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An expensive flop but a good movie


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Last night and this morning I revisited a film I wrote a review on over ten years ago.

I was like being reacquainted with an old friend.

THE PARADINE CASE (1947) was a costly "misfire" for David Selznick and company. 

But I just find it so absorbing and satisfying.

Anyone else feel this way about it? Do you have a film you like that did not do very well at the box office?

Screen Shot 2021-03-31 at 7.17.38 AM

 

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The Adventures of Baron Munchausen Poster

The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen (1988) directed by Terry Gilliam. 

It had a 46 million dollar budget but only grossed 8 million in the US. It was a funny, irreverent fantasy film, perhaps too irreverent for the masses. It's about a old man famous for tall tales tells of his adventures all over the world and even on the moon. It has the great Monty Python type humor and I love the outlandish special effects. Eric Idle plays one of the Baron's sidekicks, he has the super power of great speed, others have super hearing or lungs that can cause strong winds. Oliver Reed and Robin Williams (as the Man in The Moon) have cameos. Uma Thurman (looking gorgeous) has an early role. 

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1 hour ago, Det Jim McLeod said:

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen Poster

The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen (1988) directed by Terry Gilliam. 

It had a 46 million dollar budget but only grossed 8 million in the US. It was a funny, irreverent fantasy film, perhaps too irreverent for the masses. It's about a old man famous for tall tales tells of his adventures all over the world and even on the moon. It has the great Monty Python type humor and I love the outlandish special effects. Eric Idle plays one of the Baron's sidekicks, he has the super power of great speed, others have super hearing or lungs that can cause strong winds. Oliver Reed and Robin Williams (as the Man in The Moon) have cameos. Uma Thurman (looking gorgeous) has an early role. 

I haven't seen it...looks interesting, though!

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4 hours ago, TopBilled said:

Anyone else feel this way about it? Do you have a film you like that did not do very well at the box office?

Digging out the Wikipedia list, I'll stick to the "Expensive flop" budget requirement in the header as a handicap for the otherwise too-wide ranging topic and say:

-  Speed Racer (2008) - Not the movie the fans thought it was going to be, was it?  In the good way.

- Legend of the Lone Ranger (1981) - No, not that one, and this will make you glad it wasn't.

- Treasure Planet (2002)  - I can give you FIVE reasons why one of the best Disney animateds of the 00's "flopped" in theaters, that had zero to do with the actual movie.  (I draw the line at "Princess & the Frog", however.)

- Krull (1983) - STILL one of the Top Five Most Gorgeous-Looking fantasy films of the 80's Summer of Love.

- The Alamo (2004) - Fanatically anti-Disney reports of the movie's "heretical" post-Pearl Harbor revisionism were disingenuously premature and  unfounded for an "April dump" release, and it's...not actually bad for a CGI-heavy 00's post-Titanic historical epic.

- The BFG (2016) - Not a great Spielberg movie, even by "Hook" standards, but I'd watch Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Melissa Mathison have lunch at a salad bar.

- Xanadu (1980) - 'Nuff said.  😁  And the Village People deserved everything that was coming to them for their movie.

3 hours ago, Det Jim McLeod said:

The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen (1988) directed by Terry Gilliam. 

It had a 46 million dollar budget but only grossed 8 million in the US. It was a funny, irreverent fantasy film, perhaps too irreverent for the masses. It's about a old man famous for tall tales tells of his adventures all over the world and even on the moon. It has the great Monty Python type humor and I love the outlandish special effects. Eric Idle plays one of the Baron's sidekicks, he has the super power of great speed, others have super hearing or lungs that can cause strong winds. Oliver Reed and Robin Williams (as the Man in The Moon) have cameos. Uma Thurman (looking gorgeous) has an early role. 

This would have been a wonderful film if Gilliam had directed it fresh off of "Time Bandits", and not off of his long struggle with "Brazil" that convinced him he was a Persecuted Bunuel-esque Absurdidst Satirist Genius.  There are moments it comes close to being a fun film, and then Gilliam barges in to make it one of his Own.

