After reading Hatcher’s “Non-Existent Gift Guide” I got to thinking about all the movies and stuff I’ve searched in vain for over the years, thinking I’d add to his list with a list of my own. Then I thought I should check one more time just to be sure on a few items.
Turns out Patton Oswalt was right. Or at least we’re getting a lot closer to him being right. He called it ETEWAF: Everything That Ever Was–Available Forever. And it seems like almost everything is available now.
Before we go too much further, I should define terms: By “available,” I mean readily and legally available, meaning I can find it in a minute or less of looking on Netflix, Amazon, or the common streaming services. Or at least “grey market,” i.e. things that may not have been released by their owners, but are up on YouTube or another very public site and freely accessible. I’m not going to go rooting around in torrent sites, and buying copies off sketchy bootleg outlets or convention tables does not qualify as “available” to me. Neither does rummaging at swap meets or Ebay for used vintage copies. About the only exception is books; I’ll accept used copies of print stuff, but I’d rather not do that with other media.
I commented on Greg’s post that I’ve been looking for a few things for a while now and can’t find them; I mentioned What’s So Bad About Feeling Good?, a movie that allegedly shows up on Netflix every couple of years. As far as I can tell, it’s never been released on home video, at least not legally; there are copies available at a few sites, but as I said, I don’t want to buy a disc of unknown quality from an unknown outfit.
A few other things I haven’t been able to track down:
Way back in about 1979 or so, I was a puppeteer in a college production of an obscure musical called Something’s Afoot. (I played the completely politically-incorrect killer pygmy who [spoiler] murders Col. Gillweather with a poison blow-dart.) The Broadway production opened in May 1976 and closed in July 1976. It pops up in college and community theater productions from time to time, there was a taped staging on PBS once in the 1980s, with Jean “Edith Bunker” Stapleton as Miss Tweed, and there is allegedly a cast album out there somewhere. Here’s a really terrible recording of the PBS production:
Between Time and Timbuktu
Way back in about 1972, what was then called National Educational Television (NET), which was replaced by PBS in the ’70s, produced a TV special based on the works of Kurt Vonnegut. It was titled Between Time and Timbuktu: Or Prometheus-5, a Space Fantasy. The absurd program, a mash-up of bits of Cat’s Cradle, Happy Birthday Wanda June, Sirens of Titan, and a few short stories such as Harrison Bergeron, tells the story of newly-minted astronaut Stony Stevenson (he won the job in a jingle contest), who finds himself launched into space and through the Chrono-Synclastic Infundibulum, the nexus of all realities. Stony finds himself moving through various Vonnegut stories before becoming one with the universe. It’s a very ’70s, very trippy show, punctuated by ridiculous deadpan commentary by the hilarious Bob & Ray. It used to get showed on PBS every once in a while, but there’s no copy to be bought. All that I’ve ever seen of it is a paperback book of the script. It seems to appear and disappear from YouTube at irregular intervals; at the moment, only the first 24 minutes is available:
Another PBS program from about a year or so later. So here’s the story: I’m about 14-1/2, my brothers are 16, 13, 10 and 8. Mom has decided that we’re all entirely too lowbrow, so we’re going to watch PBS and get some culture. They’re showing this play; it’s called Steambath, by Bruce Jay Friedman, and it’s about a guy who finds himself in a steambath with a bunch of strangers, and gradually discovers that they are all dead and in Limbo and God is a Puerto Rican janitor. And it stars Bill Bixby, recently emerged from The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, currently starring on The Magician, and eventually to become The Incredible Hulk. My mom liked him, so that clinched the deal, we were going to watch this play.
So it’s time for the show. The 16- and 13-year-old have found a place to disappear to, so it’s me, the 10-year-old, the 8-year-old, and mom, sitting down to watch; five minutes before the show starts, the phone rings. Remember, in those olden days, there was no home recording, and answering machines were rare and expensive, only used by businesses. So mom got up to answer the phone while the kids stayed put to get sophisticated. It’s grandma. Mom’s going to be a while.
So we watch. And in a very short time, two flamboyantly gay men dressed only in towels are singing “Let Me Entertain You” and dancing a striptease. Mom chats obliviously in the kitchen while we all stare at the TV.
A few minutes later, Valerie Perrine drops her towel and takes a shower. Right there on TV. Our eyes popped out of our heads. I told my little brothers they probably shouldn’t be watching this. They agreed and went to their room.
