Box Office Failures Week: Jonathan Livingston Seagull (1973)

For years, I’ve wanted to see this movie and it’s eluded me. I shop at The Exchange stores often and the one in Monroeville had one of the Warner Archive burn on demand disks. I watched it like, well, a seagull for about a year. It was $12. Surely I wasn’t going to spend so much money on Johnathan Livingston Seagull, long deried as one of the worst movies ever, one of only four movies that Roger Ebert would ever walk out on (the others are Caligula, The Statue and Tru Loved) and a movie I learned about from The Fifty Worst Films of All Time.

Yeah, I like pain. Bring it on, seagull.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull (James Franciscus) is trying to up his speed and break the 60 mile per hour barrier, but the Elders of his flock — hey there, Hal Holbrook’s voice — shame him for even trying while Neil Diamond sings over his efforts.

He is now an outcast, flying alone, when he meets a series of mysterious seagulls who let him know that he is unique and should be proud. Johnathan becomes a mentor to the other birds who have no one to share their gifts with.

Juliet Mills plays Johnathan’s love interest, who is known as The Girl. And Richard Crenna is in here too as our hero’s father.

Director Hall Bartlett discovered the book when he was getting his haircut. Delaring, “I was born to make this movie,” he won the property from author Richard Bach for $100,000 and half the profits, which makes me assume that the Bach’s estate just got $6 from my DVD purchase and yet he still hasn’t made all that much.

Yes, this was directed by the same man who made Zero Hour!

And yet, it barely made back its budget.

Maybe all the lawsuits helped.

Bach sued Paramount Pictures before the film’s release because the movie was different than the book and the judge ordered Bartlett to revise the movie before it could be released. The major issue was a scene where a hawk (voiced by the director) attacks Johnathan.

Then, Neil Diamond sured because five minutes of his songs were cut. He also demanded the credit “Music and songs by Neil Diamond.”  Diamond “vowed never to get involved in a movie again unless I had complete control,” then made The Jazz Singer seven years later.

Then director Ovady Julber sued, claiming that the movie stole from his 1936 film La Mer. There was no trial, as cultural use of the film had taken away any common-law copyright the movie had, which seems like a totally BS legal decision, but hey — I write about Spanish horror movies with lots of breasts and blood so the law is way out of my sphere of influence.

The opening credit of this film reads, “To the real Jonathan Livingston Seagull who lives within us all.” I advise that this is the exact moment that you begin whatever substances you plan to get you through this.

As for Richard Bach, he met his second wife Leslie Parrish while making this movie, leaving his first wife — who typed all of his aviation books — and six children, not seeing them for many years. Beyond her production job, Parrish was responsible for the seagulls and had to keep them in her room at the Holiday Inn. When Bach and Bartlett started to fight, she was the mediator between them. Sadly, her credit for the movie was just a researcher, which seems like complete malarky.

Parish would play a major role in Bach’s next two books, The Bridge Across Forever and One, which pwas all about Bach’s concept of soulmates. They divorced in 1997, so maybe his theory wasn’t so perfect. Who can say?

In 2014, there would be another chapter added to the book. Nobody thought to film that.

This is totally going to be the movie that I will use to chase people out of my house from now on. Except that, like all bad movies, I love it. I adore every second of this schmaltzy up with people movie that just had birds staring at the screen while actors try to make magic of the script. I look forward to many, many viewings of this movie along with many, many hangovers to follow.

Join me, won’t you?

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