According to the Film Foundation, which is dedicated to movie preservation and restoration, half of all American movies made before 1950, and more than 90 percent of films made before 1929, are lost. Because of the metal shortage of world war 2, many films were outright destroyed when they took the metal containers the films were encased in. That, and the fact that the film stock was either nitrate or acetate, one of which was highly combustible and the other easily faded. Films unfortunately don’t last forever. Due to poor storage, mishandling, negligence, or just plain ol’ not giving a fuck. Another factor that people don’t think about is the advent of a new medium in which to watch the film. Every time a film goes from one physical medium to the next, more and more films get lost. There’s literally hundreds and hundreds of films on VHS that will never see the light of day unless you wanted to buy an old ass player because film companies don’t care enough or don’t want to pay some fee to port them over. Here’s ten films that have either never been on DVD or are out of print.
This film actually made it to DVD but good luck finding a copy. It went out of print almost immediately and that’s where it’s stayed for the last 10 years. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like any one cares about releasing a film that depicts the violent self mutilation of God. It’s not an easy film to watch but there’s literally no other film like it. It has the grainy black and white aesthetic of a silent film but filled with insane imagery of a psychedelic acid flick. It’s ripe for rediscovery.
9. Gary Larson’s Tales From The Far Side Vol. 1 & 2
The Far Side was a surreal one strip comic that lasted from 1980 to 1995. It’s one of those comics that you forgot existed until you see one (usually involving two anthropomorphic animals saying something sassy about humans) and then you’ll usually chuckle and go “Oh yeah. That thing existed.” And then go about your day instantly forgetting about it again. They don’t exactly stick in the mind on paper but animated, they were actually quite funny. Both volumes weren’t that long and actually would’ve been a head of the curve if it was a television show. But alas, all we got were the two volumes that are stuck on VHS.
8. Dr. Caligari
There’s been quite a few remakes of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari but this one is actually a sequel! Kinda? I’m not 100% sure but I am sure that this film would be one of the all time great cult films if people could actually see it. I enjoy looking for films no one else has seen. I take pleasure in the hunt but sometimes it gets old. Sometimes I just want to discover a movie and then buy the damn thing without 86 additional steps. It’s tiring. Anywho, Dr. Caligari is pretty much about a crazy, sex obsessed doctor and her (yes, the doctor is a she. You automatically pictured a man, didn’t you? You should be ashamed) family trying to stop her wacky experiments. It’s surreal, It’s bizarre and it definitely needs to be seen to be believed. Oh and check out the directors previous film Cafe Flesh. It’s also solid.
7. Cast a Deadly Spell
USA Today described it best “Imagine Who Framed Roger Rabbit with witches and zombies instead of toons.” And that description is pretty balls on dead accurate. The story involves a private eye, a mob boss, a pretty dame and a macguffin tying them all together. It’s all the tropes of a 40’s gangster noir but in this, the gangsters all use magic and the world is populated with magical beings. Like unicorns, gargoyles and trolls. It’s wildly imaginative and a hell of a lot of fun. You can find the “Sequel” Witch Hunt starring Dennis Hopper on DVD but you can’t find the far superior original anywhere. Luckily, it’s on HBOGO, so you can see it there but you’re out of luck if you want to own it.
6. The Last Movie
Speaking of Dennis Hopper (I’m fucking killing these segues), his controversial follow up to Easy Rider has still never been released. Made in Peru with a budget of a million dollars, The Last Movie is about a stuntman getting caught up in the insanity that befalls a village after shooting wraps on a Hollywood film. That’s what the film is about not what it is. What the film is, isn’t exactly easy to describe. Is it Hopper’s guilt about creating the film of a generation? Is it about his disgust in the Hollywood system? Is it his way of dealing with his own demons? I have no idea what the film is but I know it doesn’t deserve to be forgotten. That’s for damn sure. Oh and check out the excellent doc The American Dreamer which is all about the making of this film.
5. The Amazing Mr. Bickford
Unreleased Frank Zappa music set to claymation vignettes. That’s pretty much it. And it’s incredible.
This almost made my Criterion Collection list. The film is about the relationship between a director José and a drug addict named Pedro and a camera that may contain a vampire living inside it that sucks the lifeforce from anyone who is filmed with it. That premise sounds like it could be a horror film and I guess it kinda is but it’s more of a metaphor for losing your life to drugs. It becomes a mediation on life and death and the relationship between the artist and the process and even the art itself. It’s a deeply emotional film that I put on the same level as Cronos but is sadly lost because it’s not readily available.
3. Nothing Lasts Forever
There’s a Bill Murray movie out there that you can’t own and has only been shown on TCM a handful of times. I can’t think of a bigger travesty than that. Nothing Lasts Forever is kinda like Brazil light. Zach “I’ve done stuff outside of the Gremlins ya know!” Galligan gets told the secrets of the universe from a homeless man and that sets him on his journey to the moon. It’s not the greatest film ever made, so don’t think it’s a masterpiece MGM refuses to release but it is an interesting film that I believe could have a huge audience if it was let out if the damn vault. It could even be a midnight movie. Who knows.
2. City of Hope
John Sayles is probably the single most underrated director working today and his masterpiece is unavailable unless you own an old ass VHS player (or a laserdisc. No judgments) City of Hope is about five stories and about thirty characters all interweaving and connecting. It’s about the corruption, hate, violence, cynicism, apathy that made the streets and the love, community, and strength that makes the streets a home. It’s about hope.
1. Song of the South
Whether you think this film is too controversial to be released (its not), is irrelevant. James Baskett was the first black actor to win an Academy award for his portrayal of Uncle Remus, so it’s too historically significant too be left in the vault. I understand that this film offends a lot of people but I truly believe Disney had the best intentions in mind when they made it. I think it’s honestly a travesty that this film isn’t on anything to watch. When Warner Brothers released their old cartoons on Blu Ray, they add a disclaimer for some of the more controversial cartoons because they knew they still needed to be seen whether they were controversial or not. You can’t erase history and you should never censor art but you can at least give a disclaimer and that’s what i think Disney should do. This film needs to be seen even if is just a lesson on what not to do but it still needs to be seen.