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Quiet Release of Controversial 'Last Temptation of Christ'

June 30, 1989|TERRY ATKINSON

S sshhh. Let's not make too much noise. The supposedly quietest release ever of a major movie on videotape is taking place this weekend as MCA Home Video slips "The Last Temptation of Christ" into stores--minus any promotion or advertising.

But things haven't been as quiet as MCA might have liked. On one side, Christian groups have threatened to protest the video as they did the film for what they allege to be blasphemy. (One top national chain, Blockbuster, has refused to carry "Last Temptation.") On the other side, fans of director Martin Scorsese--at least the ones who found his adaptation of the controversial novel to be artful and powerful--are growling over MCA's silent treatment of the video.

And on Tuesday even that silence was broken--slightly. At a press conference to introduce new MCA Home Video President Robert Blattner, he became the first exec at the company to publicly comment on "Last Temptation"--even if the comment was brief and vague.

"We have no desire to start another controversy," Blattner was quoted as saying in Daily Variety, "but we think it's important that this title be made available in the marketplace." Asked if MCA had "underpromoted" the video, he said that's "a judgment I'd rather leave to you."

Starring Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel and Barbara Hershey, the 163-minute "Last Temptation" video is rated R and sells for $89.95.

Though MCA declines to say how many units it has shipped, other sources indicate that the initial shipment is about 50,000, with an eventual projected total of about 100,000. That's just a fraction of the initial shipment of 400,000 units for the much-ballyhooed recent MCA release "Twins."

However, the figures for "Last Temptation" may exceed expectations. Some industry observers believe that there may be strong rental response, prompting video stores to order more copies. The reasoning: People may feel more comfortable seeing the movie in their own homes than in theaters.

THIS WEEK'S MOVIES

If you're not already sick to death of articles about the 1969 Woodstock rock festival, then you may even like to see the film again. This week Warner Home Video accommodates that wish--it's celebrating the 20th anniversary of the flower-power gathering by re-releasing "Woodstock," newly transferred to video in wide-aspect ratio (letter-box format) and remastered in digital, surround-sound hi-fi stereo. Price: $29.98 for VHS, $39.98 for the laser disc. The rock-music documentary will also be broadcast twice this summer on MTV.

Although I (and Pauline Kael) wondered what the vivacious dog trainer played by Geena Davis in Lawrence Kasdan's adaptation of Anne Tyler's "The Accidental Tourist" (Warner, $89.95, PG) saw in the insufferable bore portrayed by William Hurt, most film critics found the whole affair sensitive and moving.

"I'm Gonna Git You Sucka" (MGM/UA, $89.95, R) parodied "blaxploitation" films and got some approving chuckles last year from critics. "Heartbreak Hotel" (Touchstone, $89.95, PG-13) is the fictional flop that had a young guitar player kidnaping Elvis Presley. David Keith, who plays Presley, was also seen as Oliver North in a recent two-part TV movie.

More notable foreign films have just been released by Connoisseur Video: Max Ophuls' "The Earrings of Madame De . . . ," Ingmar Bergman's "Monika," Paul Verhoeven's "Kfetje Tippei" and Paul Leduc's "Frida." And this U.S. oldie from MGM/UA: "Each Dawn I Die" ($19.95) stars James Cagney and George Raft in a 1939 drama about a pact between a framed reporter and a jailed mobster.

OTHER NEW VIDEOS

Two different but intriguing Hollywood talents are documented on tape this week: One of film's great mavericks is covered in the 56-minute "I'm Almost Not Crazy: John Cassavetes--The Man and His Work" (Cannon, $29.95), while we can follow the life and music of an entertainer who was loved as a smart-mouthed kid on TV and then as a consistently pleasing rock star in the 45-minute "A Tribute to Ricky Nelson" (Rhino, $19.95).

Rhino also has three more volumes of the old TV series "Death Valley Days" ($19.95 each) with host Ronald Reagan. These feature actors June Lockhart, Vic Morrow, DeForest Kelley, Gavin MacLeod and Doug McClure. Each volume contains two half-hour episodes.

A two-hour tape of highlights from HBO's "Comic Relief III" broadcast is now available from KVC. Profits from the $39.95 tape go to health care for the homeless.

Missed the biggest boxing match of the year so far? CBS/Fox captures it on video in the "The Leonard/Hearns Saga" ($19.98).

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