Here we’re going to look at some “Lost” films.
What exactly makes a Lost film? I define it as, simply, a film that has vanished from circulation for years, if not decades, with no evident hope of turning back up. It does not mean movies that were never made (such as Alejandro Jodorowsky’s unrealized DUNE project or David Lynch’s RONNIE ROCKET), nor those that can be found in greymarket form. I’m referring to films that literally seem to have fallen off the face of the Earth.
The term lost obviously has numerous connotations. ELECTRIC DREAMS (1984), for instance, is very likely a lost film. Like countless other movies it’s been tied up in litigation for the past few decades, during which time the raw materials have been left to molder and decay to the point that a proper DVD release is very likely unfeasible. Yet the film is still available through VHS and DVDr copies, and so isn’t technically lost.
Conversely, the highly sought-after Argentine horror-art film THE UNITED FAMILY AWAITS THE ARRIVAL OF HALLEWYN (1971) only exists in celluloid format, as per the orders of its director Miguel Bejo. So again, this film is not lost (even if most of us will never get a chance to see it).
On a related note, I'm tempted to list several elusive titles I’ve long been searching for, including INGAGI (1930) and TWEET'S LADIES OF PASADENA (1972), but I happen to know those films are extant. Lost does not mean difficult to find!
It's been said that a large portion of silent-era films have been lost (thus dashing my hopes of ever seeing 1913's BALAOO and 1927's ANG MANANANGGAL). Below I'm going to concentrate on comparatively recent movies that have unaccountably vanished from circulation.
Quite a few supposedly lost films have been found by private collectors (such as the complete versions of Abel Gance’s 1919 J’ACCUSE and LA FIN DU MONDE), while others have a tendency to unexpectedly turn up on DVD after having been presumed lost for decades (such as the seventies obscurities LE GRAND DEPART, A VOYAGE TO ARCTURAS and CHAC: THE RAIN GOD). My hope is that the films outlined below will undergo a similar treatment--I’m skeptical, though!
This project is nearly as fabled as the above listing. It’s a Charles Band production begun back in 1978 under the direction of special effects ace David Allen, only to be abandoned and then started back up again in the mid-nineties. Depending on who you talk to, the film was never completed or just never released.
It was given a massive spread by CINEFANTASTIQUE back in ‘78, and another in ‘95. The film appears promising, being a time travel epic involving Eskimos, Yetis and robots that utilizes extensive stop motion animation. Even if THE PRIMEVALS turns out half as intriguing as it sounds it’ll be better than 99 percent of Charles Band’s other releases!
THE DREAM OF HAMISH MOSE
Word of the existence of this unfinished 1971 film didn’t materialize until recently, but it’s created a veritable stampede among cult movie buffs. Directed by actor Cameron Mitchell, who personally financed the project under the guidance of God himself (or so Mitchell claimed), it starred O.J. Simpson as a black Civil War soldier searching for a sacred burial ground. The film is said to feature black guys dressed as Indians, lengthy shots of steam rising from donkey shit, and all manner of surreal EL TOPO-esque elements. No, it doesn’t exactly sound “good,” but I can’t say my interest isn’t piqued.
Once again you can blame CINEFANTASTIQUE, which piqued my interest in this 1975 Swedish adaptation of Franz Kafka’s METAMORPHOSIS with a review in the Summer 1977 issue. According to CFQ reviewer Jeffrey Frentzen, the film “brings Kafka’s half-world of insanity and dark morality to the screen in the style of Kafka’s prose…the feeling one gets from the film is that Kafka somehow had a hand in the production.” Sounds good…so why is it so impossible to find?
APT PUPIL (1987)
While on the subject of lost predecessors to better-known remakes, most of us know of the Bryan Singer adaptation of Stephen King’s novella APT PUPIL. However, few are aware of this incomplete film of the material starring Rick Schroeder and Nicole Williamson, and directed by English filmmaker Alan Bridges.
The shoot was three-fourths of the way complete when its makers ran out of money and called it off. Stephen King says he’s seen the footage cut together (and dubbed it “really good”), so clearly a rough cut exists--or, perhaps more accurately, existed.
YOU’VE GOT TO WALK IT LIKE YOU TALK IT OR YOU’LL LOSE THAT BEAT
Wes Craven worked as an assistant editor on this 1971 counterculture obscurity that stars Zalman King, Allen Garfield and Richard Pryor. It’s said to be about “an idealistic young man who is seeking the meaning of life amidst the inanities and absurdities of New York.” A VHS copy supposedly exists, but I don’t know anyone who’s seen it.
