Looking for Mr. Goodbar (Dir. Richard Brooks 1977)
“The joy of discovery is certainly the liveliest that the mind of man can ever feel.” – Claude Bernard
So I mentioned last month that a lot of our film history has been completely lost due to lack of resources and poor preservation. But what I failed to explore in that post was the fact that there are a number of films that, even though the prints exist, their titles are on IMDB, they have Wikipedia pages, and they’re referenced in film texts, for whatever reason the studios have not converted them to DVD. Therefore these films exist only in old VHS copies, scratchy youtube clips, and the memories of bad-ass geriatrics. Off the top of my head I can think of three: The James Toback penned crime thriller The Gambler starring a young James Caan, The Ken Russell directed historical Nun sex epic The Devils, and last, the subject of this post, the film that’s haunted me like an agreeable ghost (you know Casper or Nearly Headless Nick), the Diane Keaton/Richard Gere 1974 New York City thriller Looking for Mr Goodbar.
I first came came across Looking for Mr. Goodbar, as a novel, in Monte Vista, Colorado two or so years ago. I was working for the AmeriCorps and part of my service included volunteering at a low income thrift store. We’d sort through tons of old books, records, clothing trying to find things of at least minor value. So one day as I was sifting through a fresh delivery and beneath the faded Oilers jerseys and chewed up Barbies, the cover of a book caught my eye. The jacket featured a screenshot of a young Diane Keaton in rail thin 70’s mode sitting at a bar. Physically she didn’t look that different from her appearance in Annie Hall but there was something about the grey weariness in her eyes that I found kind of disturbing.
It was also one of those book jackets with “Now a major motion picture” stamped in white lettering across the front. Does anyone actually like when publishing companies do that? You know, advertise a book as more interesting because it’s being turned into a movie. I remember when Revolutionary Road came out and I wanted to go back and re-read the Richard Yates novel, but the only copies I could find were plastered with screenshots of Kate Winslet and Leonardo Dicaprio embracing. I mean, it’s already hard enough to read a book in public without looking like a mouse. What? Now, every great novel I read has to include a picture of the Titanic cast?….And that makes me think of movie novelizations, which I guess they still do. Personally, I don’t want to read the novelization of Avatar anymore than I would want to play a video game based on Frasier. Anyway…
The title of the book was also interesting because my first thought was of the candy bar, Mr. Goodbar. However after reading the synopsis I learned the novel and subsequent film have nothing to do with nut infused chocolate bars but instead tell the story of a single woman in NYC and her journey into sexual depravity. Diane Keaton plays a school teacher who spends her night cruising bars, getting into increasingly violent sexual encounters. And without giving too much away, it ends in a rather, umm, brutal way.
I was surprised that I hadn’t heard of either the book or movie. It seemed to me that Diane Keaton remains a big enough star that even her minor works would be on my radar. But after spending a few moments flipping through the pages I slapped a $1 sticker on the cover of the book and moved on.
Then, a couple months later, I’m sitting down to read the new issue of Vanity Fair and I start a piece by James Wolcott about New York in the 1970’s. Wolcott was making the argument that what NYC has gained in safety and tourism it’s given up in authenticity and character. It’s an old argument, usually referred to as the Disneyfication of NYC. But he goes on to reference certain artifacts that expressly capture the feel of 70s New York, one of which being Looking for Mr. Goodbar! He even included the poster from the film in the accompanying illustration. I was floored. So I vowed to keep my eyes open for a copy.
The film quickly became my cinematic white whale. I put it in my Netflix Que and that’s where it’s stayed for years, listed as unavailable. When I could remember I’d search for it in electronic stores, yard sales, police auctions, hidden caves, etc… and yet it remains this elusive thing. It pops up from time to time in an interview or a throw away reference in an article just enough to pique my curiosity but never in its’ complete form.
So it was on a recent trip to Kim’s Video store in the East Village that I tried once more to find Looking for Mr. Goodbar. They have a huge selection of limited release/hard to find titles, including a whole slate of previously unreleased films from the Warner Brothers vault. So surely they would have it right? Or, if not, at least be able to put in a special order. Some Japanese import. Something. And the clerk assured me that she had heard of the film. She’d even been asked about it before, yet, it wasn’t in store and not available for order.
Now, what does it say if even the films that include huge stars and have been nominated for major awards (Looking for Mr. Goodbar recieved Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actress and Best Cinematography) are no longer available? If a film with such a distinct pedigree isn’t even on DVD just think of all the mediocre films that have been lost. And better yet, who determines which films merit availability? It’s weird that our collective film knowledge is limited to the decisions of random studio heads. They deem what’s worthy of preservation, deciding which films they think we still want around. That in turn influences our perception of which filmmakers are great, what certain actors/directors careers were like, who was successful, etc.
Regardless, I’m still holding out hope that I can find a copy somewhere along the line. I suppose I could just go online and order one of those bootleg copies that some Russian kid probably ripped from an old VHS. But that kind of defeats the purpose.
Let me know if you find anything.
– The poster features Keaton in a smoky bar. I kind of wish you could still smoke in bars. Mainly so I could offer a light to any girl who pulls out a cigarette. There’s no real equivalent to offering a light when it comes to buying a girl a drink. Unless I were to take a sip before her to check for poison. Kind of like the tasters for a king.
– I won’t go into to my whole spiel about why the 70’s were the best decade for American Cinema but I will say that I often find merit in even the most trivial of 70’s films. I guess because of the tone/style in which most were made, lyrical, disillusioned, hostile to authority. And the way they looked, the color of the film stock, the dirty streets, the clothing, cars as big as boats, skinny actors in that chain smoking, plain hamburger eating kind of way.
– Supposedly the film introduced Levar Burton, the Reading Rainbow guy. That alone is reason for celebration.
In fact its quite strange. It’s a good film, Richard Gere is pretty disturbing in it. I watched it on TV a few years ago (in Italy), I didn’t immagine it was such a rarity.