Ishtar


1h 45m 1987

Brief Synopsis

Two bad singers booked by a Moroccan hotel get mixed up in international politics.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
PG-13
Genre
Comedy
Adventure
Release Date
1987
Production Company
Linda Murphy
Distribution Company
Sony Pictures Releasing
Location
Morocco; Los Angeles, California, USA; Kaufman Astoria Studios, Astoria, New York, USA; New York City, New York, USA; Sahara Desert, West Africa

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 45m

Synopsis

Two bad singers booked by a Moroccan hotel get mixed up in international politics.

Crew

Andy Aaron

Sound Effects

Abdou Abdellah

Props

Karim Abouobayd

Driver

Elizabeth Ackerman

Music Editor

Richard Adee

Props Assistant

Darif Ahmed

Location Assistant

Abderrazak Al Moustaghit

Production Assistant

Giuseppe Alberti

Assistant Camera Operator

Alfio Ambrogi

Best Boy

Sergio Ambrosi

Grip

Denise Amirante

Stunts

James Archer

Props Assistant

Harold Arlen

Music

Alfred Aylmore

Other

George Bamber

Production Assistant

Don Banks

Boom Operator

Joseph Banks

Electrician

Paola Barbaglia

Video

Rahou Bassam

Props

Donah Bassett

Negative Cutting

Warren Beatty

Song

Warren Beatty

Producer

Warren Beatty

Song Performer

Warren Beatty

Music

Lois A Bellucci

Sound Editor

Dounia Benjelloun

Production Assistant

Irving Berlin

Song

Luigi Bernadini

Assistant Camera Operator

John Bernard

Location Manager

Louis Bertini

Sound Editor

Miriam Biderman

Sound Editor

Michael Bird

Property Master

Julie A. Bloom

Production Assistant

Cecile Bokara

Art Assistant

Peter Booke

Other

John Bottom

Driver

Naima Bouanani

Wardrobe

Alan Boyle

Makeup

Chris Brancato

Assistant

Lisa Bromwell

Sound Editor

Jack Brooks

Theme Lyrics

G Mac Brown

Unit Production Manager

Pete Bucossi

Stunts

Rosemary Burrows

Wardrobe Supervisor

Sean Byrne

Other

Fabio Cafolla

Lighting Technician

Filippo Cafolla

Gaffer

Lucille Cannon-smith

Production Accountant

Marco Carosi

Video

Sean Casey

Other

Martin Charnin

Theme Lyrics

Peter Childs

Art Director

Anthony Ciccolini

Sound Editor

Renato Cinquini

Grip

Richard P. Cirincione

Editor

Jane Clarke

Art Department

Lee Cleary

Assistant Director

Terry Coates

Driver

Bill Coggon

Property Master

Ron Collis

Driver

Terence Cox

Special Effects

Richard Crudo

Assistant Camera Operator

Bill Curry

Other

Tommy Curry

Other

William Curry

Other

Jeanette D'ambrosio-sylbert

Assistant

Alan D'angerio

Hair

Louis D'esposito

Assistant Director

Rick Dallago

Location Scout

Noel Davis

Casting

Garry Dawson

Props

Jerry Deblau

Best Boy

John Deblau

Gaffer

Susan Demskey-horiuchi

Adr Editor

Michael Dennison

Wardrobe

Craig Dibona

Camera Operator

Lee Dichter

Sound

Abdessamad Dinia

Assistant Director

Ken Eluto

Sound Editor

Jim Erickson

On-Set Dresser

Andres Fernandez

Wardrobe

P J Ferrick

Other

Howard Feuer

Casting

David Forbes

Consultant

John R Ford

Assistant Set Dresser

Richard Ford

Electrician

Cornelius Forrest

Other

Othmani Fouad

Production Assistant

Don French

Assistant Director

Richard Friedlander

Assistant Editor

Brad Fuller

Adr Editor

John Fundus

Boom Operator

Driss Gaidi

Art Assistant

Louis Gallo

Grip

Rafael Garcia

Caterer

Marcia Gay

Assistant Director

George Gibbs

Special Effects Supervisor

