New Yorker critic Richard Brody has again written about how great Ishtar is. He was inspired by a 3.30 screening of the financially ruinous 1987 comedy at Pleasantville’s Jacob Burns Film Center, after which director-writer Elaine May, who’s been in movie jail for the last 28 and 1/2 years because of Ishtar‘s failure, spoke a bit.
Five or so years ago Brody called Ishtar “one of the most original, audacious, and inventive movies — and funniest comedies — of modern times. It isn’t just a movie worth rescuing for a few choice bits; it’s a thoroughgoing, beginning-to-end masterwork.”
All right, that’s just horseshit. Over-cranked, over-exuberant, not trustworthy. And yet Ishtar, on the whole, is worth seeing. Here’s how I explained it in January 2010:
(1) “The general…well, at least marginal view that Ishtar is better than its rep and is actually hilarious in portions”;
(2) “Ishtar was one of the first ‘no-laugh funny’ films ever released. That was a completely new concept back then, and people didn’t know what to make of it”;
(3) “Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman play a pair of profoundly untalented New York-based songwriters. The first half hour or so plays pretty well; the film’s troubles don’t start until they travel to Morocco…Ishtar, I mean. The best no-laugh-humor bits happen when Beatty and Hoffman are compulsively composing awful songs”;
(4) “Ishtar is a decent (some would say inspired) piece of entertainment, a legendary Hollywood debacle that, like Heaven’s Gate, gradually found a measure of respect. Okay, among people with a slightly corroded and perverse sense of humor but still, no one today thinks of Ishtar as a film to be shunned. I haven’t conducted a poll, but I’ll bet very few critics would put it down, and that most would probably say ‘not half bad.'”
I’m also amused by a Pauline Kael line from her original review (which Brody quotes): “The movie certainly isn’t dislikable; you observe the fine touches. But you feel as if your mind is wilting.”
Warren Beatty as “Lyle” in Elaine May’s Ishtar.