Category Archives: Archivists’ pick

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

Play “Movie”!

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

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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.

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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!”

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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.

October is Archives Month

October is the time each year when archival institutions across the country celebrate American Archives Month! Once again our crew here at the Film Conservation Center will be joining the revelry with participation in #AskAnArchivist Day on OCTOBER 5!

A graphic with several speech bubbles of potential questions for Ask An Archivist Day.

Image courtesy of the Society of American Archivists

Write to us on Twitter @HLFilmPreserve with the hashtag #AskAnArchivist with your burning questions: What is the oldest item in your collection? The strangest? What is the best way to preserve my family films? Where do you store your films? How are you preserving new materials?

Want to know? Just ask and we’ll do our best to answer!

Many thanks to the Society of American Archivists for organizing this virtual event.

Star Wars

As the world waits impatiently for the new Star Wars film, we take a look at the old one.

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This is a Super 8 condensed version of Episode IV, made for the home market in the dark days before everyone had a VCR.  Instead of the entire film, you could watch the highlights at home.

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The condensed version is around 20 minutes long, and the storyline is sort of carried, but all we see are the action sequences.

We ran this for an elementary school group that visited a few years ago, and one kid was very excited by this movie – “Now I understand why everyone loves Star Wars!  I’m going to go home and watch them all right now!”

It really warms our hearts when our jobs as archivists make a difference.

Newly digitized Anne Charlotte Robertson titles

Here is an update on the Anne Robertson films that have been digitized and are available for loan.  We are working on making more available soon!

Five Year Diary reel 26 making Magazine Mouth FYD47thrift_two_frame FYD83mother_and_sister

These are generally available as DCP or files.  Some are available on DigiBeta for you oldschoolers.  As always, please contact the HFA’s Loan Officer for more information.

shorts:
Subways (1976) – 13 min.
Going to Work (1981) – 7 min.
Locomotion (1981) – 7 min.
Magazine Mouth (1983) – 7 min.
Depression Focus Please (1984) – 4 min.
Talking to Myself (1985) – 3 min.
Kafka Kamera (1985) – 3 min.
Apologies (1986/1990) – 17 min.
My Cat, My Garden, 9/11 (2001) – 6 min.

Five Year Diary newly digitized reels: Reel 3, Reel 26, Reel 40, Reel 47, Reel 83

FIVE YEAR DIARY (approx. 27 min per reel):
The Five Year Diary explores many aspects of soundtrack. Many reels have synch sound – mag stripe Super 8. Sometimes the soundtrack is spotty, other times it continues for the entire reel. Audio cassettes were used as well, either on their own or in conjunction with SOF (sound on film). Some tapes were used multiple times for many reels. A narration was usually performed live, and several reels have Anne’s audio narration, which she recorded in the 1990s for posterity and so her narrated film could travel without her.

Reel 1: The Beginning – Thanksgiving, November 3 – December 13, 1981
Vegetarianism, bingeing, Thanksgiving with parents. (ACR)
In the first reel of the Five Year Diary, we watch Anne grow up, consider food and fat, and don her yellow leotard in front of the camera for the first time. (LC)
SOF and audio cassette

Reel 2: Definitions of Fat and Thin, December 13 – 22, 1981
Anne consults the dictionary in this one – what is “fat?” what is “thin?” Inanimate objects are animated, and Anne experiences problems with her camera. (LC)
SOF and audio cassette

Reel 3: Christmas and New Year ’82, December 20-January 9, 1982
The first of many year-end holiday reels. Cooking, cleaning, pixilation. (LC)
SOF and audio cassette

Reel 9: April Fool / Happy Birthday 33, March 17 – March 27, 1982
Pixilation. Sleeping, cooking, resolving to quit smoking. (LC)
Audio cassette

Reel 22: A Short Affair (and) Going Crazy, August 23 – September 1, 1982
Anne finds a lover, loses him, mourns him, and has a nervous breakdown. (LC)
Audio cassette and narration

