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ReFocus: The Films of Elaine May$
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Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Dean Brandum

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781474440189

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474440189.001.0001

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Cartographies of Catastrophe— Elaine May’s Ishtar (1987)

Cartographies of Catastrophe— Elaine May’s Ishtar (1987)

(p.139) Chapter 7 Cartographies of Catastrophe— Elaine May’s Ishtar (1987)
ReFocus: The Films of Elaine May

Dean Brandum

Edinburgh University Press

If there is a single moment of ‘fame’ that can be ascribed to Elaine May, it is one clouded by notoriety. So savage was the response to her 1987 comedy Ishtar that it effectively ended May’s directorial career. Siskel and Ebert’s declaration that it was the worst film of 1987 and May’s ‘winning’ the Worst Director award at the Golden Raspberry Awards seemed to only add insult to injury, the film’s flaws thoroughly out of whack with the scale of the derision it received. In 1987, Ishtar-hating was the critical sport of the year. This chapter maps the context and details of this initial career-ruining treatment of May, through to the determination of its fans and the recent reclamation of it by high-caliber film critics, art curators and other representatives of highbrow culture, positing questions and theories as to why this film and the director in particular triggered the response that it did

Keywords:   Elaine May, Women’s Filmmaking, Women Directors, Comedy, Ishtar (Film)

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