Howard Gindoff

Sound Editor

Steve Goodall

Other

Bruce Gordon

Song

Susan Graef

Apprentice

Justin Grauer

Production Assistant

Bill Groom

Art Director

Laura Grumitt

Production Coordinator

Joseph Gutowski

Assistant Editor

Keith Hamshere

Photography

Peter Hancock

Property Master

Hind Hanif

Other

David Harris

Production Assistant

Dorian Harris

Assistant Editor

Fouzi Hassan

Wardrobe

Brian Hathway

Driver

Ahmed Hatimi

Assistant Director

Kerry Hayes

Photography

John J Healey

Location Scout

Alan Hicks

Set Decorator

Dustin Hoffman

Song Performer

Dustin Hoffman

Song

John Hughes

Scenic Artist

Khalafaoui Ihssane

Production Coordinator

Tom Innes

Driver

Garth Inns

Special Effects

Beverly Irby

Assistant

Danny Irom

Dga Trainee

Michael James Jackson

Music

Michael James Jackson

Music Producer

Michael Jacobi

Sound Editor

El Fali Jalil

Art Assistant

Robert Jiras

Makeup

Steven J Jordan

Set Decorator

Bensayed Kaddouj

Wardrobe

Bert Kaempfert

Music

Masako Kanayama

Production Assistant

Brian Katkin

Sound Editor

Neil L Kaufman

Sound Editor

Cathy Keller-stoia

Production Coordinator

Beverley Keogh

Casting

Alami Laaroussi Khadija

Production Assistant

Jak King

Production Accountant

Richard King

Sound Editor

Michael Kirchenberger

Sound Editor

Bruce Kitzmeyer

Sound Editor

Dan Korintus

Sound Editor

William Kruzykowski

Assistant Editor

Maggie Kusik

Assistant

Ross Laird

Animal Trainer

Bouhaddane Larbi

Driver

Les Lazarowitz

Sound Mixer

Robert Leddy

Other

Don Lee

Production Assistant

Tom Lee

Transportation

Sue Leibman

Assistant

John Thomas Lenox

Production

Tony Leport

Driver

Brian Lince

Special Effects

Doug Lister

Driver

Gizzi Livio

Driver

Chris Lizzio

Production Assistant

David Lowry

Dolly Grip

Edward W Lowry

Grip

Martin Lowry

Grip

Bruce Maccallum

Assistant Camera Operator

David L Macleod

Associate Producer

Victor Magnotta

Stunt Coordinator

Ira Manhoff

Apprentice

Alfredo Marchetti

Key Grip

Mauro Marchetti

Camera Operator

Antonio Marra

Grip

Steve E Martin

Animal Trainer

Elaine May

Screenplay

Elaine May

Theme Lyrics

Kevin Mccarthy

On-Set Dresser

Stephen Mcdonald

Props

John Mcdonnell

Assistant Set Dresser

Johnny Mercer

Theme Lyrics

Victoria Meyer

Apprentice

Dave Midson

Props

Abbazi Mohamed

Production Manager

Ait Lachen Mohamed

Production Assistant

Filali Mohamed

Production Assistant

Blair Bellis Mohr

Production Coordinator

Oubouhou Mokhtar

Transportation Manager

Keith Morton

Wardrobe

Arthur Moshlak

Electrician

David Motta

Sound

El Baikem Moussa

Production Assistant

Bill Murphy

Scenic Artist

Linda Murphy

Cable Operator

Harchaoui Mustapha

Wardrobe

Sharif Mustapha

Production Assistant

Steve North

Other

Alberico Novelli

Best Boy

Denise O'dell

Production Manager

Elaine O'donnell

Art Assistant

Tommy O'donnell

Other

Bitty O'sullivan-smith

Sound Editor

Eric Oden

Production Assistant

Rahou Omar

Props

Kerry Orent

Post-Production Supervisor

Eliza Paley

Sound Editor

Film Details

MPAA Rating
PG-13
Genre
Comedy
Adventure
Release Date
1987
Production Company
Linda Murphy
Distribution Company
Sony Pictures Releasing
Location
Morocco; Los Angeles, California, USA; Kaufman Astoria Studios, Astoria, New York, USA; New York City, New York, USA; Sahara Desert, West Africa