A little while later, Mom got off the phone and came back to the sofa. A few minutes later I was banished from the living room. Mom watched the rest of it and told me later it was hilarious. In 45 years, I’ve never had another chance to see the damn thing, and at $125, that’s not likely to change any time soon. The PBS production of Steambath is apparently so sought-after that DVDs from 2002 are selling for $125 on Amazon.
A bunch of things that are suddenly showing up after decades of fruitless searching:
Years ago, I saw part of a really weird movie on late-night TV, and it took about three decades to find out anything about it. Nobody believed it existed, and gradually I forgot all about it. Finally, years later, something reminded me of it, I did a search on Amazon one day, and there it was. Lord Love a Duck, a ’60s teen beach party version of Faust, starring Roddy McDowell as Mephisopheles. So I bought it, and it was just as weird and terrible as I’d remembered.
Since then, I have periodically searched for a whole list of other obscure movies and TV shows, and most of them never showed up. Until this time. Suddenly most of them seem to be out there. Some of these movies are things I’ve searched for less than a year ago, and suddenly they’re available.
Reuben, Reuben – Tom Conti as a drunken poet who meets and falls in love with a college freshman (Kelly McGillis in her first major role). I owned this movie on VHS for about 25 years, but could never find it on DVD. The last time I watched it, it was a really crappy copy illegally uploaded to YouTube. Pretty shabby treatment for a film with two Oscar nominations (Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay).
The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! – A farcical look at Cold War paranoia starring Alan Arkin, Jonathan Winters, Brian Keith, Eva Marie Saint, and more. A Soviet sub runs aground on an island off the New England coast and the locals go crazy.
Saving Grace – Tom Conti as a recently-installed Pope who accidentally gets himself locked out of the Vatican in his gardening clothes; the guards don’t recognize him and won’t let him in, so he goes off to a village that has no priest and sets up shop.
Garbo Talks! – Feisty Anne Bancroft has a terminal illness and wants to meet the notoriously reclusive Greta Garbo. Nebbish son Gilbert (Ron Silver) goes to absurd lengths to make it happen. This is one of my all-time favorite movies, and another one that I owned on VHS for a long time. The first time I found it on DVD, I had to order it from England and go through a whole voodoo ritual to reset my player to recognize the disc. Now it’s finally available for you lucky people.
Miracles – Tom Conti and Teri Garr are a recently divorced couple thrown back together by jewel thieves (Christopher Lloyd and Paul Rodriguez) due to divine intervention in answer to the prayers of a native Medicine Man in Central America. Miracles ensue.
Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?– Dustin Hoffman as a popular singer-songwriter being driven crazy by his own insecurities and an ongoing campaign of harassment from a man he does not know. Soundtrack is written by Shel Siverstein and performed by Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show.
Quakser Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx – Gene Wilder as an Irish dung salesman in love with American exchange student Margot Kidder.
A Thousand Clowns (way expensive) – Jason Robards as an irresponsible unemployed writer who has to clean up his act or lose custody of his nephew, in Herb Gardner’s classic.
The Goodbye People (VHS only) -Another Herb Gardner script. Max (Martin Balsam) decides to reopen his long-shuttered Coney Island hot dog stand with reluctant assistance from his long-estranged daughter (Pamela Reed) and neurotic beach visitor Arthur (Judd Hirsch).
The Night They Raided Minsky’s – Britt Ekland as a naive Amish girl who runs away to New York to become a dancer (she does innocent Bible-based dances); she stumbles into burlesque under the tutelage of Elliott Gould. This came out when I was a kid, and I think it was the first year that movies had ratings. Back then, there was no PG, PG-13, or NC-17; the ratings were G, M, R, and X. I saw the poster for this movie at the local theater and knew I wouldn’t get to see it, because it was rated M and my mom was of solidly prudish New England Catholic stock. Somehow, 50 years later, I still haven’t seen it.
Who’s Minding the Mint? – US Mint employee Jim Hutton accidentally destroys fifty thousand dollars in cash just before an audit is due; he and a screwball crew have to break into the mint over the weekend and reprint the missing money. Inevitable absurd hijinks ensue.
For about 50 years, the art instruction books of Andrew Loomis were out of print, rare books that sold for over $100 each. Finally, after an eternity, Titan Books has brought them back. These are must-have resources for any artist who intends to draw people.
Here’s a comprehensive site listing the availability of the 200 top-grossing films of 1998-2018, and the 100 top-grossing back to 1970.
Okay, your turn: What are your Holy Grails? Hey, look, a comment section!
Legalish disclaimer: If you click on any of the Amazon links above and buy anything, I get a little commission on it, even if you buy something I didn’t link to. So why not pick up a few thousand bucks’ worth of car parts today?