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I always thought the film version of PAINT YOUR WAGON was much better than it's reputation suggested. I don't even think Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin did that bad with their singing. At the very least, no one could argue that Harve Presnell's rendition of "They Call The Wind Maria" was something special.

paintyourwagon.jpg

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41 minutes ago, CinemaInternational said:

Darling Lili, Pennies from Heaven (1981)

Yes when I watch DARLING LILI, I am astounded it flopped with audiences. It's just such a well-made film.

37 minutes ago, sagebrush said:

I always thought the film version of PAINT YOUR WAGON was much better than it's reputation suggested. I don't even think Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin did that bad with their singing. At the very least, no one could argue that Harve Presnell's rendition of "They Call The Wind Maria" was something special.

paintyourwagon.jpg

I still haven't seen this one. But I have seen Clint sing in a few episodes of Rawhide.

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Wasn't TCM going to show The Cotton Club at some point, but then cancelled?  It would be a good idea to try again, as well as include One From the Heart.  I'm not really interested in Pirate movies, and Pirates got terrible reviews and lost oodles of money.  But I am genuinely curious what Roman Polanski would make of the genre.

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You have to wonder why some films fare poorly with audiences, when they are quite good. I guess the consolation is they can become cult favorites and gain an audience years later.

Another film I like a lot is SERENITY (2019). Supposedly it didn't do well with test audiences and was "retooled" and it still did not go over well when it went into wide release. It only made $14 million (and cost $25 million to produce). I suspect the problem is that it's a bit too cerebral. The script is almost too intelligent for mainstream audiences and it's probably not the kind of film Matthew McConaughey's fanbase expected from him. This said, I consider it a well-made motion picture that delivers on an intriguing premise and I hope it does find more of an audience upon re-evaluation.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serenity_(2019_film)

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14 hours ago, TopBilled said:

Yes when I watch DARLING LILI, I am astounded it flopped with audiences.

Another expensive Julie Andrews flop was Star! (1968). While it is no Sound Of Music (Robert Wise directed both), this is an entertaining musical/drama with one of Andrews' best performances. Daniel Massey is good as Noel Coward also. 

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11 minutes ago, Det Jim McLeod said:

Another expensive Julie Andrews flop was Star! (1968). While it is no Sound Of Music (Robert Wise directed both), this is an entertaining musical/drama with one of Andrews' best performances. Daniel Massey is good as Noel Coward also. 

Yes, I am partial to STAR!...I agree that it contains one of Andrews' best performances. I prefer her work in STAR! over her work in THE SOUND OF MUSIC which feels a bit too cloying in spots. STAR! affords her a much more mature character to play, and she gives a mature performance.

Screen Shot 2018-07-24 at 12.10.41 PM.jpg

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On 3/31/2021 at 5:05 PM, sagebrush said:

I always thought the film version of PAINT YOUR WAGON was much better than it's reputation suggested. I don't even think Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin did that bad with their singing. At the very least, no one could argue that Harve Presnell's rendition of "They Call The Wind Maria" was something special.

paintyourwagon.jpg

I Think I'd Watch Clint Eastwood in ANYthing ...

🎨🌈

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fun "Factoid".

 

    Read A Piece of An Article a bit ago that said He was Considered for 007 Duty ...

 

 

 

 

Intriguing Thought..

 

     I did not know that ..

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16 hours ago, TopBilled said:

You have to wonder why some films fare poorly with audiences, when they are quite good. I guess the consolation is they can become cult favorites and gain an audience years later.

Another film I like a lot is SERENITY (2019). Supposedly it didn't do well with test audiences and was "retooled" and it still did not go over well when it went into wide release. It only made $14 million (and cost $25 million to produce). I suspect the problem is that it's a bit too cerebral. The script is almost too intelligent for mainstream audiences and it's probably not the kind of film Matthew McConaughey's fanbase expected from him. This said, I consider it a well-made motion picture that delivers on an intriguing premise and I hope it does find more of an audience upon re-evaluation.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serenity_(2019_film)

I Like (a lot) Where Youre Going with This Thread... 👏👍👏👏🍻🥂

 

 

..there Might Be Problems (so to speak) with Some of the titles on this list ...

