Jul 9, 2008

UCLA Extension course titled "Orphan Films"

A UCLA Extension course titled "Orphan Films" will be held at the Directors Guild Theater, 7950 Sunset Blvd., on eight consecutive Wednesdays. Members of the L.A. Film Critics Assn. will host the class. The "orphan films," dropped by studios and distributors for various reasons, will be discussed.*
Wow! This sounds great. A whole course, at UCLA no less, on orphan films. Surely these are the salad days for motion picture orphans.

Except . . . (here's the punchline): the above announcement is from 1979!

Reading closer, the details are a little less resonant with the 21st-century conception of what an orphan film is. The term has long been an industry epithet for commercial movies that get made but not distributed. In fact, the item in the L.A. Times went on to say that orphans were "films which never found their audience." A much less dramatic conception of orphanhood than "never before seen" or "abandoned by its owner."

Reading closer still, the works that UCLA and the L.A. Film Critics actually screened are 1970s auteur films that did (eventually) get distributed and now border on the classic or cult.

The 8 narrative feature films in the 8-week extension course were:

Loving (1970, Columbia Pictures), USC film school grad Irvin Kershner's comic drama starring George Segal and Eva Marie Saint. One of cinematographer Gordon Willis's first films. Robert Ebert, in October 1970, wrote that Loving "was released last March in New York, received a reasonably warm critical reception and then disappeared all summer into some kind of distributorial limbo, turning up finally this week in neighborhood theaters. Somehow it deserved more attention than that."

Payday (1973) directed by Daryl Duke, a veteran TV director, and starring the great Rip Torn as a cynical country singer. Shot in Selma, Alabama. Distributed by Cinerama Releasing Corp.; put out by Warner Home Video in 1999; DVD, 2008.

The Silent Partner (1979, Carolco), also directed by Daryl Duke; screenplay by Curtis Hanson. Elliot Gould and Christopher Plummer star in this suspense/heist picture. Lions Gate DVD, 2007.

Night Moves (1975, Warner Bros.) Arthur Penn directed Gene Hackman in this detective thriller. Early in their TV show run Siskel & Ebert championed it as a neglected gem.

Citizens Band (1977, Paramount) aka Handle with Care, Jonathan Demme's cult satire starring Paul LeMat.

The White Dawn (1974, Paramount) Philip Kaufman directed Timothy Bottoms, Louis Gossett Jr., and Warren Oates in this drama about shipwrecked whalers rescued by Inuits.

Smile (1975, United Artists) a Michael Ritchie comedy.

Thieves Like Us (1974, United Artists) Vintage Robert Altman. MGM Home Entertainment DVD, 2007

* "'Orphan Films' Course to Screen Eight Neglected Works at Guild," Los Angeles Times, Nov. 23, 1979; "Belson, Tewkesbury, Bick, Duke to Discuss Their 'Orphan Films,'" Los Angeles Times, Jan. 16, 1980.