July 10th, 2011 / 10:24 pm

On Lost Films

I formerly suffered an unhealthy obsession (if I’m honest it’s still around, but it’s certainly depleted) with the conceptual implications of lost films.  As a self-termed “archaeologist” of obscure media, discovering the possible existence of an artifact (mostly, for me, films/books/zines, photographs of art-events, etc), researching everything about it, and then possibly unearthing details to add to a collective knowledge base on said artifact is, well to be blunt, a really fucking awesome feeling.

A couple of days ago at Big Other, Amber Sparks posed the question “What lost film would you love to see?” The question found me immediately excited, because it was something that had managed to escape my head-space for a while. There’s any number of reasons why a film might be lost; if it was shot in the early days of cinema, the chemicals used to process the film itself could have deteriorated the celluloid, leaving nothing. It’s possible that the film was never completed, but screened to producers in an incomplete state, leaving a mark on an individual. The only copy of a film (smaller budget films) could have burnt in a fire, destroyed in some sort of natural disaster, or literally just misplaced.

What’s so enticing to me is the idea of a film that leaves such an indelible mark on the audience. Films that leave haunting memories recounted on message boards decades later. I’m obsessed with finding these remnants, accounts of a narrative that has long been intertextually adapted into a daydream. The idea of what’s been forgotten mixing with a romanticized/idealized version of what was actually seen. The artifact affecting an individual’s reality, challenging the way we store narratives in our own lives.

As an aficionado of “cult” films from Europe, specifically of the period from ~’65-’84, there are a number of films that I’ve read about that I’d love to see. A lot of these films just failed to make enough money to remain important, or were never completed for similar reasons. Rooting yourself specifically in a niche that often finds itself financially nonviable can be frustrating, because of how little care is shown the artifacts that haunt you.

In 2007 or so I found myself specifically obsessed with the Italian film director Alberto Cavallone. At the time it was really only possible to get two of his films; the more notorious BLUE MOVIE, and SPELL (L’uomo la donna e la bestia). I found the latter more satisfying, but the former held a specific hold due to its utter nihilism, an unrelenting intensity carried via isolation, abstracted tableaux, and specifically an alien tone. Descriptions of Cavallone’s other films struck me as specifically aimed towards my taste; abject, perverse, intellectually stimulating, and above-all demonstrating an ideological drive that refused to be tainted by the film industry itself.

Cavallone’s career was marred by problems; a lack of recognition, financial, etc. Like many genre film-makers of the 70s who had a specific, shall we say, vision (Jean Rollin, Jess Franco, Jose Benazeraf), he ended up shooting porno to make money to shoot the films he wanted to. What’s amazing about a lot of these visionary director’s pornographic films is that they end up being just as beautiful and strange and the “straight” films these men were making, but they’re filled with scenes of fucking.

The Italian critic Roberto Curti had written an article in English on Cavallone, mostly dealing with Blue Movie, but also mentioning biographic details that were out of my reach due to the fact that I can’t read Italian. I contacted Curti and asked him if he would be interested in writing a longer, over-arching article on Cavallone’s career for my then new film website (which I’ve linked above). The article mentions a film that had recently been found after being considered lost, and Curti had attended a screening.

The film in question was Blow Job, and in the article Curti calls the film “metaphysical and elusive,” and describes the plot in detail. It became my holy grail, all the more because it seemed attainable. A few years later, as I found myself less obsessed with film, the film popped up on a tracker. I kind of flipped out, amazed–not only was this lost film sitting in front of me waiting to be download, but a fan had also produced English subtitles for it.

I downloaded the film immediately and watched it that night. While the film itself is good, it was nowhere near the perfection I had constructed in my head based on Curti’s description and my own desire to discover some sort of “Ur-Film” that would perfectly cater to my specific interests, maybe help to explain them. I found myself slightly disappointed, but the experience itself took on weight.

It’s not anything significantly revelatory or even shocking to discover that often, it’s the hunt that’s the fun of a thing. Regardless, the trajectory of the experience itself is always notable, at least for me. As more and more media finds itself being dispersed through digital channels, free, away from the confines of a systematic capitalism to keep it away from those who can’t afford it, lost films keep popping up in various places. A 21st century freedom brings us gifts. Digital anarchy is proving more historically relevant in many cases than concrete, institutional film-foundations. Not every film is stored in an archive somewhere, there are many films (and books, and records, and ______), that someone is judging irrelevant for the future. I’m earnestly thankful that it’s getting easier for an individual to make their own decisions about what they like.

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  1. Your Guest

      The Lodge Kerrigan film that was stolen that inspired him to make Keane.

  2. deadgod

      Hitler imitating Chaplin (Running Dog)

  3. Ryan Ramey

      The Death of Marat

  4. Ryan Ramey

      The Death of Marat

  5. Eric

      Pie fight sequence from the end of Dr. Strangelove. Not a whole movie, but still….

  6. gavin

      Man there is something so romantic about this post, in a way I can totally buy into.  And Steve Erickson’s DAYS BETWEEN STATIONS revolves wonderfully around a lost film, if you haven’t read it.

  7. NLY

      The film of Cardenio Orson Welles would have made, after he completed his Quixote.

  8. DeWitt Brinson

      There’s a film I saw about 10 years ago about a guy who ODs on lsd, goes insane, and starts killing everyone. After he’s locked in an insane asylum, I think the love of his life comes to visit and make him human again–something like that. The movie was meant to be serious, but was the funniest thing I’d ever seen. Don’t know the name. Periodically, I search for it. would love to find that movie.

  9. M. Kitchell

      I’ve got Erickson’s ZEROVILLE, but haven’t read it yet.  I’ll keep DAYS BETWEEN STATIONS in mind if I like ZEROVILLE.