 

Due to Simplicity (and Sanity lol) sake.. (for now at least)... For All Involved ..

 ..ill just leave it at that...

-

If There ARE .. Technicality.. ...Continuity. Contradictory "Problems" with (Any Of) Said Titles .. ...

-- "Pipe Up". ---

Lol

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And ill See What i Can Do to Address Them in a Linear Manner.

Lol

. ... ..

Keys of the Kingdom.

Lilies of the Field.

The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm.

Sergeant York.

Friendly Persuasion. 

The Shoes of the Fisherman.

The Defiant Ones.

The General.

Sherlock Jr.

The Journey.

Speedy.

Brimstone.

Aint Them Bodies Saints.

A Ghost Story.

The Whistlers.

Revenge. (Coraelie Fargeat (sp) Helmed feature

The Exception.

Broken Circle Breakdown.

Adore.

The Congress.

A Hologram For the King.

American Honey.

Dead Man Down.

A Very Long Engagement.

Young Goethe In Love.

Wild.

High-Rise.

Renegade (Bluberry).

The Brothers Bloom.

Deep Rising.

The Long Kiss Good(e)Night.

Cloud Atlas.

Blade Runner 2049.

Largo Winch.

Largo Winch 2 (the Burma Conspiracy).

In Time.

Passengers.

The Island.

Snowpiercer.

The Mountain Between Us.

The Master.

You Were Never Really Here.

My Hindu Friend.

Burning Man.

Tomorrowland.

Ant Man & Wasp. 😂

Venom.

Petes Dragon. (David Lowery Cut..

Zoom. (Alison Pil Starring MindFudge Shred of a feature ..

BlackOut. (Arne Toonen)

Logan.

The Brand New Testament.

Storks.

The Neccessary Death of Charlie Countryman.

A Cure For Wellness.

Two Lovers and A Bear.

Powder Blue.

Princess Cyd.

Automata.

Returner.

The Survivalist.

Cosmopolis.

How I Live Now.

Spider Man: Into the SpiderVerse.

Big Hero Six.

A Lonely Place To Die.

Unleashed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Better Stop while i can ,.

 

 

      That List is Obscene.

(And i cant guarantee i wont think of orhers ...

 

 

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8 hours ago, Aritosthenes said:

I Like (a lot) Where Youre Going with This Thread... 👏👍👏👏🍻🥂

 

Thanks. There's no real 'direction' per se...just mention films that seem to have been overlooked by others, but they matter to you.

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Well, I'm not sure how much some of them "matter" to me, but there's some I enjoyed that others either didn't or have even heard of.  One I'll mention is THE IMPOSTORS('98) with Stanley Tucci and Oliver Platt and written/produced/directed by Tucci.  A sort of "comedy of errors" flick that I thought was likable and amusing.  

Sepiatone

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I liked "John Carter" (2012) because it celebrated Edgar Rice Burroughs and kept that in mind not what we know about Mars today.

 Critics should be thankful this wasn't brought to film.

gods-of-mars.jpg

 

"Stealth" (2005) the Talon aircraft is awesome.

LOVED the circulated photo below put the Russians into panic mode thinking it was real. Got to admit it is convincing.

ASW_Fake_FA37_1.jpg

 

Drones with AI is coming true 

EDI-Extreme-Deep-Invader-Stealth-robot-p

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I almost mentioned "John Carter", which was way better than the poisonous reaction made it out to be.  It did hurt that the colorless Taylor Kitsch or whatever his name is was the lead.

 

"Playtime" of course ruined Jacques Tati, lost everything, down to his house which was foreclosed on when he couldn't pay back the loans.  Only made one more theatrical feature for the rest of his life.

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2 hours ago, Vidor said:

I almost mentioned "John Carter", which was way better than the poisonous reaction made it out to be.  It did hurt that the colorless Taylor Kitsch or whatever his name is was the lead.

And that the plot was downbeat, or that the ads made it either look like Prince of Persia or like the arena scene from Attack of the Clones, neither of which was a strong persuasion.

