A look back at this day in film history
November 20
Nov. 20, 1992
Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant opens

The unlikeliest franchise was born on November 20, 1992, when Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant opened in New York City. Produced by Ed Pressman, written by Zoe Lund and Paul Calderon, and starring Harvey Keitel, Bad Lieutenant boldly yoked a tale of a distraught Catholic cop seeking redemption by pursuing the rapists of a nun to a sordid, walk-on-the-wild side panorama of downtown New York in the early '90s. Drugs, sex, and more drugs fueled Ferrara's film, with Keitel groping towards — and reaching — a kind of narcotized catharsis. It is one of the great American films of the 1990s. The film ended with Keitel's corrupt cop shot dead on a New York street, so many were surprised when a new version, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans, was announced with another gonzo director, Werner Herzog, at the helm. Both Herzog and the film's producers said they saw the character as a kind of "James Bond" who could appear in a series of movies. Starring Nicolas Cage (who, ironically, was the original lead in Ferrara's The Funeral before abruptly backing out), Val Kilmer and Eva Mendes, the film, which opened November 2009, takes a few steps along the thin line between sincerity and parody before falling into a strange kind of parody. In the New York Times, critic Manohla Dargis wrote that Cage's bizarre performance caused her to positively reassess his career: "Mr. Cage revels in that slippage, though it was only after seeing Bad Lieutenant that I was reminded of how freaky he can be — and how exhilarating it can be to watch an actor go far and then just a little too far."

More Flashbacks
Robert Altman November 20, 2006
Robert Altman dies

On this day in 2006, the legendary film director Robert Altman passed away at the age of 81 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

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November 20, 1981
Ragtime Starts Up

Released on November 20, 1981, Milos Forman's Ragtime presented a sweeping picture of America at the beginning of the 20th century. While based on E.L. Doctorow’s sprawling novel, the film centers on the story of Coalhouse Walker Jr (Howard E. Rollins Jr.), a young black pianist who fights to have his honor restored after being abused by racist volunteer firemen. For Forman, the film’s story of oppression connected to his own struggle in Communist Czechoslovakia. For others, the story was a reflection of America’s own new Gilded Age, especially as the holiday season approached. But all saw the 155-minute spectacle, with a massive cast that included actors and celebrities like James Cagney, Donald O’Connor, Pat O’Brien, Elizabeth McGovern, Norman Mailer, Mandy Patinkin, and many more, as a movie event. It took an impressive $17 million and was nominated for 8 Academy Awards, and even spawned a Broadway musical; today, however, Ragtime, a historical epic to remind of past excesses, has sadly been all but forgotten.

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