  10. M. Kitchell

      Was it in English or another language?

  11. Gonzalo

      “There is also a famous lost film of Tolstoy made a decade before he died. In 1901, the American travel lecturer Burton Holmes visited Yasnaya Polyana with Albert J. Beveridge, the U.S. senator and historian. As the three men conversed, Holmes filmed Tolstoy with his 60-mm movie camera. Afterwards, Beveridge’s advisers succeeded in having the film destroyed, fearing that documentary evidence of a meeting with the Russian author might hurt Beveridge’s chances of running for the U.S. presidency.”

  12. TonyOneill

      i like this post a lot.  lost / holy grail films i want to find:

      the lexington experience (1971)

      documentary about the band pacific light and gas company going to lexington narcotic farm to perform for various detoxing addicts, while all of the band members are totally fucked up on drugs.  soundtrack album has emerged, original print was destroyed in a fire, supposedly a single copy resides in a safe of the bands’ old manager.

      ilsa meets bruce lee in the devils triangle (1976)


      this review has been outed as a fake.  supposedly the poster was made and ads ran after the release of ‘ilsa, tigress of siberia’ but the movie was never shot. then again, the idea that it is out there somewhere is still pretty exciting…

  13. M. Kitchell

      haha, yeah, I think I read about the “lost” Ilsa film in Sleazoid Express.  I hadn’t seen this fake review though, that rules.

  14. Andrew

      Great post. About a decade ago, I bought three original “Blue Movie” film posters in a junk shop in Budapest & this is the only other reference I’ve ever seen to that film. Thank you.

  15. gavin

      I haven’t yet read ZEROVILLE, but I’d be interested in the experience of reading those back to back, since DAYS was his first and ZERO is his most recent.  I do here the filmmaker from DAYS has a cameo in ZERO, though.

  16. M. Kitchell

      whoa, any interest in trading one of those posters to me for an original one-sheet for LA MARGE, THE LIBERTINE, or a French 4-Sheet for CHERRY, HARRY & RAQUEL?

  17. Andrew

      So sorry, but they’re 3 different posters & I wouldn’t want to see them get split up. 

  18. M. Kitchell

      haha, no worries, thought i’d ask.

  19. Andrew

      I’d be happy to email you photos if you’re interested. They’re stamped on the back:

      reclame a NOLEGGIO 
      da rendere alla ditta

  20. M. Kitchell

      Sure, I’d love to see them – doctor (at) topologyoftheimpossible (dot) com

  21. James Tadd Adcox

      Kurosawa’s adaptation of The Idiot.

      Apparently about half of it was destroyed by the studio to edit it down to an “acceptable length,” a process that, from what I’ve heard, basically just butchered the movie.

  22. Craig Ronald Marchinkoski

      i would appreciate it if ray carney would allow a screening of cassavetes’ original (1957) version of SHADOWS. perhaps only because he’s keeping it for himself. shhh. but i do enjoy cassavetes. even if the second, the available version of SHADOWS, is a bit sloppy. 
      and what about dennis hopper’s original version of THE LAST MOVIE?
      after watching OUT OF THE BLUE (and falling in love with linda manz all over again) i wanted to see the dennis hopper i couldn’t see. but. i have yet to see the released version of THE LAST MOVIE (getting ahead of myself, as always).
      picturing jodorowsky giving hopper advice sends bliss into my eyes and head. 

  23. Anonymous

      Brando’s original cut of ONE-EYED JACKS. It’s probably even worse than the edited version, but still. The excess.

  24. deadgod

      Whoa; I never heard this.  The version I saw maybe 15 years ago didn’t seem chopped.  I don’t remember Kurosawa caring – in the movie – about Dostoevsky’s support of absolute monarchism and Orthodox ‘fundamentalism’ and extreme cultural conservatism; the movie concentrated on the soul-matedness of Myshkin and Nastazha Filipovna  (who have, as I remember, Japanese names).  (The movie begins with him getting off a train and seeing a photo, as I remember, of her – instead of a painting – in a shop window, and ‘recognizing’ his semblable, and the story moves on from that.)  Where did you hear this?

  25. deadgod
  26. DeWitt Brinson

      It was in English. When I saw it I was living in Wilmington, NC. I rented it at the Blockbuster there, but I feel like it wasn’t widely released. But I don’t know.

      Man, I’d love to know what that film was.

  27. matthew pendleton

      I want to see Samuel Beckett’s “ghost trio” as broadcasted on bbc2 england 17th april 1977.
      bbc deleted, or recorded over, many things, doctor who, and albert ayler live footage, for example. 
      I want to see the zukofsky film made by some american tv channel.  Is it by same channel people who made the charles olson one available on youtube.
      the broken footage of stalker.
      I would like to see more footage of microscopic beings going about their lives.
      jack spicer in the background of a scene in vertigo? I want some zoomed in proof of this.
      home video birth footage, with the birthed people watching
      – that porno clip from taxi driver, what was that?

  28. Tummler

      I would love to see the footage from Harmony Korine’s abandoned film FIGHT HARM.

  29. Don

      I live in Lexington, so I’ll ask around about that movie.  There’s a review of it in the NYT…

  30. Don

      I live in Lexington, so I’ll ask around about that movie.  There’s a review of it in the NYT…

  31. Amber

      I didn’t know that was cut down either. Interesting.

  32. Bradley Sands

      It’s been a while since I’ve read Zeroville but I think the filmmaker from Days is mentioned rather than makes a cameo appearance.

  33. Bradley Sands

      “I would go around with a camera crew, and the only rules were that I couldn’t throw the first punch and the person I was confronting had to be bigger than me.”

      Isn’t that exactly what the characters do in Fight Club (although I’m not sure about the “bigger than me” part)?

  34. Bradley Sands

      I want to see Convention City.