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 45m

Articles

Ishtar


The name Ishtar (1987) has become synonymous with "box office bomb" and illustrative of Hollywood excess. But in the years since its disastrous loss of $42 million, the comedy has been re-evaluated by critics and audiences and doesn't really deserve its infamous reputation.

The story is modeled on the famous "Road" movies starring Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, seven hits (most of them) between 1940 and 1962 that found the hapless duo embroiled in comic adventures (usually based on wild misunderstandings and mistaken identity) in exotic lands. Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman play a couple of ambitious but remarkably untalented lounge singers/songwriters who think they're getting a big break when they're booked for a gig at a Moroccan hotel. Instead, they become pawns in international intrigue involving the CIA, the Emir of Ishtar, and a group of rebels trying to overthrow the Emir's regime. Ishtar even shares a location with one of the biggest hits of the earlier series, Road to Morocco (1942), and French actress Isabelle Adjani plays the equivalent of Hope and Crosby's romantic foil, Dorothy Lamour, but as a contemporary liberated woman.

Prior to this, Beatty had not made a movie in six years since his award-winning epic political biography Reds (1981). Shortly after the release of that picture, he took a trip to Costa Rica with two good friends and colleagues, writer-director Elaine May and writer Peter Feibleman, both of whom had contributed to the script for Reds. May had also written Beatty's previous producing-directing-acting effort, the comedy-fantasy Heaven Can Wait (1978). The three came up with a vague idea for a political comedy set in Central America, but the original notion proved to be unworkable. Beatty then offered to produce any script May chose to write and direct. This act of friendship didn't come completely out of the blue. May got her start as an improv performer back in the 1950s and was part of the successful and influential comedy team Nichols and May (Nichols being writer-director Mike Nichols) before moving on to playwriting and film work. She had written several movie scripts and directed a few moderately successful small-scale comedies, 1971's A New Leaf (in which she also played a lead role), The Heartbreak Kid (1972, starring her daughter, Jeannie Berlin, and future Ishtar cast member Charles Grodin), and Mikey and Nicky (1976). Beatty greatly respected May's comic genius and was grateful for her important contributions to his earlier films, so in 1985 he put aside plans to make a biography of Howard Hughes and announced he would not only produce but appear in May's comedy, then called Blind Camel.

Beatty was also at least partly responsible for the story's basis, since he had once entertained May at a party with tales of his struggling years as a cocktail bar piano player. He was also attracted to the project by May's suggestion he play opposite Dustin Hoffman, who was also a trained pianist, and her idea to turn the casting on its head by placing Beatty, one of Hollywood's most famous playboys, in the role of the bumbling loser, and the diminutive Hoffman as the suave ladies man.

In July 1985, shortly before filming began, the Los Angeles Times reported Ishtar's budget to be $30-45 million (eventually ballooning to $55 million). The paper was already forecasting disaster, predicting it would have to make $100 million to break even and focusing on the two stars' salaries of $5 million-plus each, a huge figure for the time (and still rather large today). Beatty and Hoffman had offered to defer their salaries to keep costs down, but this went unreported, fueling Beatty's fear that the press was out to pan the movie even before the first shot was completed.

According to several people involved in the production, May was most likely in over her head and too indecisive to handle a production of this scale. And Beatty, who as producer would have been the one to rein her in a little, was too respectful of her brilliance to interfere with her creative freedom. Composer Paul Williams, who wrote many of the intentionally bad songs performed by Beatty and Hoffman, said that although May continually waffled about the music and other on-set decisions, the first half of the film, which was shot in New York, was hilarious, and that the two stars, particularly Beatty (who has a surprisingly good singing voice), pulled off the lounge act to perfection.