The fact that the marketing was so badly bungled became a big issue with Disney fans and fans of the movie, a fan-made YouTube cut of "The Trailer They SHOULD Have Released"--namely by putting the clips in order and trying to summarize the plot--not only surfaced, but looked pretty darn good:

...Better than the actual movie, in fact.  😞

Now, Prince of Persia, OTOH, is not too bad either as a videogame-movie adaptation, but ONLY if you'd played the "Sands of Time" games, knew what the heck was going on, and why the hero was occasionally doing all that parkour.  (And not those old PC-Rom ones from the 80's.)

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Wilson (1944) -- This biopic about Woodrow Wilson, although rather hagiographic, is one of the great all-time movie biographies. It was critically acclaimed and was nominated for ten Oscars, winning five. It lost money at the box office.

I think it's a brilliant movie with a fabulous cast who give great performances.  It also features the best representation of a political convention ever put on film, the Democratic Convention of 1912.

19537413%5D,sizedata%5B850x600%5D&call=u

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2 hours ago, Swithin said:

Wilson (1944) -- This biopic about Woodrow Wilson, although rather hagiographic, is one of the great all-time movie biographies. It was critically acclaimed and was nominated for ten Oscars, winning five. It lost money at the box office.

I think it's a brilliant movie with a fabulous cast who give great performances.  It also features the best representation of a political convention ever put on film, the Democratic Convention of 1912.

19537413%5D,sizedata%5B850x600%5D&call=u

Thanks for mentioning this excellent film.

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A fairly recent film that I enjoyed immensely,  Grindhouse (2007),  did not perform well at the box office.  A Quentin Tarantino collaboration  with Robert Rodriguez,  the movie contained two separate films, Planet Terror, and Death Proof (a zombie-type tale, and a story of strong women turning the tables on their stalker, respectively) along with exploitation-style trailers for made-up movies, concession stand advertisements, etc.  There were scratches, jumps, and pops here and there, making one feel as if you were actually in a "grindhouse" theater, watching a double-feature where the  prints were worn-out, damaged.  Although the storylines were different,  some of the cast made appearances in both films, like Rose McGowan and Michael  Parks.  I went alone my first viewing, while visiting my mom out-of-state.  The audience loved it, standing and clapping at the conclusion.  I was so taken with it (still am!) that I ended up seeing it in theaters five more times, taking different friends along to experience it.  I'll admit, it had moved on to the "dollar cinema" before I was through with it, but I guess I did do my part to boost the box office take.  I understand when it went into worldwide release, they decided to separate the films and let them stand alone.  I'd like to nominate Grindhouse  to be featured on an upcoming  segment of TCM Underground.  It would be a great fit!

image.jpeg.6179d5c38a5563995e18ac6225bc5417.jpeg

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3 hours ago, darrylfxanax said:

A fairly recent film that I enjoyed immensely,  Grindhouse (2007),  did not perform well at the box office.  A Quentin Tarantino collaboration  with Robert Rodriguez,  the movie contained two separate films, Planet Terror, and Death Proof (a zombie-type tale, and a story of strong women turning the tables on their stalker, respectively) along with exploitation-style trailers for made-up movies, concession stand advertisements, etc.  There were scratches, jumps, and pops here and there, making one feel as if you were actually in a "grindhouse" theater, watching a double-feature where the  prints were worn-out, damaged.  Although the storylines were different,  some of the cast made appearances in both films, like Rose McGowan and Michael  Parks.  I went alone my first viewing, while visiting my mom out-of-state.  The audience loved it, standing and clapping at the conclusion.  I was so taken with it (still am!) that I ended up seeing it in theaters five more times, taking different friends along to experience it.  I'll admit, it had moved on to the "dollar cinema" before I was through with it, but I guess I did do my part to boost the box office take.  I understand when it went into worldwide release, they decided to separate the films and let them stand alone.  I'd like to nominate Grindhouse  to be featured on an upcoming  segment of TCM Underground.  It would be a great fit!

image.jpeg.6179d5c38a5563995e18ac6225bc5417.jpeg

I love your enthusiasm.

