I was speaking one day to an elderly man who used the phrase, “You can’t miss something you never had.” With all due respect to him, I beg to differ. I miss plenty of things in life I’ve never had. In particular I miss lots of films I’ve never seen. I was combing through an inventory of missing silents and pondering the losses. I wish a miracle would happen and ALL of them could be found and preserved. I zeroed in on the following films that I dearly miss and would give anything to have experienced:
THE ETERNAL CITY (1923)
This WWI silent drama starred Barbara La Marr was filmed on location in Rome and New York City. According to reports, King Victor Emmanuel III and Benito Mussolini appeared in the film leading their troops. Even if this film wasn’t a masterpiece, it would still be interesting to watch for the sake of historical value. Based on the limited footage I have seen, Barbara La Marr was a stunning vamp. She began as a screenwriter until Mary Pickford saw her and encouraged her to pursue acting. La Marr won co-star status with Douglas Fairbanks in THE NUT and THE THREE MUSKETEERS before going on to headline numerous romantic dramas. Sadly, many of her films are either lost, incomplete or very hard to find. Fortunately the film SOULS FOR SALE (1923) was feared lost but has turned up and is now being offered for purchase by the Warner Archive. I wish I could see more of her films. It is very hard to analyze and appreciate the career of an actor when so many of their films are unavailable. With La Marr, there is so much mystery surrounding her life, career and untimely death that I just wish I had more pieces of the puzzle. Actress Sherri Snyder has developed a one woman show about La Marr and is heavily steeped in researching her life. I’m hopeful that as time goes on, this forgotten star will finally be rediscovered.
THE GREAT GATSBY (1926)
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s definitive chronicle of “The Jazz Age” got the big screen treatment for the first time in 1926. Subsequent adaptations in 1949 and 1974 have been disappointing at best. It would have been amazing to see this put on film in the exact same era in which it was set. It was the best possible time to have captured that energy, vivacity, longing and spirit of what the era was all about. A few years back the Valentino and Swanson film BEYOND THE ROCKS (1922) was discovered after being thought lost for almost 80 years. It was news that film lovers live for. When the restoration was complete, the Academy held a screening. Before the film began they showed a trailer for THE GREAT GATSBY and AMERICAN VENUS (with Louise Brooks) both of which remain lost. I was fascinated by the GATSBY trailer, but it was painful to only see so little. I wanted to stand up and shout, “MORE MORE MORE!” The trailer is one of the 50 films in the 3-disk boxed DVD set called More Treasures from American Film Archives, 1894-1931 (2004), compiled by the National Film Preservation Foundation. It was preserved by the Library of Congress and has a running time of one minute.
Click here to see a video I found on YouTube in which Netherlands Filmmuseum curator Giovanna Fossati explains the process of restoring BEYOND THE ROCKS.
FOUR DEVILS (1928)
Directed by the German great F.W. Murnau, FOUR DEVILS was only his second American film after SUNRISE. Set in the world of the circus, this film reunited him with SUNRISE star Janet Gaynor. In 2003 Janet Bergstrom directed a documentary called “Murnau’s 4 Devils: Traces of a Lost Film” that comes as a bonus feature on the SUNRISE Special Edition DVD. There is also a coffee table book about this film in the “Murnau, Borzage & Fox” DVD box set. I’ve heard rumors that the studio cut the film considerably and inserted sound sequences as this film was coming out during the transition to talkies. Regardless of the quality, I would still be curious to see this. The loss of this film is all the more tragic considering Murnau only made two more films before his life was cut short by a car accident. He only lived to direct 21 films and only 4 of them in America. There should have been many more. He was such an incredible artist.
WAGES OF SIN (1928)
When I was in film school, it seemed the only directors we ever studied were white males. I always found it frustrating that there wasn’t a more diverse pool of filmmaking talent to study. A few years back I attended the San Francisco Silent Film Festival and learned all about Oscar Micheaux. He was a groundbreaking African American filmmaker whose work often tackled social issues. He worked outside the studio system and became a pioneer in the independent film world. While he excelled at drama, he also directed films in a variety of genres including musicals, comedy, westerns and gangster films. His film are so significant because they defy the racist stereotypes of the time and present a unique, more fully developed portrait of African American talent. Numerous Micheaux films have been considered lost.
I can only hope that these films will be found. They are all significant for a variety of reasons and would add so much to the film legacy of their creators.