with him as both producer and star. Hoffman also owed may because of her again uncredited re-write of his hit Tootsie.

Again, don't do business with friends.

Moreover, Beatty's girlfriend at the time was cast in the role of the female lead, a beautiful spy,

In other words, 'don't do business with friends' got thrown out the window.

Finally, Beatty, May and Hoffman were perfectionists who went through a lot of film.  Paul Williams began working on the songs the lead duo would sing. "The real task was to write songs that were believably bad. It was one of the best jobs I've ever had in my life. I've never had more fun on a picture, but I've never worked harder." May preferred that Williams write whole songs, even if she intended to use only a few lines, and then teach them to the stars and have them perform them, necessitating more time and money." Here's an interview.

Shooting was a disaster. I won't quote Wiki at length because the anecdotes are too long but here's a taste: When the film returned to New York for shooting, Beatty told Fay Vincent, then Columbia's chief executive officer, that May couldn't direct. But he demurred another suggestion to fire her, citing his image as a liberal supporter of women's rights. Vincent said he would do it, but Beatty said if he did then he and Hoffman would leave the uncompleted film as well. He proposed instead that every scene be shot twice, his way and May's, effectively doubling the cost of those scenes.

In post, the fighting continued. The film's raw footage came to 108 hours, more than three times that typical for a comedy. Three teams of editors, one each for Beatty, Hoffman, and May, worked on separate versions that were fought over.

So, what was the result?

After years of set stories about fights between the director and cinematographer, endless wastes of money, the reviews went over the excesses again once the film was out, and tore the film up in their critiques. Apparently it did well in front of audiences but the $55 million film collected only $14 million. The film's reviews were not 'Poke your eyes out and kill yourself after seeing it' but that it was an okay light comedy. That thought however, was usually at the end of the review after salivating over the excesses of the production.

In comparison, Spies Like Us was a similar adolescent comedy in 1985 about two idiots who stumble into a coup and cause an international incident but given that it cost half as much an raked in more than Ishtar, people reviewed the film and not its cost. (Apparently it's not that funny, BTW.)

Coca Cola sold its stock holdings in Columbia, and in two years, Sony gobbled up the studio. May never directed again and Ishtar became a punchline on late-night talk shows for years. That being said, a director's cut was eventually released and like Heaven's Gate, people began to re-evaluate the film. May apparently said "If all of the people who hate 'Ishtar' had seen it, I would be a rich woman today." Apparently Scorsese likes the picture and calls it a good film. Gary Larson famously apologized for his Hell's Video Store cartoon after seeing Ishtar on an airplane trip.

For anyone who wants it, here's a Laser Disc edition.

Link to last week's Saturday Cinema.
 
2014-02-01 12:29:32 PM
Apparently it did well in front of audiences

Not this one.  I can sum up my feelings in two words: pee yew.
 
2014-02-01 01:05:54 PM
I think Ishtar was a little ahead of its time. It's comedy was deliberately off-beat and weird and it was not received well by audiences raised on a diet of Mel Brooks and Saturday Night Live.

Years before Steve Carell and Will Ferrell would employ it as their bread and butter, Ishtar utilized the concept of the uncomfortable/awkward silence which was not a very well-worn comedy trope at the time and audiences perceived it as being banal. It's just a very odd brand of humor for someone who's not familiar with it. Funny how much can change in a generation: If Napoleon Dynamite and Ishtar had switched places, Ishtar would have been a cult classic and NO ONE would have gotten NP in the 80s. Maybe it would have gone over better if it had a laugh track.

To add to that, Beatty and Hoffman were not known as comics so audiences weren't sure to laugh at them or pity them. Hell, if you switched their roles with Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd in Spies Like Us, Ishtar probably would have gone over better (lets pretend Chase/Aykroyd are savvy enough to salvage it and make it work), and Spies Like Us would have been an uncomfortable bomb.

So it had a lot going against it. Two actors out of their element (although admittedly very good ones), rookie director and crew conflicts behind the scenes, terrible script that audiences wouldn't get (which is fine if you're spinning an intellectual yarn but this is a comedy), and bad reviews. I'm not defending it, I'm just saying that it just wasn't going to work.

I only know this much about the movie because people frequently misread my name.

/Ishtar is a Canaanite fertility goddess, the Sumerian equivalent is Inanna
//Ishkur is a Sumerian storm god, a Canaanite equivalent would be Baal-hadad
///know the difference
 
2014-02-01 03:13:26 PM
I saw it. It wasn't nearly as bad at the time as everyone was making it out to be.  It wasn't great by any stretch of the imagination, but not nearly as bad as everyone described.
 
2014-02-01 03:25:59 PM
The documentary about the making of Heaven's Gate. How a director's ego destroyed a film studio.
 
2014-02-01 03:28:20 PM
There's multiple ways of saying the same thing. In finance, we say stop throwing good money after bad, in the military they said never reenforce a loss. Ultimately, management is to blame. At some point the 'no' word needed to be used rather than repeatedly doubling down on losses.