Reel 23: A Breakdown and After the Mental Hospital, September 1 – December 13, 1982
Anne’s nervous breakdown continues until she is hospitalized. One track was recorded during the mania; in the second track, Anne reflects, years later, on this troubled time. (LC)
Audio cassette and narration

Reel 26: First Semester Grad School, February 28 – May 20, 1983
Two years into the Diary, Anne began graduate school at Massachusetts College of Art. Reel 26 was shot silently; the soundtrack is an audio recording she made during a graduate review. She discusses her work with Super 8 auteur and professor Saul Levine and a second faculty member. Ideas brought up in the discussion were later implemented in Reel 22 and 23 and in the presentation of the work in general. (LC)
audio cassette

Reel 31: Niagara Falls, August 19 – 28, 1983
Anne takes a road trip to Niagara Falls trip with her family in this exceptionally beautiful Diary reel. (LC)
audio cassette and narration

Reel 40: Visiting Grandmother, My Insanity, & Wyoming, July 17 – August 26, 1984
Anne travels west with her camera to visit family. (LC)
SOF

Reel 47: I Thought the Film Would End, October 21 – November 2, 1986
The would-be penultimate Diary reel. Anne ruminates about the upcoming end of the Diary – and mourns it, of course. Familiar themes of Dr Who, drinking, comedy, and a nice trick-or-treat Halloween sequence. (LC)
“There is a tendency to film your life like it is scenes.” (ACR)
Sound on film.

Reel 80: Emily Died, May 14 – September 26, 1994
Anne’s niece Emily dies. Anne goes into a deep depression. (LC)
audio cassette and narration

Reel 81: Mourning Emily, September 27, 1994 – January 29, 1995
Anne mourns the death of her young niece, Emily. (LC)
audio cassette and narration

Reel 83: [Untitled, final finished reel] December 24, 1995 – March 19, 1997
It’s been 16 years, and finally the Diary ends, an unintended ending that visits familiar territory.
SOF

(ACR) = text by Anne Charlotte Robertson

(LC) = text by Liz Coffey

 

Images from the Soviet Film Collection

We have come across some compelling images in the Soviet Film Collection prints. Herewith a selection of our staff favorites, with photos from project film specialist Adrianne Jorge:

 

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A Great Life (1939)

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The Legend of Suram Fortress (1984)

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Regina (1990)

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The Legend of Suram Fortress (1984)

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The Legend of Suram Fortress (1984)

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Watch out for the Automobile! (1966)

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Malva (1957)

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The Thirteenth Apostle (1988)

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The Thirteenth Apostle (1988)

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Tears Dripped (1983)

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Unidentified film

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Unidentified film

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We are from Kronstadt (1936)

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We are from Kronstadt (1936)

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Native Blood (1963)

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A Great Life (1939)

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Twenty-Six Commissars (1932)

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Twenty-Six Commissars (1932)

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Twenty-Six Commissars (1932)

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Unidentified film

April Fools’ Day news film

Just in time for April 1, this 1973 short news piece from NYC Channel 2 WCBS-TV was at the top of our 16mm film inspection queue today.

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This humorous piece has a local reporter interviewing passerby about who they would elect as the 1973 April Fool. Folks overwhelmingly voted for Nixon, with “Average New Yorkers” and “Mayor Lindsay” coming in at close seconds. One cheerful cyclist elected “Pedestrians who cross the street without looking at the traffic lights”, while another interviewee nominated “The general electorate…because they voted for Nixon!”

This cyclist wants pedestrians to watch the traffic lights!

This cyclist wants pedestrians to watch the traffic lights!

Other questions included, “How will you celebrate April Fools’ Day?” and “Should April Fools’ Day continue to be held every year, or every four years?” to which one woman enthusiastically responded, “There are enough foolish New Yorkers! Hold it every four!”

Disappointed that his interviewees were “so serious” in their responses, the reporter turned and showed his own April Fools’ Day humor, in true New York fashion.

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A WCBS-TV April Fools’ Day prank from 1973

Happy April Fools’ Day!