lost film found! The Nest of the Cuckoo Birds

A print of the obscure and previously missing, believed lost cheapie THE NEST OF THE CUCKOO BIRDS (1965) has been discovered in a collection gifted to the Harvard Film Archive by The Little Art Cinema in Rockport, Massachusetts. There were some obscure 35mm film prints in the theater’s basement that had been collected by a local vaudeville enthusiast and film collector. The cinema’s owner wanted them to go to a good home after he made the inevitable switch to digital.

This film conservator is a fan of The Cramps, and we are both fans of underground cinema, so when this title turned up in the Little Art Cinema Collection, I was intrigued.

Sometimes it’s obvious when one discovers a lost film, other times it takes some digging, not to mention a curious nature. Plenty of films come into the collection here without getting thoroughly researched. Some lost films have gone into storage, where they’ve remained safely hidden, only to be discovered by outside researchers who are looking for something in particular. Lost films don’t just declare themselves.

In this case, I wanted to know more about this title, so I did some digging online. There aren’t many films you look for online and find almost nothing about. At the time, the IMDB page had a line by a user that noted the film was probably lost. This, coupled with almost no information about it anywhere else, with the exception of some reproduced ephemera, led me to realize I had discovered something quite rare.

I looked through the print on the rewind bench and was instantly in love. The horrible lighting and ridiculous makeup spelled pure cinema gold to me. Many film lovers would instantly write this one off, but fortunately for you, I’m a fan of low-budget and underground cinema.

THE NEST OF THE CUCKOO BIRDS was made in Florida in the 1960s. Exploitation legends Doris Wishman and Hershell Gordon Lewis (among others) were also making their weird and unique films in FLA at this time. It must have been a great time and place to be making movies!

Bad lighting and bad makeup are hallmarks of homemade filmmaking, and seeing the shadows and makeup you see in the frame enlargement above gave me chills. You just don’t seem them like this very often anymore.

Convincing people with money to preserve films like this is not easy. Fortunatley, the HFA’s director gave the film a chance once he discovered non-exploitation director Nicolas Winding Refn was dying to see it.

Sometimes it takes celebrity interest to get things done in this cynical world. The print was sent to California, where the dedicated Peter Conheim did some magic with it, cleaning up some weird edits and re-organizing everything. The result was scanned at 4k. Director Bert Williams (who also stars) died a while back, but his family was tracked down and consulted regarding perhaps re-issuing the film digitally.

Refn is planning to stream the film as part of an as-yet unrealized streaming platform which will include another classic of trashy Floridian film, SHANTY TRAMP.

The collection from the Little Art Cinema includes some other rarities, including 35mm prints of THE END OF THE LINE (1957), WILD HARVEST (1962), FEAR NO MORE (1961), RUN ACROSS THE RIVER (1961) (another found, possibly believed lost film), and SO LITTLE TIME (1952). It also includes a number of hard and soft-core pornographic films.

Whatever comes to pass, I hope something happens with THE NEST OF THE CUCKOO BIRDS and you get a chance to see it. I found the print in 2014, and have been frustrated by the lack of publicity surrounding its resurfacing. I’m leaving Harvard at the end of this month, and am sad it never really got its due. I’ve watched it a few times and find it hopelessly charming in its inadequacies and weird plot. Give me a cheap independent film from the middle of the 20th century over a 21st century digital blockbuster any day. It doesn’t lose its grimy shine.

UPDATE: This was streaming on MUBI in November – nobody ever tells me anything around here!

 

~Liz Coffey, Harvard Film Conservator

Coretta Scott King at Harvard

There is a film in the collection of the HFA that is a record of a speech Coretta Scott King gave at Harvard’s Sanders Theater in 1968, a week after the assassination of RFK, a few months after the assassination of MLK.

Although Harvard graduated its first black student in 1870, and had a sister institution, Radcliffe, you will find the audience is white, male.

The film is camera original, mag sound on film, 16mm Ektachrome.

From the HFA catalog:

Shot by WGBH-TV. Sticker on can says air date was 6/24/1968. Speech was on June 12.

Following Rev. King’s assassination, the 1968 Class Committee invited his widow, Coretta Scott King, to speak at Class Day and she accepted their invitation. On Wednesday, June 12, a week after the assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, Mrs. King addressed the Class of 1968, their families, and friends with these words:

“As young people, as students, your lives have been greatly affected by the loss of these champions of freedom, of justice, of human dignity and peace… Your generation must speak out with righteous indignation against the forces which are seeking to destroy us…

… Historians of the future may record that the alliance of the civil rights movement with the student movement that began in the late 1950’s and matured into broad political and social action in the 60’s was the salvation of the nation.”

Click on the article below to read more and to watch the film.

Harvard scholars on life, death, legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

Madeline Brandeis

The Harvard Film Archive is lucky to have several prints of the silent films of Madeline Brandeis.

Brandeis made films for children in the ‘teens and ‘twenties, and also wrote books. Some of the books, such as The Little Swiss Woodcarver, are companions to the films, and are illustrated with film stills. This comes in handy for this particular title, as our print is incomplete. Our copy of the book tells us what we missed.

Brandeis died tragically young, but she is not forgotten.

We recently digitized our prints of Brandeis’ films, available to watch here. We hope you enjoy them!

 

Play “Movie”!