Things apparently began to go wrong when May insisted on shooting the second half of Ishtar in Morocco rather than on the Columbia backlot. She sent the crew on a six-week search for a blind camel; when she finally chose the very first one they had seen weeks earlier, the animal had already died. According to production designer Paul Sylbert, May had his team search everywhere for just the right desert dunes, and when she finally arrived to shoot scenes on the location they chose, she was astonished to find they were more like rolling hills than the flat terrain she wanted. "We raked out a mile and a half of dunes with bulldozers," Sylbert said. "She had no idea what to do with them...she just couldn't cope, and no one could help her."

As producer and star, Beatty bore the brunt of the criticism for the production going off course, and he took it hard, particularly in light of his gallant efforts to be nurturing toward May and his refusal to take the picture away from her when it became obvious, in the eyes of many involved, that she did not have the experience and skills for such a large production. In 1986, a series of articles began to appear in the trades reporting a further delay of six months while May held the picture up in editing. That's when it began to feel to most of the people working on it that the troubled project was being set up for failure even before its first previews. "There was almost a sense of revenge to the articles," Williams noted. Beatty put much of the blame on the new head of the studio, David Putnam, insisting Putnam wanted to see Ishtar fail. "He refused to see the movie, never called me or sent me a letter, attacked me in the press," Beatty said. "And here was one of the most eccentric, witty, gifted women in the country. She should be supported."

With such advance publicity, even the best movie is likely to have a hard time finding its audience. Nevertheless, Ishtar reportedly had three rather successful preview screenings, and in its first week of release it held the #1 box office position until Beverly Hills Cop II (1987) knocked it down to fourth place. Poor reviews quickly dragged it to the bottom. The Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert called it "a truly dreadful film, a lifeless, massive, lumbering exercise in failed comedy." Hal Hinson in the Washington Post acknowledged the negative publicity surrounding the movie and declared it not the "floundering stinker of biblical proportions" but damned it as "something far less substantial...a hangdog little comedy with not enough laughs." On the other hand, Janet Maslin of the New York Times, also noting the over-hyped pre-release "rumor-mongering," spotlighted the moments of Elaine May's comic genius and put forth this verdict: "It's a likable, good-humored hybrid, a mixture of small, funny moments and the pointless, oversized spectacle that these days is sine qua non for any hot-weather hit. The worst of it is painless; the best is funny, sly, cheerful, and here and there, even genuinely inspired."

Beyond the principals, Ishtar certainly had some impressive talents behind it. It was shot by Vittorio Storaro, the Oscar®-winning cinematographer of Apocalypse Now (1979), Reds, and The Last Emperor (1987). Costumes were created by acclaimed stage and screen designer Anthony Powell. The cast included such outstanding comic performers as Charles Grodin, Jack Weston, and Carol Kane. Alas, the only awards Ishtar would garner were a Razzie for Elaine May, tied for Worst Director with Norman Mailer (Tough Guys Don't Dance, 1987), and nominations to Beatty for producing the Worst Picture and May for writing it. Nevertheless, Beatty, Hoffman and Grodin have defended the picture for years, and many viewers in the years since its release have expressed their dismay that it was so undeservedly destroyed in the press.

Director: Elaine May
Producer: Warren Beatty
Screenplay: Elaine May
Cinematography: Vittorio Storaro
Editing: Richard P. Cirincione, William Reynolds, Stephen A. Rotter
Art Direction: Peter Childs
Production Design: Paul Sylbert
Original Music Score: Dave Grusin, Bahjawa
Original Songs: Paul Williams, Elaine May, Warren Beatty, Dustin Hoffman
Cast: Dustin Hoffman (Chuck Clarke), Warren Beatty (Lyle Rogers), Isabelle Adjani (Shirra Assel), Charles Grodin (Jim Harrison), Jack Weston (Marty Freed), Tess Harper (Willa).
C-107m.

