Movie fans can be forgiven for thinking they have the world of cinema at their fingertips, whether it’s Netflix coming through video game consoles, pay-per-view movies that haven’t even opened in theaters yet, or the Warner Archive Collection, wherein the studio makes its most obscure titles available to the public on demand.
But even with all these technological advancements, there are plenty of movies and TV shows that we just can’t get on DVD yet. Whether they’re tied up in legal battles, owned by companies that no longer exist, or embarrass someone with power, these orphan titles remain out of the grasp of most home-video consumers.
Here’s a look at just a few.
Director Otto Preminger’s 1959 adaptation of George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” and Disney’s “Song of the South” both rank among the hardest-to-see films in Hollywood history; not only has neither been released on DVD, but seeing them on television or even in revival houses is also pretty much impossible.
Kiddie gangster musical “Bugsy Malone,” despite its massive popularity in the United Kingdom and the presence of a young Jodie Foster, has never gotten a DVD release stateside. Nor has the MTV-inspired “Electric Dreams,” the cult 1984 romantic comedy about a love triangle between an architect, his cello-playing neighbor, and his home computer (voiced by Bud Cort of “Harold and Maude” fame). The songs in “Dreams” — from Culture Club, Jeff Lynne, and Giorgio Moroder, among others — were recorded specifically for the movie, so rights shouldn’t be an issue. The movie’s inaccessibility possibly stems from the fact that it was little-seen upon its original release, but there’s definitely a cult for it now.
Did Helen Mirren’s Oscar-winning turn in “The Queen” whet your appetite to revisit her stunning work in Peter Greenaway’s provocative and controversial “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover”? Were you so moved by Mickey Rourke’s performance as a down-and-out grappler in “The Wrestler” that you wanted to see him play an alcoholic writer on the skids in “Barfly”?
Too bad — both were out on DVD for a short time, but are now out of print. Greenaway has slipped between the cracks in recent years; he keeps working in Europe, but he hasn’t had a theatrical release in the U.S. since 1999’s “8 ½ Women.”
Too bad Robert Altman is no longer around to record a commentary about using the claustrophobia of the theater space that make “Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean” so effective, but it’s a movie that deserves its moment on DVD to feature the extraordinary performances by Cher, Karen Black, Sandy Dennis, and a not-yet-famous Kathy Bates.
Antonio Banderas has gotten most famous lately for voicing Puss in Boots in the “Shrek” movies, but his best work has been with director Pedro Almodóvar; sadly, their collaboration on the S&M-tinged rom-com “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” — was only briefly available on DVD here before quickly going out of print. (A friend who works at L.A.’s Amoeba Records once advised, “If you’re a fan of Almodóvar, buy his DVDs as soon as they become available and then hang on to them; for some reason, he goes out of print more quickly than almost any other director.”)
TV box sets
Oh what a world we live in, where complete sets of “The King of Queens” and “7th Heaven” are easily available when, say, “The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd” and Mel Brooks’ Robin Hood satire “When Things Were Rotten” aren’t. It’s all a matter of taste, yes, but there are some landmark TV shows that just haven’t yet made the leap to those shiny little discs.
Take “You Can’t Do That on Television,” for instance. This goofball 1980s sketch-comedy series for kids was an exceedingly low-budget show featuring Canadian teens telling silly jokes and dumping water on each other’s heads. It nonetheless shaped a generation of fans, introduced green slime to Nickelodeon, and featured a young Alanis Morrissette in its later years. But can fans relive the magic on DVD? If you’re one of the show’s many admirers, you’ll know not to say “I don’t know.”
The archly self-aware “Batman” from the 1960s has been a reruns staple for years — little kids watch it once for the action, then they get older and watch it again for all the jokes they missed — but this beloved series is also absent from the DVD section.
It’s not just goofy comedies that aren’t getting out there — neither “China Beach” nor “The Wonder Years” have made it to DVD, although in both cases clearing all those 1960s hit songs is probably a logistical (and expensive) nightmare.
The great flops
If run-of-the-mill cinematic catastrophes like “The Postman” and “Rumor Has It” can get DVD releases, why not the really notable ones? Mike Nichols and Elaine May haven’t been a comedy duo in decades, but how great would they be together on a Criterion Collection box, defending their respective work directing “The Fortune” and “Ishtar”? They could even get the notoriously tight-lipped Warren Beatty to chime in about his starring role in both.
Don’t future generations have the right to enjoy crisply remastered DVDs of “Skidoo” (Otto Preminger directing Jackie Gleason and Carol Channing in an LSD comedy) and “The Lonely Lady” (the infamous Pia Zadora disaster that was the “Showgirls” of the ’80s)? Shouldn’t John Waters finally get to realize his dream of recording a commentary track for his favorite movie, “Boom!” wherein Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton gallivant their way through one of Tennessee Williams’ most erratic scripts?
Make it happen, Hollywood.
Alonso Duralde is the author of “Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas,” out this fall from Limelight Editions.