Sometimes when I look at the box office take for films that did not do well, films I saw in the theater, I say to myself: "ten of those dollars were mine." 

:) 

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J. Hoberman in the latest Sight and Sound has an article on the allied, but not identical them of the "film Maudit":

A film maudit – literally a ‘cursed film’ – is one that is widely panned even as it is staunchly defended by a devoted minority. We trace the history of the term and the critical battles fought over such movies.

30 March 2021

By J. Hoberman

southland-tales-2005-sarah-michelle-gellSarah Michelle Gellar as Krysta Kapowski aka Krysta Now in Southland Tales (2005)
 

Premiered at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, Richard Kelly’s bravely outlandish Southland Tales – his follow-up to Donnie Darko (2001) – trembled on the brink of unreleasability. Hoots shook the Palais des Festivals during the press screening and, although the audience was much depleted, the ending was greeted with a lusty round of boos. The first question at a singularly hostile press conference claimed the movie had set a new Cannes record for walkouts and asked Kelly how that made him feel.

A few critics praised Southland Tales (full disclosure, I was one). Most dismissed it, many found it laughable, and a few offensive. “A pretentious, overreaching, fatally unfocused fantasy about American fascism,” wrote Variety. “This wannabe visionary epic may find cult believers among gullible undergrads ready to embrace anything that projects the worst paranoid notions about America. But the fiasco at hand will be evident to everyone else, making commercial prospects exceedingly dicey.” Yikes!

A movie with neither a recognisable genre nor a readymade demographic, Southland Tales struggled to find a distributor and, opening in a new version 18 months later, failed once more. A 2008 “explanatory” DVD didn’t do much to rehabilitate the film either.

–– ADVERTISEMENT ––

A movie with neither a recognisable genre nor a readymade demographic, Southland Tales struggled to find a distributor and, opening in a new version 18 months later, failed once more. A 2008 “explanatory” DVD didn’t do much to rehabilitate the film either.

As I recall, French critics at Cannes hated Southland Tales even more than their American colleagues, yet the French have a term for such movies: film maudit – a ‘damned’, ‘unlucky’, or ‘ill-favoured’ movie. Cursed with an unhappy destiny, a film maudit may have been ripped untimely from its director’s womb or mutilated by vengeful producers, it is often buried on release and always reviled by critics. Such a film is inevitably ruinous at the box office, at times a fiasco so absolute that it begs to be championed – although not if it is a hyped-up super-production like Joseph Mankiewicz’s 1964 boondoggle Cleopatra.

wanda-1970-closeup-of-wanda-in-car.jpg Wanda (1970)

A film maudit is not necessarily a bad movie even if some, like Orson Welles’s The Lady from Shanghai (1947), were initially so considered. Nor is a film maudit a cult movie although, like The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), it may attract a cult and is thus maudit no more. Films – Barbara Loden’s Wanda (1970) and Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep (1977), for example – suffering all manner of indignities before being hailed as national treasures are rehabilitated films maudits. Similarly, a film maudit like Erich von Stroheim’s Greed (1923) forfeits maudit status once it becomes a cause célèbre. A film maudit is not just a titanic flop like Tom Hooper’s ridiculous Cats (2019), it’s a bomb that a vocal minority hails as a masterpiece.

A film maudit incorporates its curse. Bob Dylan, himself the director of the notorious 1978 disaster Renaldo & Clara, had it almost right when he sang, “There’s no success like failure, and failure’s no success at all.” Oscar Micheaux’s lost swansong The Betrayal (1948), one such legendary film maudit, inspired one New York critic to write: “There is simply no point in trying to apply normal critical standards… or in trying to describe its monumental incompetence as movie-making.”

on-the-silver-globe-1988-eyes-on-hands.j On the Silver Globe (1988)

Megalomaniacal persistence helps. Andrzej Zulawski’s all but indescribable science-fiction allegory On the Silver Globe (1988), a big-budget production begun in the 1970s, was shot on locations ranging from the Gobi Desert to the Crimea to the Baltic coast before being shut down, according to Zulawski, by Poland’s cultural commissars as excessively anti-clerical. A decade later Zulawski assembled the surviving material, restaged some scenes with new actors, and added documentary footage of late 80s Poland.