by Rob Nixon

Some background material and quotes about production taken from Warren Beatty: A Private Man by Suzanne Finstad (Harmony, 2005)
Ishtar

Ishtar

The name Ishtar (1987) has become synonymous with "box office bomb" and illustrative of Hollywood excess. But in the years since its disastrous loss of $42 million, the comedy has been re-evaluated by critics and audiences and doesn't really deserve its infamous reputation. The story is modeled on the famous "Road" movies starring Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, seven hits (most of them) between 1940 and 1962 that found the hapless duo embroiled in comic adventures (usually based on wild misunderstandings and mistaken identity) in exotic lands. Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman play a couple of ambitious but remarkably untalented lounge singers/songwriters who think they're getting a big break when they're booked for a gig at a Moroccan hotel. Instead, they become pawns in international intrigue involving the CIA, the Emir of Ishtar, and a group of rebels trying to overthrow the Emir's regime. Ishtar even shares a location with one of the biggest hits of the earlier series, Road to Morocco (1942), and French actress Isabelle Adjani plays the equivalent of Hope and Crosby's romantic foil, Dorothy Lamour, but as a contemporary liberated woman. Prior to this, Beatty had not made a movie in six years since his award-winning epic political biography Reds (1981). Shortly after the release of that picture, he took a trip to Costa Rica with two good friends and colleagues, writer-director Elaine May and writer Peter Feibleman, both of whom had contributed to the script for Reds. May had also written Beatty's previous producing-directing-acting effort, the comedy-fantasy Heaven Can Wait (1978). The three came up with a vague idea for a political comedy set in Central America, but the original notion proved to be unworkable. Beatty then offered to produce any script May chose to write and direct. This act of friendship didn't come completely out of the blue. May got her start as an improv performer back in the 1950s and was part of the successful and influential comedy team Nichols and May (Nichols being writer-director Mike Nichols) before moving on to playwriting and film work. She had written several movie scripts and directed a few moderately successful small-scale comedies, 1971's A New Leaf (in which she also played a lead role), The Heartbreak Kid (1972, starring her daughter, Jeannie Berlin, and future Ishtar cast member Charles Grodin), and Mikey and Nicky (1976). Beatty greatly respected May's comic genius and was grateful for her important contributions to his earlier films, so in 1985 he put aside plans to make a biography of Howard Hughes and announced he would not only produce but appear in May's comedy, then called Blind Camel. Beatty was also at least partly responsible for the story's basis, since he had once entertained May at a party with tales of his struggling years as a cocktail bar piano player. He was also attracted to the project by May's suggestion he play opposite Dustin Hoffman, who was also a trained pianist, and her idea to turn the casting on its head by placing Beatty, one of Hollywood's most famous playboys, in the role of the bumbling loser, and the diminutive Hoffman as the suave ladies man. In July 1985, shortly before filming began, the Los Angeles Times reported Ishtar's budget to be $30-45 million (eventually ballooning to $55 million). The paper was already forecasting disaster, predicting it would have to make $100 million to break even and focusing on the two stars' salaries of $5 million-plus each, a huge figure for the time (and still rather large today). Beatty and Hoffman had offered to defer their salaries to keep costs down, but this went unreported, fueling Beatty's fear that the press was out to pan the movie even before the first shot was completed. According to several people involved in the production, May was most likely in over her head and too indecisive to handle a production of this scale. And Beatty, who as producer would have been the one to rein her in a little, was too respectful of her brilliance to interfere with her creative freedom. Composer Paul Williams, who wrote many of the intentionally bad songs performed by Beatty and Hoffman, said that although May continually waffled about the music and other on-set decisions, the first half of the film, which was shot in New York, was hilarious, and that the two stars, particularly Beatty (who has a surprisingly good singing voice), pulled off the lounge act to perfection. Things apparently began to go wrong when May insisted on shooting the second half of Ishtar in Morocco rather than on the