Category Archives: Local interest

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

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

 

A word from the filmmaker

The Arthur H. Freedman Collection at the Harvard Film Archives 

and the Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Museum of the Harvard College Library.

Marky Mayhem mini dv tapesStatement by the documentarian Arthur Freedman

August 13, 2015

I am honored to have my life’s work inducted into these prestigious collections. In 2012 I was contacted by Elizabeth Coffey, Film Conservator for the Harvard Film Archive, and by Peter Laurence and David Ackerman of the Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library. They had heard of my extensive documentation on audio and video of unsigned local bands that played in the nightclubs around Boston, Cambridge, Somerville and surrounding locales. I have had various write-ups and press over the years, and evidently it resonated with the progressive thinking at Harvard to see how it would integrate into an historic place amongst the more recognized works. Special thanks go out to Robert Dennis and Denise Gorayeb, along with those at Harvard who were, are, and will be involved in this project, with whom I am not familiar.

I would like to call to your attention several individuals who had very significant roles in collaboration with me, without whose support much of my work would not have been possible. First and foremost, Patricia Ann Pelland, who is a fine emerging photographer; the photograph of me amongst my recordings was taken by her. Patricia was often my roadie, collaborator on the Boston Archives Project, my wife and partner for over 10 years, and now, a quarter of a century later, still my best friend. Others include Timothy Fulham; Thomas White, videographer at MIT, film maker, guitarist for Unnatural Axe, Beach Combovers and several other bands; Kevin Boisevert; Timothy Jackson; Karen DiBiasse; Linda Cardinal; Paul Lovell; Timothy Maxwell; Steven Nelson; William McCarthy; Joseph and Nabil Sater; William Ruane; Jan Crocker; Mark Hussey, Steven Morse, Tristram Lozaw, Andrew Smith, Kris Fell. I am also grateful to musicians who thanked me from the stage, on their records and cds, and those who signed releases, as well those who called me to come and record them.

My audio recordings were primarily done using cassette tape and 2 microphones.  Video was almost always single camera, either hand-held or tripod.

Occasionally I had equipment problems, and it is a deep regret that I did not have better gear with which to work and additional camera operators with whom to collaborate. During the era in which I was recording, there were very few people doing what I was doing. The time of camera phones and miniature video cameras had not arrived, and 99% of the time I was the only one dedicated to chronicling the careers of bands I cared about. Regardless, the recordings are a time capsule of the music at a time of great creativity and energy. The bands with whom I worked were unsigned, unknown, sometimes underappreciated, and often forgotten. There were many times I would be one of only a few people in the audience. Those of you who attend large venue concerts do not have the connection to the musicians as I have had. I invite you to listen to these bands and let your imagination take you to dive bars with a dance floor where the audiences’ heads are bopping and a dance called the pogo is hep cat go man go!

Since very early in my recordings, I always wanted the bands to be vested in the project; I tried to make the recordings and my time available. The tapes were becoming more numerous and preservation of the fragile magnetic media was always on my mind, but due to financial constraints, time and resources, it has taken till now with the wonderful folks at Harvard to begin this monumental project. The recordings had never been properly cataloged and now that that has been accomplished, I am astonished at the breadth of what I have done. I still have additional recordings that I will be adding to this collection and there are some real treasures in those.

This collection will include additional works from me shortly and over time. On 7.26.1981, I was recording Mission of Burma and The Stains at the Paradise. It was a lazy Sunday afternoon and my car was stolen. In it was a case containing nearly 60 sets of my favorite early tapes I had recorded; they were never recovered. It is my hope that in watching, listening, and discovering the bands among my recordings that you step out, pay the cover charge and see some of these great bands yourselves. Please support live music, buy bands’ compact discs, records, and merchandise, and immerse yourself in one of the coolest eras of creativity. You will have the best times of your lives.

As I have previously mentioned, most of these bands are likely unknown to you, so I will offer several websites that can be useful in learning more:

http://bostongroupienews.com/

http://www.thenoise-boston.com/

http://mmone.org/

http://kinodv.net/home.html

http://www.collectorscum.com/volume3/mass/

Some of the performers and participants whose voices have been silenced:

http://bostongroupienews.com/BGNInMemorium.htm

I invite band members band members to sign releases, donate cds, records, tapes, set lists, personnel lists and contact information, posters, and flyers from any of the sets listed and help to make this one of the most important music history collections of the late 20th and early 21st century.

Thank you to all who give this project more than a passing glance.

Arthur Freedman

CONSERVATOR’S NOTE:

It was Tom White (Unnatural Axe, Beach Combovers) who tipped me off to Arthur’s collection.  I had recently been talking to Billy Ruane about his own extensive collection of local band recordings, and was rather heartbroken to learn that most of these tapes were lost when Billy stopped paying the bill on a storage container.  I didn’t want anything to happen to Arthur’s recordings, and hoped he would be interested in getting them into cold storage at Harvard.  We were very pleased when he agreed to give us this important collection.  ~Liz Coffey