Movie Break: Quite Possibly The Greatest Music Documentary Ever. Complete: Behind the Music

Today I stumbled upon what is quite possibly the funniest video I’ve ever personally seen in my life.  To quote Dave (the delightfully sarcastic and witty narrator)…“I cannot begin to describe to you what you are about to see.  I would like you to take one moment and picture the absolute worst band you’ve ever seen in your life.  And there is no way…NO WAY you could have conceived of anything as bad as this.”

Even with the detailed (and Complete-ly relevant) 4 minute intro, I still could not believe what I was seeing and hearing.  It is truly beyond description and you have hereby been warned:

I have laughed uncontrollably and absolutely to tears a handful of times in my life, and this video is responsible for probably the most uncontrollable and convulsive laughter I have ever experienced.  Nothing can prepare you for what you will see here.

Quite possibly the greatest music documentary ever made.  And please watch the whole thing…the narrative comments are totally worth it, as are the interview bits.  It’s a shining cautionary tale of how practice sometimes doesn’t make anything remotely close to perfect.

So, to quote the should-be legendary documentarian Dave…

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…COMPLETE

Rating:  10 (ten) out of 5

Movie Break: Ishtar (Yes, THAT Ishtar)

Shortly here, The Sonic Abyss will welcome my good friend The Seer as a contributor of reviews of Abysmal movies you may or may not have heard of.  Like the music here, these are movies that were either overlooked, panned, ignored or unjustly hammered by the media.  Sometimes it’s in these movies where we can see some of our favorite stars letting loose and just having fun with their craft for the hell of it, fully knowing that the movie is not going to be a huge it.  The Seer’s forthcoming review of the black comedy The Dark Backward is a great example of this as it features Judd Nelson, Rob Lowe, James Caan, Lara Flynn Boyle, Bill Paxton and (are you ready?) Wayne Newton as you’ve never seen them before…and will never forget.

In the meantime, I’ve managed to find and watch the notorious 1987 box office bomb called Ishtar.

Oh, how I’ve wanted to see this movie. For about 20 years I’ve wanted to see this movie, just to see if it is as bad as all the reviews I’ve read. Historically, Ishtar is regarded as perhaps the most colossal box office flop ever, collecting only $14 million at the box office in the wake of a ridiculous $55 million dollar production budget. Yep…this was 1987 when $55 million dollars was the equivalent of at least twice that now.

Before the movie was even released it was fodder for the merciless media, who were only too happy to report the ludicrous over-budget expenses (much of it was filmed in Morocco), the studio management shake-up, the director/actor blow-ups on the set and the friendships that suffered. My curiosity was piqued, however, when I read several interviews with co-stars Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty where both men defended the movie.

Hoffman said that given the opportunity he’d “do it again in a minute.”  Beatty called the movie a “very good, not great, comedy” and lamented that every review he read of Ishtar began with criticism of the production budget and the problems encountered during the making of it. He openly wondered if the reviewers even actually watched the movie.   Grammy award-winning songwriter Paul Williams, who wrote the hilarious excuses for songs sung in the movie also was positive about the experience: “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.”

After all this off-screen hullabaloo, I was finally able to watch the movie recently and found myself chuckling consistently throughout.  It’s not a fall-on-the-floor funny movie, but it’s entertaining and there is some really clever dialogue and some excellent absurdist situational humor. Some of the scenes with the blind camel actually did have me laughing myself to tears with the ridiculousness of it all.

Ishtar movie 1987In Ishtar Hoffman and Beatty star as Rogers and Clarke, two absolutely dreadful songwriters bent on finding success in the music biz. After failing on the local scene in New York, their manager gets them a regular gig as lounge singers at a hotel in Morocco, telling the disheartened pair “Most musicians would KILL for a gig in North Africa.” Things begin to go awry as soon as they arrive at the airport and they find themselves in the middle of an attempted overthrow of the government by leftist guerrillas. The key to the overthrow is an ancient map of Ishtar that a mysterious woman named Shirra is trying to get to the guerrillas, which tells of two “men of God” who will come to save the people from the evil government.

Through botched gigs and a quite hilarious trek through the desert featuring vultures, black market arms dealers, and the aforementioned blind camel, Beatty and Hoffman dodge the CIA and the guerillas while they try to figure out just what the hell is going on. It’s all a pretty ridiculous premise to be sure, but it’s important to remember (should you ever get to watch it) that it was intended as an offbeat variant on the Bing Crosby/Bob Hope “Road to…” movies of the 1940’s and 1950’s. I may be in the absolute minority here, but taken in that context I found it to be well done and full of some good laughs, never resorting to cliché’ and featuring scenarios and dialogue with tongue firmly planted in cheek.  I will happily watch it again.

Ishtar is one of those movies that I really think could have a life of its own on DVD, as there have been many movies that didn’t necessarily do that great at the box office but became legendary due to popularity as rentals. This is Spinal Tap (a far superior movie to this one) is a great example, as it was not a huge hit in theatres but also had a much, much lower production budget and has been re-issued several times on DVD. There have been some really crappy movies that have made it on to DVD, yet a decent movie like Ishtar has never been given that chance here in the United States.

I think it’s about time to change that.  This is a funny, entertaining flick that is gaining status as a bonafide cult classic.