Perhaps the memory of Star Wars was in some peoples' minds. Twentieth Century was apparently close to going under in 1976-77 and so when Lucas came back post shoot having blown 90 per cent of his special effects budget setting up computers for this weird thing called motion control, and asked for more money, some wise person there said 'Bet the farm'. They did and it worked out, however, a light comedy is not likely to be that kind of block buster. Maybe Back to the Future is the closes example of a picture in trouble -- needing to recast the lead and start shooting from scratch -- where a reinvestment is made and it worked out. This kind of thing where scenes are being shot twice and three teams of editors not talking to each other indicates chaos and not a creative bet.
 
2014-02-01 04:24:26 PM
I liked Ishtar.  It was an hour too long, but with good editing would have done better.

Telling the truth can be dangerous business.
 
2014-02-01 05:17:59 PM
gaslight:  (Apparently it's not that funny, BTW.)

YOU SHUT YOUR WHORE MOUTH GASLIGHT!

I always thought 'GLG-20' would be a good band name.


/Paging Austin Milbarge to the thread.
 
2014-02-01 05:31:05 PM

gaslight: There's multiple ways of saying the same thing. In finance, we say stop throwing good money after bad, in the military they said never reenforce a loss. Ultimately, management is to blame. At some point the 'no' word needed to be used rather than repeatedly doubling down on losses.

Perhaps the memory of Star Wars was in some peoples' minds. Twentieth Century was apparently close to going under in 1976-77 and so when Lucas came back post shoot having blown 90 per cent of his special effects budget setting up computers for this weird thing called motion control, and asked for more money, some wise person there said 'Bet the farm'. They did and it worked out, however, a light comedy is not likely to be that kind of block buster. Maybe Back to the Future is the closes example of a picture in trouble -- needing to recast the lead and start shooting from scratch -- where a reinvestment is made and it worked out. This kind of thing where scenes are being shot twice and three teams of editors not talking to each other indicates chaos and not a creative bet.


I was actually Alan Ladd Jr., who rode into the 20th century Fox and convinced the executives to extended more finance for Star Wars.
 
2014-02-01 05:55:40 PM
not even the trailer looks good.  I would have been 13 when this came out, and I had no desire to see it (and still don't).
 
2014-02-01 06:15:21 PM
Damn but I have a soft spot for Isabelle Adjani. She seems to be aging well, too
 
2014-02-01 06:21:06 PM
Ishkur:
To add to that, Beatty and Hoffman were not known as comics ............

too funny. must stop laughing. sides splitting. pants peed.
 
2014-02-01 07:01:13 PM
Ishtar is not a bad film.

There were many MANY worse films from 1987.

Ishtar in no way deserves the rep it has.

The songs alone are funny as Hell. The scene with Hoffman and Beaty in the desert with the arms dealers is great.

The story of Ishtar is it was a "hatchet" job. Pure and simple. The film was fated before it was ever released. The film was judged by thousands who NEVER saw it.

"If I had a dollar for every person who claimed Ishtar was awful, I would be a very wealthy lady"
-------director Ellen May
 
2014-02-01 07:23:59 PM
Makes me think that James Cameron owes a lot to DiCaprio and his young female fans from making "Titanic" as much as a punch line.
 
2014-02-01 09:33:46 PM
my brother is the only person I know who likes "Ishtar".
I saw it too, thought it was ok. Plot was ridiculous, songs were horrible-funny (as intended), flashing was nice.

/ "if you admit you can play the accordion, what are you doing in a rock n' roll band?"
 
2014-02-01 09:51:08 PM
I loved this movie and I'm proud to say so
 
2014-02-01 10:02:21 PM
I saw this in the theater when it came out--didn't quite get it, but didn't strike me as the worst film ever.

/Got nuthin' else.
//Except that apparently I'm old.
///Love conversationally dropping I saw Ishtar in the theater, though.
////Told my mom I went to see Terms of Endearment with my buddy, but really saw Hot Dogs. Couldn't understand her quizzical look at the time, but now laugh about it.
 
2014-02-01 10:08:57 PM
I've never seen this but now I want to since my first exposure to this movie was probably Mad Magazine making fun of it...I never bothered to look into it at all, it was always just one of those movies that was universally regarded as being an easy stand-in for any discussion about how bad a movie was or what was the worst movie anyone had ever seen.  I'm not really sure what the worst movie I've ever seen was but I've seen a lot of movies and a lot of them were bad.
I'm not sure what's worse: the fact that I've seen a few of these movies or the fact that after reading this Wikipedia article I want to see a lot more of them:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_films_considered_the_worst
 
2014-02-01 11:49:00 PM
Darth_Lukecash:
I was actually Alan Ladd Jr., who rode into the 20th century Fox and convinced the executives to extended more finance for Star Wars.

That's incredible! I was Jack Palance, who knew your dad from way back.
 
2014-02-02 05:31:56 AM
Lulz, women make shiatty directors.
 
2014-02-02 09:36:54 AM
i.chzbgr.com

Their GeoCities style mid-90's http://www.heavensgate.com/ website is still up too.

www.heavensgate.com
 
2014-02-02 02:18:33 PM
I saw it in the theater.  I thought it was a cute movie, maybe above average.  I didn't pay any more for it than for any other movie, so why should I care about it's cost?
 
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