A true film maudit has a heroic saga. Terry Gilliam’s 2019 The Man Who Killed Don Quixotedescribed by Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian as “a biblical ordeal of wrecked sets, collapsed funding and bad luck” that had already inspired its own meta maudit documentary, Lost in La Mancha (2001) – had to fight off an irate producer’s legal injunction on the eve of its world premiere as the closing night gala at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival.

myra-breckinridge-1970-woman-lifting-up- Myra Breckinridge (1970)

A great film maudit can derail or even terminate a career. Michael Powell never recovered from the scandal of Peeping Tom (1960). Michael Sarne was expelled from Hollywood after Myra Breckinridge (1970).

On the other hand, Sam Peckinpah bounced back from the debacle of his 1964 super-western Major Dundee – considered by its studio to be a runaway production with a lunatic at the helm – to make The Wild Bunch (1969). A few more films maudits followed that masterpiece, notably Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973) and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974), but then, along with von Stroheim, Sam Fuller (after The Naked Kiss, 1964) and Elaine May (after Mikey and Nicky, 1975; and Ishtar, 1987), Peckinpah belongs among the ranks of cinéastes maudits.

That outlaw band includes figures as varied as the self-destructive Bengali director Ritwik Ghatak, the underground filmmaker Jack Smith (who never completed another movie after his scandalous Flaming Creatures – a movie which received a special film maudit award when it was illegally shown at the 1963 Knokke-le-Zoute festival), the Russian filmmaker Aleksei German, whose movies were blocked for decades, and most famously Welles.

Birth of the damned

Indeed, Welles’s bargain-basement Republic soundstage Macbeth may have been the first movie understood as ‘film maudit’. Jean Cocteau used the term, albeit in retrospect, to describe the experience of Macbeth when, withdrawn from competition at the 1948 Venice Film Festival, it had its European theatrical premiere at the exclusive ciné-club Objectif 48, co-founded by André Bazin.

festival-du-film-maudit-original-french- The original French poster for the Festival du film maudit

In the spring of 1949, Cocteau and Bazin began organising a Festival du Film Maudit to be held from 29 July to 5 August, in the Atlantic resort town of Biarritz. Its purpose, per Cocteau, was to showcase those unfashionable, non-commercial and hence invisible films that in “their indifference to censorship and the demands of exploitation were cursed like the books of certain poets”. (The reference is to Paul Verlaine’s 1888 collection of articles on such “damned” versifiers as Rimbaud, Mallarmé and himself, Les Poètes maudits. The festival poster, designed by Cocteau, resembles a Rorschach test.)

Bazin’s biographer Dudley Andrew would call the Festival du Film Maudit “the most important French film event of the immediate postwar era”, and it is sometimes credited with showing movies, most famously Jean Renoir’s La Règle du jeu (1939), that it was in fact unable to land.

A counter-festival to swank Cannes, the Festival du Film Maudit evoked another 19th-century French avant-garde tradition, the Salon des Refusés – an exhibition first mounted in 1863 with artworks rejected by the official Paris Salon, including paintings by Edouard Manet and Camille Pissarro. Scruffy young cinephiles – including future New Wave directors – swarmed into Biarritz, sleeping in a makeshift bunker and talking their way into the Grand Casino. The festival was highly organised. Seventeen-year-old François Truffaut was disappointed that it took place so calmly. There were three daily programmes – ‘amateur’ shorts in the morning, movies shunned by the public at four in the afternoon, and unreleased films in the evening.

The Manet of this cinematic Salon des Refusés was Jean Vigo. The ban on Zéro de conduite (1933) had been lifted in 1945 and L’Atalante (1934) was rereleased soon after, but Vigo’s reputation remained in flux. Making them the first screenings after the opening night attraction – Marcello Pagliero’s bizarre neorealist comedy Roma città libera (1946) – was a statement. Two years later, the annual Prix Jean Vigo was established.

shanghai-gesture-1941-gene-tierney.jpg The Shanghai Gesture (1941)

Other notable presentations were wartime productions: Robert Bresson’s Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne (1945), René Clair’s first Hollywood movie, The Flame of New Orleans (1941), both shown at 4pm, and, in the evening, another American movie by a French expat, Renoir’s The Southerner (1945).