“You were given a booklet when you came into the theater.”

Play Movie 2

In the late 1950s, theaters were looking for gimmicks to pry people away from their television sets and get them into cinema seats.  We’ve all heard of the resulting innovations of widescreen, 3D, and William Castle-style exploitation, but what about games on the big screen?

Today at the Conservation Center, we watched the first half of a two reel oddity, PLAY “MOVIE.”

In 1958, you could go to a special show at your local cinema that combined a film with a game.  Although we are not sure exactly how this played out, it appears a double feature would be regularly interrupted, presumably at the reel change (every 20 minutes) by a segment of the game.  Divided into ten parts, a sequin-clad woman on the big screen would pull a ball from a tumbler, and a quintessential 1950’s man would call out the number, a-la bingo or powerball.

Play Movie 3

This “scientifically calculated” process would end when there was a possible winner in the audience, bells would ring, “MOVIE” would flash onscreen, and the movie would return.  One would have to wait until the 10 parts had played out to bring winning cards to the lobby to claim a prize.

“Shout MOVIE when you’re a winner!”

Play Movie 1

This film is from the Little Art Cinema Collection at the Harvard Film Archive.

copyright entry for this game.

PLAY 'MOVIE' AT THE MOVIES. 
Play Movie, Inc. 
1 l/2 reels, sd,, b&w, 35 mm. 
© Play Movie, Inc.; 
17Feb58; MP8879.

Mysterious Scenes

Today at work I came across a collection of Hollywood production stills, many from unidentified films of the Golden Age of cinema. When you think of a production still, you probably think of one that highlights film stars, but these are the opposite. This collection doesn’t show any posed people at all, only posed rooms and furniture.

Like model homes or furniture showroom floors, these images are familiar and yet false.

Places waiting for their people.

Out of focus, behind-the-scenes workers, accidentally captured by the camera.

Lonely placards in empty rooms.

The airport waiting room never looks quite this empty in the movies.

Charlie Chan visits Egypt, only to find it as quiet as a tomb.

How unnatural the thatched roof looks next to the kleig light. From 1948’s KIDNAPPED!

A faceless man.

Allan Dwan’s team has made ready the set for the lawn party; where is Shirley Temple? The cherub is already drunk.

A great view of the top.

Another one

Are any of these folks actors?

I’d like to visit the floating museum, created by John Ford’s team for Steamboat Round the Bend (1935)

Perhaps from Charlie Chan in Rio (1941). Director Harry Lachman had an interesting career, from successful post-impressionist painter to B-movie director.

Double exposure, exposing a structure made to muffle the sound of the camera, plus some equipment someone has left to be tripped over.

artist Katherine Weems

Today I’m working on some films belonging to the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe. I was happily surprised to come across the home movies of Katherine Weems of Manchester, MA, whose papers are at Harvard and the Smithsonian. She attended the Boston Museum School, and she was a sculptor who is responsible for some of my favorite public art on Harvard’s campus.

The Harvard Bio Labs, which are near the Peabody Museum, have a courtyard I adore. It boasts not only a volleyball court, but also buildings adorned with animal engravings and some unparalleled metal doors decorated with giant bugs. The doors are guarded on either side by some life-sized rhinoceros, named Bessie and Victoria. I’m sorry I missed their 70th birthday party, and even sadder they didn’t celebrate an 80th birthday, but maybe I’ll make it to their 90th.

The Smithsonian has put online some film of the Rhinos’ early days.

Cinecolor

Today at the film conservation center I inspected a 35mm print of the no doubt tedious but beautiful LOVE ISLAND (Bud Pollard, 1952). It’s an original release, Cinecolor print from 1953.loveisland_leader

Cinecolor was a low-cost, two color (red/green) subtractive color process developed in the 1930s and used through the 1950s. It was much less expensive than Technicolor, which was also in wide use at that time. The development of Eastmancolor in the early 1950s eventually put both processes out of business, and left the world with a lot of faded pink prints. Archivists and projectionists curse its name daily.

Poverty Row film production companies such as Monogram were the main customers for Cinecolor. It was inexpensive, but the trade-off was that colors were not as brilliant as Technicolor. The deeper pocketed studios didn’t employ it.

The colors tended toward blue/brown in prints, so were most often used for Westerns. LOVE ISLAND, however, is a B-picture set on a Pacific island, and Eva Gabor’s skin was darkened to make her look like she was born there and not in Hungary! It was passed by the Maryland board of censors.loveisland_couple

loveisland_girl

 

 

 

loveislandcensortagloveisland_girl2

Our blog is expanding!

Top of a film bench with inspection equipment

Harvard Film Conservation Center inspection bench

Greetings friends and followers from the blog-o-sphere! Here at the Harvard Film Conservation Center we work closely with the dynamic collections from the Harvard Film Archive, as well as all film collections from the greater Harvard Library. In the interest of representing our diverse projects and preservation activities, we are expanding our blog and giving ourselves a new look (sound familiar?) We hope you will enjoy our newly expanded HARVARD FILM CONSERVATION blog: News from the Harvard Library’s Film Conservation Center!

Please continue to follow us to get the latest news on our conservation work, incoming collections, interesting finds, new finding aids, and local events! You can also check with us on Twitter @HLFilmPreserve

Thank you, dear readers and see you at the movies!