by David Christopher Bell
Before the days when the Internet immortalized everything from historical milestones to sleeping cat farts there was once a chance for moments to actually pass by completely unrepeated. While that did have its charm, the major downfall was that art had a way of being lost to time. In the case of this list – film art that we’re going to have to live without.
Here are some of the most important films that are unfortunately never going to see the light of modern day.
10. The Great Gatsby (1926)
There’s a good deal of “Great Gatsby” adaptations out there, and the longer back you go the least likely they are still available to watch – which is unfortunate because when you look at the list, it’s clear that the pattern should be reversed.
While the 1949 version of the movie is nearly lost, the 1926 silent film version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most famous novel is extremely lost – all that remains is the trailer, which coincidently is the most I’m able to sit through of the new one.
9. London After Midnight (1927)
No, not the goth rock band. Honestly I have no idea why you’d even think that. This is the lost vampire film that stuck shark teeth on Lon Chaney. Despite historians saying it wasn’t a great film (how the hell would they know?) the movie was apparently one of Chaney’s most successful upon release. Then in 1967 MGM’s Vault #7 burnt to the ground, along with the original copy of the film.
Since then numerous hoax versions have arisen, but to date there’s been no confirmed genuine copy. You can watch a sloppy version pieced together from production stills above, but that’s all you’re getting.
8. Chikara to Onna no To no Naka (1932)
It means, “The World of Power and Women” and it was the first talkie Japanese anime. So it’s an oddly specific accomplishment, sure – but that doesn’t make it any less historic. The film was produced by the Japanese company Shochiku after the success of The Jazz Singer. Kenzo Masaoka – the dude who also made the earliest anime using cel animation, planned and directed it.
While historic, the synopsis certainly doesn’t make it sound good – as it follows a husband having an affair on his rotund wife. So not exactly Akira or anything.
7. The Day The Clown Cried (1972)
This one just recently popped up in the news as brand new footage of the film made itself available online. Unlike a lot of these, this film was lost by choice when Jerry Lewis, having starred in and directed it, deemed the film to be embarrassingly unwatchable. Considering the plot, he’s probably correct.
Apparently it follows a clown in the holocaust who is made to perform for children in the concentration camps, and is finally killed in the gas chamber along with a group of entertained children who he led there. So, hilarious.
6. Power Of Love (1922)
No, not the 1985 hit single performed by Huey Lewis and the News for the Back To The Future soundtrack. Honestly I have no idea why you’d even think that. This is the 1922 silent film about murder, romance and theft. It’s also the very first 3D movie ever played in front of an audience.
Shown at the Los Angeles Ambassador Hotel, 3D never actually went anywhere until thirty years after its release. Turns out people in the 1920s were a lot smarter than people today.
5. The Story Of The Kelly Gang (1906)
It’s hard to have much foresight on how film would affect the world when it’s two years into the 20th century. So when the Australian film The Story Of The Kelly Gang clocked in at over an hour in running time (ten times the usual running time during that era), probably no one thought to preserve what would later be considered the first ever feature-length narrative film. The fact that it was a success might have been as good as any reason to keep it around – but it was also banned not a year later for accusations that it inspired a real-life crime.
Since being officially lost in the 40s, pieces have slowly been recovered over the years and there was even a restored – albeit much shorter – version of the film released in the 80s. So unfortunately the first feature-length movie has become a short film over time.
4. Cleopatra (1917)
1917 boobs are what we’re missing here. That and like, history. See, the movie was labeled as obscene thanks to more than a few semi-nude scenes involved. Later, two different fires at Fox and the Museum of Modern Art claimed the last two remaining copies.
Theda Bara played the title role – an actress apparently known for playing the femme fatale roles and had been during her peak as popular as the likes of Charlie Chaplin. Now she is the queen of lost film, as most of her work is gone. Still, her legacy will live on in the form of revealing stills from her 1917 role as the Queen of the Nile, the OG Elizabeth Taylor.
3. Humor Risk (1921)
A Marx Brothers film that doesn’t involve their signature roles is pretty neat to begin with – in fact, Groucho played the villain of this story. It was also written by the guy who did It’s A Wonderful Life and Gone With The Wind, so the historic significance is just piling up. Oh also, it was the first ever Marx Brothers film – so that’s kind of a big deal.
So what the hell happened? The story varies – as some say the film was simply left in the projector and thrown out accidentally, others say Groucho burned the only print because the audience didn’t like it. Others blame ghosts. Or at least they should.
2. The Mountain Eagle (1927)
Huge get, this one is, as it stands to be Alfred Hitchcock’s only feature length film that has been lost. Only 30 stills from the film remain as evidence of its existence, and it is currently number one of the BFI’s most wanted list of lost films.
All that, and yet Hitchcock himself described the film as “awful” and expressed being happy with its disappearance. So basically it’s like if the entire art community was going after a terrible poem you wrote in 9th grade.
1. The Majority Of Films Made By Georges Melies (1896–1913)
Considering that I’m only willing learn about George Melies if taught via a Martin Scorsese film, it’s a good thing that Hugo was apparently more accurate than it needed to be – the only real difference being the distinct lack of lovable orphans.
Along with resorting to owning a toy shop and making over 500 movies, most of his films were actually melted down by the army to make soldiers’ boot heels. It’s pretty damn sad to imagine the amazing work we’ll never see, and how they might have compared to his most iconic films.