Some have been following the great Ishtar Bluray Delay saga since last January, but most haven’t so let’s recap the chronology. But first let’s report the latest, which is that earlier today the 92nd Street Y announced “a rare screening and discussion” with Ishtar director-writer Elaine May on Tuesday, 5.17 at 7:15 pm. The 92Y press release mentioned the Ishtar “cult” that has taken form in recent years and also the “impending” release of the Ishtar Bluray.
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment will eventually, no doubt, release their Ishtar Bluray (i.e., the one that almost came out last January but then was pulled at the last minute) but to go by SPHE publicist Fritz Friedman nobody at that company has any specific idea when this long-delayed disc will finally appear. Sometime this summer, next fall, next year…we’ll get back to you.
Why, then, does today’s 92Y press release refer to an “impending release” of the disc? That’s apparently conjecture by Miriam Bale, an associate of May’s who’s referred to in the release as the “curator” of May’s 92Y event.
I’ve been personally involved on the fringes of this prolonged political tangle for several months so here’s how it’s all gone down from my perspective:
(a) I posted a pretty good “where is Ishtar?” piece on 1.8.10.
(b) New Yorker columnist Richard Brody wrote an article called “To Wish Upon Ishtar” on 8.9.10.
(c) Sony Home Entertainment, presumably in response to the emerging Ishtar cult community, announced on 10.26.10 that Ishtar would come out on Bluray on 1.4.11.
(d) The Ishtar Bluray nonethless didn’t appear on 1.4.11, and I was told by Friedman a day later this was because star-producer Warren Beatty felt that it needed to be promoted a bit before being released. As I understood it, Beatty’s idea (apparently in concert with SPHE president David Bishop) was to perhaps stage a couple of special screenings in New York and Los Angeles with Beatty, May and Ishtar costar Dustin Hoffman in attendance and do post-screening q & a’s. These screenings could possibly happen in May, Beatty speculated.
(e) On 1.13.11 I received a copy of the Ishtar Bluray from a guy who bought a copy on my behalf at a Toronto video store. (Somehow a shipment of Ishtar Blurays was sent to Canada despite the decision to hold the release. A few were sold before being recalled.) I ran a piece later that day about seeing it.
(f) I passed along the idea of possible promotional Ishtar screenings in May to Museum of Modern Art film director Rajendra Roy, who had gotten May to appear at a Mike Nichols tribute on 8.18.09, and also to the Austin-based Moses Chiullan, the former HE contributor who said he wanted to try and stage an Ishtar screening in Los Angeles with the help of the Alamo Draft House guys. I then passed along their info and emails to Beatty.
(g) I ran into Beatty at a Santa Barbara Film Festival party last February and asked if he’d heard from Roy or Chiullan and, if so, had they discussed anything? He answered in his usual vague way, but he did say he wanted to make sure Elaine May “is on board,” which sounded to me like an allusion to her being satisfied or happy or taken care of, etc. Peter Biskind‘s Beatty biolgraphy reported that Beatty and May clashed during the making of Ishtar. It’s accepted doctrine that the disastrous reception to the film in 1987 pretty much ended May’s directing career.
(h) A few days ago I called Beatty to ask what happened to the potential May release of the Ishtar Bluray along with the idea of staging special screenings, etc. His response was again vague, but he did mention wanting to make sure May is “on board,” or words to that effect. “That’s still a concern?,” I said. “You said that last February.”
(i) I left two messages for Elaine May through Mike Nichols‘ Manhattan office — silencio.
(j) The 92nd Street Y announced its Elaine May-talks-about-Ishtar evening earlier today.
(k) SPHE’s Friedman called to say that SPHE president Bishop is calling or reaching out or sending carrier-pigeon messages to Elaine May, and that he “wants to talk to her about tweaking the [Bluray] masters to see if she’s happy with it.” (HE Question: In what realm is a Bluray mastered, duplicated and packaged with copies sent to Canada and then three months later the president of the Bluray distribution company tries to get in touch with the director to ask her about tweaks?) Friedman adds that Bishop has reached out to Beatty about possibly arranging for special promotional screenings of the film with Beatty, May and Hoffman doing q & a’s after screenings as a way to stir word-of-mouth. As far as I could tell this last statement was said without irony. Bishop appears to regard this idea as a relatively fresh one.
I’m not making any of this up. Plenty of things may have happened unbeknownst to me, but this is what I personally know to be factual. To me it’s like the Keystone Cops or like a scene from David Cronenberg‘s Scanners with my head about to explode. Things really do move this slowly and disjointedly in corporate circles from time to time.