Also shown at night: Time in the Sun (1939), fashioned by Marie Seton from Eisenstein’s abandoned ¡Que Viva Mexico! (establishing the tradition of meta-maudit documentaries fashioned from incompleted films maudits), and Josef von Sternberg’s The Shanghai Gesture (1941), which would inspire the French Surrealist Group’s infamous exercise ‘Data Toward the Irrational Enlargement of a Film’.

Bazin seems to have been particularly taken with another ten o’clock show, Dudley Nichols’s expensive and poorly received 1947 adaptation of the Eugene O’Neill play Mourning Becomes Electra, which he considered “the film maudit par excellence”, challenging audiences with “the uncompromising rigor of its mise-en-scène.” (The New York Times reviewer thought that “the careful pictorial precision” made for “monotony in three hours” and called the movie “a millstone upon the screen”.)

mourning-becomes-electra-1947-man-in-bed Mourning Becomes Electra (1947)

The most important of the avant-garde films was the teenage Kenneth Anger’s homoerotic psychodrama Fireworks (1947), sent to Cocteau unsolicited. Although Anger would maintain that the movie was given a prize, the award actually went to another 16mm film, Jean Rouch’s scarcely less outré Initiation à la danse des possédés (1948), a 22-minute account of a Songhay woman’s initiation into ritual possession, shot in the French colony of ****.

The festival was a success. A second edition was held the following summer. Neither Bazin nor Cocteau were involved but King Farouk of Egypt made the scene. The term ‘film maudit’ was absent as well, although the festival cursed itself by honouring then imprisoned director Edward Dmytryk, who seven months later would give friendly testimony to the House Un-American Activities Commission.

In the 1950s, ‘film maudit’ was a term of praise bestowed by the young critics who wrote for Bazin’s publication Cahiers du cinéma. In 1953, Truffaut championed, as films maudits far superior to any “neorealist social pamphlet”, two poorly received Hollywood genre flicks: Richard Fleischer’s low-budget train-set noir The Narrow Margin (1952) and Bruce Humberstone’s 1950 South Sea Sinner (a remake of Seven Sinners, with Shelley Winters in the Marlene Dietrich role and Liberace as her piano-playing sidekick) – although his erudite colleague Jean Domarchi was more precise in his usage, praising Vincente Minnelli’s studio-mutilated psychiatric-hospital melodrama The Cobweb (1955) as a film maudit.

lola-montes-1955-people-embrace-behind-a Lola Montes (1955)

By the early 1960s, the sobriquet had been adopted by Cahiers’s Anglo-American acolytes. Writing in the Guardian, Richard Roud called Jacques Rivette’s hand-to-mouth feature Paris Belongs to Us (1961) as “the film maudit of the French new wave”. Andrew Sarris, meanwhile, had extolled Max Ophuls’s swansong Lola Montès (1955) as his personal film maudit and, in characterising Edgar G. Ulmer in his book The New American Cinema, would joke that “the French call him un cineaste maudit, and directors certainly don’t come any more maudit”.

Ulmer had made his swansong, an Italian-West German English-language wartime cheapster, The Cavern (1964), by the time Sarris’s book was published. Still, as presaged by Hitchcock’s misappreciated Marnie (Robin Wood called the British critical reception for this 1964 flop “staggeringly obtuse”), the Twilight of the Auteurs saw a number of geriatric films maudits. Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Gertrud (1964) was the easiest to defend, but Howard Hawks’s Red Line 7000 (1965), John Ford’s 7 Women (1965), and even Jacques Tourneur’s City Under the Sea (aka War Gods of the Deep, 1965) had their auteurist apostles. Not so Otto Preminger’s Skidoo (1968), an insane, pro-LSD mock gangster film, which helped usher in the late 1960s golden age of Hollywood film maudit.