Also from 1971 was this black power saga adapted from Leroi Jones’ play THE SLAVE. Director Al Freeman Jr. plays a black radical who threatens his white ex-wife at gunpoint amidst an apocalyptic race war. I’ve no idea what happened to this film but would like to see it--I‘m not holding my breath, though!
HEAVEN CAN HELP
This 1989 horror film appears to be a case of a director forcibly keeping his work off the market. Filmmaker Tony Zarindast lists HEAVEN CAN HELP on his website but has otherwise all-but disowned it. There’s doubtless a valid reason for that, but the flick, based on a trailer uploaded on Youtube (though since removed), looks like a real hoot, packed with endearingly cheesy special effects and hilarious eighties fashions.
It’s also captured the attention of quite a few collectors. I know a guy who’s been obsessively searching for this film, having personally contacted nearly everyone involved with it. He tells me one of the lead actors said she had a copy and was going to sell it on eBay; thus far, though, that hasn’t occurred. So as far as I’m concerned, until somebody out there actually produces the goods (or bads) this is officially a Lost film.
From what I understand, CUMULUS 9’S writer-director Aaron Michael Lacey doesn’t even possess a DVD print of this 1992 film, which (from what little info I‘ve been able to piece together) appears to be a post-apocalyptic horror fest. As to whether or not it was ever released, or even completed, your guess is as good as mine. Apparently Lacey’s more recent directorial effort XSCAPE (2000) suffered a similar fate.
The underground filmmaker Antero Alli has made several intriguing-sounding films. This was his acclaimed 1993 debut, a hallucinatory account of an old man’s dream-journey through death…“and beyond.”
All of Alli’s films are available on DVD through his website--all except this one, which it seems is officially MIA. Why???
BLOOD (LE SANG)
Amos Vogel’s landmark 1974 volume FILM AS A SUBVERSIVE ART lists quite a few tantalizing obscurities, among them this “ferocious” 1971 work by a French theater collective. Of it Vogel has this to say: “An apocalyptic vision of man after a cosmic catastrophe, this film is a terrifying metaphor for a dehumanized future…an ambitious, almost completely successful example of visual cinema at its best.”
THOSE WHO DRINK THE BLOOD
These days, when we think of Russian genre cinema the ultra-slick NIGHT WATCH and its follow-ups spring to mind. It wasn’t always that way, however!
This vampire movie (whose original Russian moniker is unknown) appeared in 1991, and was directed by somebody named Eygeni Tatarski. It’s said to play like a Russian variant on THE EVIL DEAD--and apparently an extremely shitty one. Not that I’d know!
More Russian early-nineties genre fare, this one an apparent variant on the LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT/I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE model, with a raped woman seeking revenge on her tormentors. I also hear it’s nearly three hours long!
VIOLENCE IN THE CINEMA, PART 1
A twenty minute short, made in Australia by MAD MAX’S George Miller back in 1971. A spoof on movie violence, it garnered Miller lots of attention, but doesn’t appear to have been seen much since.
GAME IN THE SAND (SPEIL IM SAND)
Tell me this doesn’t sound intriguing: a Werner Herzog documentary from 1964, involving four children and a rooster, that somehow “got out of hand.” Herzog has never elaborated on the nature of the problem, but it was apparently severe enough that he abandoned the project and has publicly vowed to never release it.
THE CURE FOR INSOMNIA
Officially the longest movie ever made, a shot-on-video ramble running 5,220 minutes, or 87 hours. It’s said to consist of poet L.D. Groban reading from his own 4,080-page poem, along with X-rated movie clips and performances by the heavy metal bands Cosmic Lightning and J.T.4.
THE CURE FOR INSOMNIA was exhibited at Chicago’s School of the Art Institute in a continuous screening that ran from January 31 to February 3, 1987--and apparently nowhere else. That of course hasn’t stopped quite a few people from claiming to have seen it (yeah right!).
I can’t say I’m not intrigued, although it sounds like you could make your own 87-hour video with equivalent results.
And that’s it for this list. You might ask precisely how do I know the above films are lost--or that they even exist? Well, in truth I don’t know if any of them are truly lost, but all are currently impossible to find. As to whether they all truly exist, I can’t say I’m too sure of that either. The key words in both cases are I don’t know, and it’s precisely that element of the unknown that (among other things) makes these obscure films so tantalizing, not unlike a fabulous treasure no one has ever seen.
Bottom line: uncertainty or not, until I actually track down and view these films they will remain lost. This, however, is an instance in which I wouldn’t mind being proven wrong.