I’m still outraged about what happened at the Oscars. No, not that little millionaire-on-millionaire slap-fight that brought out the worst possible takes from the worst possible people. (Fellow white folk – you really need to stop telling on yourselves quite so readily.)

Nope, I’m seething over the Academy Awards for a different reason this year. Sure, “CODA” was a feel-good choice that, for all its good intentions, will sink into the mushy, middlebrow Oscar morass of past undeserving best picture winners. (Say hello to “The English Patient,” “Forrest Gump,” “Titanic,” “The King’s Speech,” “Argo” and “Green Book” while you’re down there.) Of course, kvetching about the Academy getting it so, so wrong isn’t new, or particularly interesting, so I’ll move on to the Oscars relegating some reliably compelling real-world feel-good moments to an untelevised pre-show.

After all, who’d want to see screen legends like Samuel L. Jackson, Liv Ullmann and Danny Glover receive well-deserved lifetime achievement statuettes in front of an adoring crowd of their peers? Oh, wait, everyone. Everyone would want that. But most egregious (to me, anyway) was the fact that legendary screenwriter, director and comedian Elaine May was presented with her award by Bill freaking-Murray, and I still can’t see it. (The Governors Awards ceremony isn’t even online to watch – and I’ve looked.)

Naturally, the all-around iconic May is used to getting slighted by Hollywood – and being acidly funny about it. As one of the only women to direct Hollywood films in the 1970s, May was unsurprisingly both brilliant at it, and perpetually overlooked. Of her four career directorial efforts, three (“The Heartbreak Kid,” “A New Leaf,” “Mikey and Nicky”) are stone killers. (And “Ishtar” isn’t really the hacky punchline that snarky would-be critics would have you believe.) I’d highly recommend checking them out – except that, in one glaring case, you can’t.

May’s 1972 film “The Heartbreak Kid” is a blacker than black comedy starring Charles Grodin as a honeymooning groom who immediately ditches his sunburned new bride (a very funny, Oscar-nominated Jeannie Berlin, May’s daughter) to pursue the vapid beach bunny (Cybill Shepherd) who, Grodin imagines, will fulfill his every male fantasy. Apart from practically inventing what we’ve come to term “cringe comedy,” the film functions as a typically razor-sharp dissection, from May, of self-obsessed male ego, and a sort of referendum on the 1970s itself. May, in addition to directing, served as a de facto co-writer of Neil Simon’s script, her improvisational style shaping the story and performances into the unique and biting classic it is.

And you can’t see it.


“The Heartbreak Kid” is just one worthy film that’s fallen into cinematic limbo, a fate that’s much more common that you think. Not to get all “I told you so” here, but when this longtime video store clerk warned everyone to resist the lure of the all-digital streaming oasis that eventually destroyed your local video store (RIP, Videoport, you were too good for this world), this is the sort of thing I was talking about.

Physical media persists. Once a VHS tape, DVD, or Blu-ray is struck, it exists, regardless of the vagaries of the marketplace. “The Heartbreak Kid” has never been on DVD legitimately, and there aren’t any plans for it to be. Thank those fickle capitalists at chemical giant Bristol Myers Squibb, whose brief foray into film acquisition saw many films (in addition to “The Heartbreak Kid,” don’t bother looking for 1972’s “Sleuth,” either) left behind in the money-driven march of profit.

We think that movies are forever. They’re not – not unless someone (with money) decides they’re worth preserving. Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation estimates that some 90 percent of all silent films are simply gone, while half of all films made before 1950 just don’t exist anymore, in any form. For film fans, this is a tragedy, and, like all national tragedies, the damage and neglect has fallen disproportionately on the least represented. Meaning that films directed by women, people of color, and other industry-marginalized people are far more likely to be deemed not worthy of restoration and preservation.

A group of directors like Nancy Savoca (“Household Saints”), Mary Harron (“I Shot Andy Warhol”) and Shola Lynch (“Chisholm ’72: Unbought and Unbossed”) have banded together to form Missing Movies, dedicated to unraveling the distribution rights to films heretofore deemed unworthy. Apart from the three movies mentioned, other notable movies you can’t see include Julie Taymor’s Shakespeare adaptation “Titus,” Laurie Anderson’s concert film “Home of the Brave,” Ossie Davis’ “Black Girl,” and movies from directors Charles Burnett, Robert Duvall, D.A. Pennebaker, Mira Nair and on and on. (Just a note that Videoport carried pretty much all of these films. I did tell you so.)

The thing is that, with each shiny new innovation in home viewing, the money-minded marketplace determines what stays and what is lost, sometimes irrevocably. As a hardcore seeker of the weirdest fringes of cinema, I’m a hoarder of physical media. My homemade movie shelves groan under the weight of bargain boxed sets from companies – thanks Mill Creek Entertainment, you kooks – who almost literally sweep up discarded movie ephemera and slap them onto plastic. Noted cult director Frank Henenlotter (“Basket Case”) once came across a warehouse crammed with rotting reels of forgotten (and, sure, mostly forgettable) 1960-’70s indie exploitation films, bought them for a song, and teamed with distributor Something Weird Video (bless their grimy hearts) to release dozens of doomed-to-the-dustbin films under the banner Frank Henenlotter’s Sexy Shockers from the Vaults. (I have several.)

There should be an awards show for people like that. Of course, the film industry wouldn’t bother to televise such a thing. No money in it.

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.

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