Category Archives: lost film

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

The HFA screens Robert Flaherty’s lost film

OIDCHE SHEANCHAUS fireside scene one frame with perfs

 

You may have been following the news about Harvard’s rediscovery and preservation of Robert Flahery’s Oidhche Sheanchais (A Night of Storytelling). The first film made in the Irish language, this short was produced in 1935 during the filming of Flaherty’s Man of Aran. On February 19, 2015, the Harvard Film Archive had its premiere screening of the film, in a new 35mm print, as part of Folklore and Flaherty: A Symposium on the First Irish-Language Film, with Harvard’s Department of Celtic Languages and Literature.  This new preservation effort by the Harvard Film Archive also marks the first time the film has been subtitled in English.

 

OIDCHE SHEANCHAUS boy on floor one frame with perfs

The symposium was well attended by the public and the Harvard community, and included short presentations by participants in the film’s research, subtitling, and preservation efforts. Both presenters and attendees brought thoughtful questions and comments about historical context and future plans for the film.  A major theme was the folklore tradition in Ireland, specifically the Aran Islands and surrounding areas where Flaherty’s Man of Aran was filmed.  The film itself features a traditional song, sung by Maggie Dirrane, and a traditional story, told by Seáinín Tom Ó Dioráin.  Symposium participants and those present spoke to their own experiences of Irish folklore, folk music, and storytelling. Each emphasized the importance of preservation for carrying traditions and customs forward through music, storytelling, song, and film. The audience included many Aran Islanders, who spoke joyously of the screening in both personal and cultural terms, bringing their own historical context to the event.

Oidhche Sheanchais (A Night of Storytelling) will screen again as part of the HFA series The Lost Worlds of Robert Flaherty. Join us for a screening of three shorts by Flaherty on Sunday, March 1 and with Man of Aran on Monday, March 9. Please check the HFA online calendar for further information on these screenings.

You can read more about the rediscovery and preservation of this previously lost gem on our previous blog post and on the Harvard Gazette website.

Robert Flaherty’s lost Irish Gaelic film found at Harvard

Documentary pioneer Robert Flaherty directed the first film made in the Irish language, Oidhche Sheanchais (“A Night of Storytelling”) in 1935 during the production of his now classic film Man of Aran.

Cited in nearly every history of Irish cinema, this short (11 minute) film has been missing, believed lost, since a fire destroyed the only known copies in 1943. A nitrate print of the film, purchased by the Harvard College Library in 1935 at the request of Harvard’s Department of Celtic Languages and Literatures, was rediscovered by Houghton Library curators during a cataloging update in 2012.

IMG_0563

Oidhche Sheanchais, a fascinating distillation of Flaherty’s belief in cinema as a kind of folkloric art, depicts a typical Irish hearth, where the main cast members of Man of Aran sit, listening to an ancient tale told by famed Seanchaí (storyteller) Seáinín Tom Ó Dioráin. Oidhche Sheanchais is Flaherty’s first work in direct sound and the first “talkie” in Irish Gaelic. It was filmed in the same London studio where the Man of Aran cast had already gathered for the recording of post-synch sound.

OIDCHE SHEANCHAUS fireside scene one frame with perfs

The Harvard Film Archive, in collaboration with Houghton Library, the Celtic department and Harvard’s Office of the Provost, has preserved Oidhche Sheanchais on 35mm film and digital formats.  The film had a short run in Ireland and was never subtitled in English. Harvard has had the film translated and both subtitled and non-subtitled versions will be available.

2 OIDCHE SHEANCHAUS title card one frame

Today (July 3), the new 35mm subtitled print has its premiere at Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna—one of the most prestigious showcases for rediscovered and restored films—with introductions by Harvard Film Archive Director Haden Guest and Irish Film Institute Head of Irish Film Programming Sunniva O’Flynn.

We are grateful for everyone who helped make this exciting project possible, and hope you come see the film when we screen it on the big screen!  The film will be available for loan as 35mm or DCP once it has had its Harvard premiere.  Stay tuned!

OIDCHE SHEANCHAUS boy on floor one frame with perfs

Re-discovering Amiri Baraka’s THE NEW-ARK (1968)

As you may recall, a print of an early film by the poet Amiri Baraka was discovered at the Harvard Film Archive back in January.  It had been belived lost for decades.

The HFA worked with Anthology Film Archives to make a 2K scan of the print, and we are pleased to announce the film is now available digitally will be available for loan soon.

THE NEW-ARK, not screened publicly for over 40 years, was shown in Newark this week.  (Read the local news story here and here.) and the new 2K file will screen at Anthology Film Archives in New York City on May 16th and May 18th as part of a tribute to Baraka.

The HFA will be showing the movie in the fall.

HOW IS A LOST FILM FOUND?

We’ll be writing more about this soon, but here is the short story of this particular film.  THE NEW-ARK is part of the James E. Hinton Collection at the Harvard Film Archive. The material in the collection has been cataloged, re-housed and sent into cold storage, and a finding aid was created.  I know, I know, “finding aids are boring”  (or so I’ve been told), but they are effective tools for seeing into larger collections.

Despite what you might think, the processing archivist doesn’t get to watch every film that comes through his or her hands.  The film is generally inspected on a rewind bench, identified by printed credits, rehoused into archival containers, and sent into storage.  Unknown titles are sometimes viewed for content identification if there is time and the condition of the material allows.

Two separate independent researchers discovered the Hinton Collection, and were interested in delving into the material.  The HFA benefited from their work, because they were able to give us detailed descriptions of the films they viewed.  Credits for THE NEW-ARK were transcribed, and the director was noted as LeRoi Jones (who later changed his name to Amiri Baraka).

Still, the presence of a sought-after, lost film went unnoticed.

Whitney Strub, of Rutgers University, was researching films made in Newark, NJ, and came across the title in the published work of one of the aforementioned researchers.  He wanted to show it in New Jersey.  He spoke to archivists at the HFA and at Anthology Film Archives about it following Baraka’s death, and together we brought the film out of the dark.  Whitney’s article in Bright Lights Film Journal is linked here, and here is a brief radio interview with him.

This is a fairly typical story of how a lost film can be found in the collection of an archive.  The HFA processed the film as part of  a larger collection, but did not realize its significance.  We put its title out for people on the internet to find via the finding aid, and someone who was looking for it found it.

Our thanks to everyone who helped make this re-discovery possible: Lars Lierow, whose research at the HFA led to an article in Black Camera, “The ‘Black Man’s Vision of the World”cites the existence of the print, to Chuck Jackson who also worked with the Hinton Collection, and especially to Whitney Strub and Andy Lampert (of Anthology Film Archives).

Another of Baraka’s early films BLACK SPRING (1967) remains lost.  If you should come across it, get in touch!  He is, no doubt, credited as LeRoi Jones.