That Should Be a Thing/Film Activism: Extant/Lost Film Database

OK, I know what you’re thinking: What’s with the slashes? Well, quite frankly, I’m not sure I’ve had a post that’s changed so much from the day I wrote it to the day I was going to post it. Essentially, what I was setting out was the first in a series wherein I would propose a utopian concept that should exist. Namely a database wherein you can type the title of a movie and its status (lost, extant, out-of-print, etc.) would be listed.

Here’s the text I started with:

I will always, and without apologies, support a utopian ideal if I think it will really be of service. For those who love film there is such a thing as film activism and if I should see something pop up that matches that criteria I will post a new edition of that series.

That Should Be a Thing is an idea that spawns more form my daydreaming about an ideal and not thinking or knowing if something like it exists. If it does not it should is what I am getting at here.

I am a strong supporter of film preservation efforts. The goal of preservation is the prevention of loss of films we already have. Sadly, many have already been lost. Finding out about a very cool sounding movie, looking for it; only to discover it is now considered lost is a terrible thing. However, much searching, headache and heartache could be spared the seeker of the arcane if a database existed listing the status of a given film.

Therfore, all one would have to do upon learning about a title would be to input the title and year of a film and be given a status report.

Do any of you know if anything like this exists? I know Movies Silently has been profiling lost films in a series, and it’s always great to feature lost titles but that’s not a searchable database of myriad titles, which would be ideal I’m envisioning. If there is such a thing I’d love to know about it.

Name That Film (EastmanHouse.Org)

So what changed the post? Well, it’s not quite the same thing, but there is an effort to assemble a comprehensive list of lost films, which has been organized by the Deutsche Kinemathek – Museum für Film und Fernsehen, Berlin, and funded by the Kulturstiftung des Bundes (German Federal Cultural Foundation). As per its about section anyone and everyone is encouraged to join:

Its purpose is to make visible the invisible portion of film history by acting as a collaboration platform for internet users to bring together relevant information and surviving documents concerning Lost Films.

The archive of titles currently contains over 3500 films believed or declared to be lost.

A constantly growing network of collaborators has been responsible for building up this archive.

Initial collaborators submitted almost 500 of these titles to a specially set up Wiki during the earliest stages of Lost Films’ development.

Others, meanwhile, have been kind enough to allow Lost Films to reproduce information already published elsewhere.

The archive was specially developed using a new Open Source Software called CollectiveAccess.

Using this software, it is possible to supplement individual titles with detailed textual, photographic, audio and video information – all in a single, virtual space.

As an example, the Deutsche Kinemathek has personally illustrated 37 of the most sought after lost German films, carefully selected through consultation with renowned experts.

The 6 partner institutions together submitted over 1500 surviving primary documents, which were then uploaded to the CollectiveAccess database and linked to the relevant film title(s).

Over 40 different document categories were assigned to the documents so that users would have the option to view the different document types separately.

Document types uploaded include surviving production records, such as scripts and set designs, as well as posters and other distribution materials, press items, censorship documents and music manuscripts. Also uploaded are numerous photographic stills and even in some cases digitised film clips.

An identify section, meanwhile, presents a selection of pictures and video clips of unidentified films for users to help identify.

All visitors to Lost Films are free to view its contents. However, members have the added benefit of being able to amend existing information, as well as to contribute additional information and documents.

Member contributions will assure the frequent and essential supply of the most up-to-date and accurate information.

All visitors to Lost Films are therefore encouraged to become members. Click here to register.

Buttons (1927, MGM)

Sure enough when I searched its database Buttons, (a title I was prompted to search for due to my having read The Keystone Kid) which was recently reported as lost to me via Warner Archive’s Facebook wall, is not in the database. Therefore, while I await the utopian arrival I will join and do what I can (try to get that title added). I hope you will too.

Thankful for World Cinema- The Passion of Joan of Arc

When looking for a theme in which to select films from the start of November until Thanksgiving being literal is not the best option. Films centered around Thanksgiving tend to be overly obsessed with dysfunctional families. So in thinking about the nature of the day which was initially a celebration of survival in the New World, I thought why not focus on foreign films.

The Passion of Joan of Arc

Maria Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc (Gaumont)

The first thing that needs to be said about The Passion of Joan of Arc in the state it currently exists is that it’s a miracle we have it at all. Several cuts vanished through the years and this one suddenly surfaces in a Norwegian mental hospital 25 years ago. Truly, the salvaging of some of these older films is at times miraculous and lends even more credence to the importance of film preservation. These works of art shouldn’t be lost and we can’t leave it to chance to find wonderful cuts such as these.

Second, is if you’re watching the Criterion collection version of this film opt for the Voices of Light soundtrack. Again an interesting note is that even though music clearly, according to all the records, was played when this film was screened Dreyer has nothing in his notes to indicate what that music should be, which is odd if you see his other work you know how exacting and precise he could be. So this is as close to an “official” score as you get and it is truly wonderfully done and moving and while it claims not to be a score it syncs beautifully with the images and story.

This film should be viewed for the performance of Maria Falconetti alone. It is often cited as one of the greatest in the history of film a fact which is also unique to this film considering how infrequently Falconetti acted on camera, however, this is no rote repetition of consensus. She is marvelous. It can truly be said this performance is well ahead of its time and reads like one of the greats of the 40s who had the benefit of sound. Falconetti needed no sound, no words and carries this film single-handedly in the rare performance that can be called a tour-de-force.

Lastly, there is the story itself and how it unfolds. I think it is likely one that transcends religion. Whether you’re inclined to believe Joan or Arc’s claims or not you see someone being horribly mistreated, you see one of the judges hurting because he believes her and you witness the tragic outcome of the tale.

This film is a masterpiece of silent film. You’ll note as you watch very few titles are actually needed. It manages through it’s unique visual style to communicate its tale very effectively. It is a must see.