I suppose you could currently consider Out 1 the new champion in this category of 'massively long film which due to only a few screenings of the full length version around the world has likely only been seen by audiences numbering in the low to mid hundreds', though I of course have no idea how you could go about weighing the respective "populaire"-ity (to steal from the Gorin box set thread!) of Rivette and Tarr.
Or Syberberg. If you make a habit of making films that are undistributable in the normal sense (because four hours is pretty much the upper limit that a theatrical distributor will take on for a conventional commercial run - any longer and you can't sensibly schedule evening shows without either requiring cinemas to pay overtime or audiences to leave work early), you're effectively confirming that you're not interested in "popularity" in the accepted sense. But plenty of artists do indeed prefer a small number of dedicated acolytes to a broader but less engaged fanbase.
I do wonder about the effect that distributors flitting about has on our understanding of filmmakers in the sense that, unless they have a huge success straight out of the gate, we may never see the first couple of films from a particular filmmaker's career that led up to the 'breakthrough' UK or US distributed hit simply because of the traction that is needed to get an international distributor's attention (for example, since I mentioned Il Divo a few posts back, it took a long time for Paolo Sorrentino's first feature length film One Man Up to get a UK release on DVD, and even then only in a boxset with the later and more celebrated works), and then when attention wanes a filmmaker's later films get overlooked as well. All of this can leave a somewhat bizarre puzzle to decipher for someone who may be interested in where a film fits into a larger career - even more so if the 'celebrated' film turns out to be one of a filmmaker's least interesting works!
The impact of decent distribution on a filmmaker's profile can't be underestimated - it's truly colossal. Sometimes, if a filmmaker has a really huge crossover hit at the mid-point of their career, their back catalogue will be mined for similarly marketable gems, and in the case of Almodóvar this really did involve all his professional features getting a proper if belated release. I nearly mentioned Kieslowski as a similar example, but in fact the British actually discovered him comparatively swiftly, with Camera Buff
getting a UK release back in 1981 - though it's certainly true that 1990s rep revivals were far better attended than the original 1980s screenings.
And speaking as someone still waiting for Bruno Dumont's later films to get any kind of release, it can also be frustrating when a distributor's attention wanders to another eye-catching bauble (sorry I went a little Mark Cousins for a moment with the use of that term!) and you are left waving your hands and clicking your fingers in front of them to try to draw them back to the situation at hand! Which can I suppose raise ire from people at films that do get distributed that might not be of the same standard (or aimed at the same kind of cinemagoer) as those that were overlooked, since I suppose we don't often have to (or I suppose should have to, though it is an interesting subject) consider how a film fits into a certain philosophy of the times, or *shudder* business plan.
You may well be tempted to shudder at the notion of films needing a business plan, but every single release will inevitably have something along those lines attached - unless the distributor wants to struggle from day one and fold completely after only a few months. And that applies just as much to distributors who appear to be adventurous - Second Run is clearly driven by love rather than profit, but they can only stay operational by being absolutely ruthless at controlling costs to the nearest penny.
And yes, flavours of the month can rapidly lose their lustre. I was reminded of this vividly when I was commissioned to write about the Taviani Brothers' Allonsanfàn
, as they're a very good example. In fact, their filmography breaks down into an almost perfect three-act structure.Unreleased
: all five features from A Man for the Burning
(1962) to Saint Michael Had a Rooster
(1974), which opened in 1978 in the wake of Padre padrone
's success;Released more or less within a year of premiere
: almost everything from the Palme d'Or-winning Padre padrone
(1977) to Fiorile
(1993) - the one exception was Il prato
(1979), which went straight to TV after a gap of several years (but was at least shown to UK audiences);Unreleased
: all five features from Elective Affinities
And yet in the 1980s, they were genuine arthouse stars - in fact, during this period they had a better track record than Fellini at actually getting their films into British cinemas. But I think the last bona fide hit was Kaos
(1984), with the subsequent three films all performing comparatively poorly - and after Fiorile
(whose UK release I was involved with, so I remember the disappointment) distributors obviously decided that enough was enough - and I'm pretty sure that Good Morning Babylon, Night Sun
had different distributors, which speaks volumes in itself.
And I can see their point - and also why they decided that the first five features weren't worth disinterring. The two I've seen have been terrific (Saint Michael Had a Rooster
is a minor masterpiece), but not only are they extremely political in a very parochial Italian way, but films like Subversives
(1967) are also very much of their time: fascinating if you're interested in 1960s left-wing Italian politics, but it honestly needs footnotes - or, in my case, the Wikipedia entry on Palmiero Togliatti that I kept open on my laptop while viewing. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised to find that someone had uploaded fansubs online - so it was worth importing the Italian DVD, an option that wouldn't have been open to me in the 1980s.