The cursed amok

“A great film is an accident, a banana skin under the feet of dogma,” Cocteau had declared in the catalogue of the Festival du Film Maudit. The films to defend are “those that despise rules”.

skidoo-1968-band-on-boat.jpg Skidoo (1968)

The confusion of the late 1960s and early 1970s provided a fertile field for such anarchy. Studios tottered, standards collapsed, allowing well-publicised disasters such as Myra Breckinridge and Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie (1971), along with eccentric, countercultural one-offs – Robert Downey’s Pound (1970), Richard Sarafian’s Vanishing Point (1971), Floyd Mutrux’s Dusty and Sweets McGee (1971), Ivan Passer’s Born to Win (1971), James Frawley’s Kid Blue (1973) – that were panned, dumped and consigned to oblivion, and remain ripe for rediscovery to this day.

The post ’68 period also brought a subcategory of political films maudits. Jean-Luc Godard’s elusive Un film comme les autres (1968), which triggered a small riot at its world premiere at New York’s Philharmonic Hall, might be one, as is his unfinished One American Movie (1968-69). Taken from and later restored to its director, Marcel Ophuls’s epic documentary The Memory of Justice (1976) was a blend of film maudit and cause célèbre.

But in the main, political films maudits are movies banned in their home countries. The Prague Spring produced a dozen or so; Yugoslavia banned Dusan Makavejev’s WR: Mysteries of the Organism. Films by Péter Bacsó and Gyula Gazdag were banned in Hungary, as were films by Agnieszka Holland and Krzysztof Kieslowski in Poland. The 1969 Soviet film The Color of Pomegranates is a special case in that it was not only banned but its director, Sergei Parajanov, was jailed.

From a North American perspective, the political film maudit du jour is Roman Polanski’s An Officer and a Spy (2019), a movie shunned by North American distributors in penance for the director’s sins.

The era ended with hubristic movie-brat fiascos like William Friedkin’s Sorcerer (1977), Steven Spielberg’s 1941 (1979) and the cosmic bummer that was Heaven’s Gate (1980), credited with destroying not only director Michael Cimino but the studio United Artists. Ishtar may be considered a straggler.

heavens-gate-1980-kris-kristofferson-sun Heaven's Gate (1980)

Yet Paul Verhoeven’s maligned Showgirls (1995) was almost instantly recuperated on the home video market. Times had changed. In the 15 years that followed, Ishtar and Heaven’s Gate were critically rehabilitated.

Decline and fall

Some 60s fiascos (notably Myra Breckinridge) remain unredeemed, but in 2021, the film maudit seems a historical concept. The Man Who Killed Quixote is a white whale. Southland Tales is a black swan.

southland-tales-2005-women-looking-shock Southland Tales (2005)

From that, several things may be deduced. The first is that film maudit belongs to the great age of cinephilia (1945-2000) and, perhaps more crucially, thrives on a hostile audience. The latter is crucial. To paraphrase a 1917 avant-garde manifesto, a film maudit was understood as a slap in the face of public taste or, as another Russian avant-gardist put it, “to lay bare the device”. While not necessarily self-reflexive, many if not most of the great films maudits broke the rules in holding up a funhouse mirror to the worlds of movies, stardom, spectatorship and the media system itself. It was a reflection many did not wish to see.

As the mass audience eroded, social media has rendered film maudit superfluous. In simultaneously undermining a critical establishment to react against and elevating the opinions of unaffiliated cinephiles, the net has fostered a cinematic counterculture capable of embracing, defending and blessing nearly anything. Is Southland Tales, a movie Richard Kelly declared was about “the end of Western civilisation as we know it”, the last of its kind?

The movie has now been relaunched once more on a deluxe Blu-ray that includes the fateful Cannes version. “There’s a line in the final moments of the film where [Sarah Michelle Gellar] says to [Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson] that ‘it had to be this way,’ and [he] responds, ‘I know,’” Kelly told Filmmaker magazine. “That’s kind of how I feel about Southland Tales, that it had to be this way. I know that and I’ve always known that.”

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