Columbia backlot. She sent the crew on a six-week search for a blind camel; when she finally chose the very first one they had seen weeks earlier, the animal had already died. According to production designer Paul Sylbert, May had his team search everywhere for just the right desert dunes, and when she finally arrived to shoot scenes on the location they chose, she was astonished to find they were more like rolling hills than the flat terrain she wanted. "We raked out a mile and a half of dunes with bulldozers," Sylbert said. "She had no idea what to do with them...she just couldn't cope, and no one could help her." As producer and star, Beatty bore the brunt of the criticism for the production going off course, and he took it hard, particularly in light of his gallant efforts to be nurturing toward May and his refusal to take the picture away from her when it became obvious, in the eyes of many involved, that she did not have the experience and skills for such a large production. In 1986, a series of articles began to appear in the trades reporting a further delay of six months while May held the picture up in editing. That's when it began to feel to most of the people working on it that the troubled project was being set up for failure even before its first previews. "There was almost a sense of revenge to the articles," Williams noted. Beatty put much of the blame on the new head of the studio, David Putnam, insisting Putnam wanted to see Ishtar fail. "He refused to see the movie, never called me or sent me a letter, attacked me in the press," Beatty said. "And here was one of the most eccentric, witty, gifted women in the country. She should be supported." With such advance publicity, even the best movie is likely to have a hard time finding its audience. Nevertheless, Ishtar reportedly had three rather successful preview screenings, and in its first week of release it held the #1 box office position until Beverly Hills Cop II (1987) knocked it down to fourth place. Poor reviews quickly dragged it to the bottom. The Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert called it "a truly dreadful film, a lifeless, massive, lumbering exercise in failed comedy." Hal Hinson in the Washington Post acknowledged the negative publicity surrounding the movie and declared it not the "floundering stinker of biblical proportions" but damned it as "something far less substantial...a hangdog little comedy with not enough laughs." On the other hand, Janet Maslin of the New York Times, also noting the over-hyped pre-release "rumor-mongering," spotlighted the moments of Elaine May's comic genius and put forth this verdict: "It's a likable, good-humored hybrid, a mixture of small, funny moments and the pointless, oversized spectacle that these days is sine qua non for any hot-weather hit. The worst of it is painless; the best is funny, sly, cheerful, and here and there, even genuinely inspired." Beyond the principals, Ishtar certainly had some impressive talents behind it. It was shot by Vittorio Storaro, the Oscar®-winning cinematographer of Apocalypse Now (1979), Reds, and The Last Emperor (1987). Costumes were created by acclaimed stage and screen designer Anthony Powell. The cast included such outstanding comic performers as Charles Grodin, Jack Weston, and Carol Kane. Alas, the only awards Ishtar would garner were a Razzie for Elaine May, tied for Worst Director with Norman Mailer (Tough Guys Don't Dance, 1987), and nominations to Beatty for producing the Worst Picture and May for writing it. Nevertheless, Beatty, Hoffman and Grodin have defended the picture for years, and many viewers in the years since its release have expressed their dismay that it was so undeservedly destroyed in the press. Director: Elaine May Producer: Warren Beatty Screenplay: Elaine May Cinematography: Vittorio Storaro Editing: Richard P. Cirincione, William Reynolds, Stephen A. Rotter Art Direction: Peter Childs Production Design: Paul Sylbert Original Music Score: Dave Grusin, Bahjawa Original Songs: Paul Williams, Elaine May, Warren Beatty, Dustin Hoffman Cast: Dustin Hoffman (Chuck Clarke), Warren Beatty (Lyle Rogers), Isabelle Adjani (Shirra Assel), Charles Grodin (Jim Harrison), Jack Weston (Marty Freed), Tess Harper (Willa). C-107m. by Rob Nixon Some background material and quotes about production taken from Warren Beatty: A Private Man by Suzanne Finstad (Harmony, 2005)

Quotes

Trivia

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States on Video November 17, 1987

Released in United States Spring May 15, 1987

Began shooting October 21, 1985.

Completed shooting April 1986.

Film is for Lydia Fields.

Technovision

Released in United States Spring May 15, 1987

Released in United States on Video November 17, 1987