Lost films are a separate kind of cinematography with almost no rules. Some films were watched only by the director himself, for example, The Miracle of St. Anne by Orson Welles, others managed to fall in love with the public. The film can be a legend that everything is known about, or a secret that is discovered decades later. Approximately 80% of silent films have disappeared forever, the remaining 20% still have a chance to find: right now they can gather dust in a rusty box on the shelf of some old archive. Elena Kushnir talks about seven movie masterpieces that we will most likely never see.
"Study in crimson tones" (1914)
Director: George Pearson
For the first time, the adventures of Sherlock Holmes were adapted for the screen by Americans in 1913. But in English cinema, the legendary detective first appeared in the film A Study in Crimson, and this was the first screen adaptation of the story of the same name by Conan Doyle. The film was directed by the notable British silent film director George Pearson.
Pearson was looking for the perfect Sherlock Holmes for a long time and eventually opted for the non-professional actor James Braginton, whom he noticed among the workers of the film studio. He seemed to come to life illustration of Sidney Paget, who created the canon image of Holmes on the pages of Strand magazine. Pearson was pleased with the performance of Braginton, but he never appeared in the movies. When Conan Doyle's "Valley of Fear" was filmed at the same studio two years later, another actor played the role of Holmes.
The film received high marks from film critics, and the greatest praise was awarded not to the ideal Holmes, but to the opening scenes from the life of Mormons. They were filmed in real locations, not in a studio, which was rare for a time not spoiled by realism.
Nothing is known about the fate of the tape after its release. It could be sacrificed to war, like many silent films: the film was recycled for the metals it contained. Now "Etude in Scarlet" is one of the ten most wanted films by the British Film Institute.
"Portrait of Dorian Gray" (1915)
Director: Vsevolod Meyerhold
The great Meyerhold was the first Russian theater director to show interest in cinema. For his debut, he chose Wilde's novel, probably attracted by its "cinematic" descriptions.
Meyerhold made a very daring choice of the leading actor: Dorian Gray was played by the young actress Varvara Yanova.
It is curious that at the time of the film's release, this did not cause a big scandal, especially since in the theater Meyerhold had already given male roles to female actresses. Meyerhold himself played Lord Henry - in this image he was first seen (then still on the screen) by Yuri Olesha, with whom they later became great friends.
Meyerhold entered the world of cinema without knowing anything about him, and for some time he actually filmed the performance. After looking at the first materials, he realized his mistake:
“Yes, a movie is not a theatrical action. Cinema has its own laws ... "
Then he recruited cinematographer Alexander Levitsky to work on the film. This legendary man worked with all the pioneers of Russian cinema - from Lev Kuleshov to Yakov Protazanov. Levitsky can be considered a full-fledged co-author of The Portrait, and the book of his memoirs became the main source of information about the painting. A huge role was played by the decorator Vladimir Egorov, who embodied the exquisite vices of the British aristocracy in the luxurious design of the film. After the premiere, some critics even wrote that "the beauty of the props overshadowed the inner significance of what is happening." The reviews were generally contradictory - from devastating to the awarding of the film the status of the best in Russian cinema.
But a year after the release of "The Picture of Dorian Gray" was called an epoch-making film. The famous film critic Semyon Ginzburg wrote:
"Meyerhold, in general, was the first in the history of cinematography to put forward the idea that silent cinematography is, first of all, a fine art."
Fourteen frames have survived from the film. Much is known about him from memoirs, but in 2019 the Gosfilmofond included him in the list of forever lost films.
Director: Gordon Edwards
Teda Bara - one of the first fam fatal in cinema - was known in Hollywood under the speaking nickname Vamp. She was second only to Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford in popularity, and the studio made films specifically for her. It is not surprising that the idea appeared to remove the actress in the role of the most fatal of femme fatale - Cleopatra. The project had a fantastic budget of 500 thousand dollars and a solid crowd even for our times - 2 thousand people. Plus gorgeous costumes and sets, as befits a blockbuster.
But the main special effect of the film was Bara herself. The studio relied on her sexuality and revealing outfits - in the frame she appeared almost naked. Due to the numerous scenes of seduction and provocative remarks, the hand of censorship got tired of blotting out shock content from the film. The Chicago censors demanded that seven scenes be excluded from the first reel of film, and there were ten reels in total.
After listening to stories about the film's obscenity, viewers, of course, lined up in huge queues to see it. The picture became an absolute box office hit. Like almost all of the actress's film work, Cleopatra disappeared in 1937 during a fire at Fox Studios. Although only photographs and fragments of the film remained from the film, the image created by Teda Bara became a cult character, and in Hollywood there was a tradition of shooting popular actresses at the height of their careers as the Egyptian queen.
Director: Erich von Stroheim
A silent film adaptation of the story by Frank Norris “McTig. San Francisco History ”is available for viewing and is included in the National Register of the Most Important Films in the United States. McTig has been called the greatest film in the history of cinema more than once, and the very history of its creation deserves a separate film.
Filming the final scene at 61 ° C in Death Valley, von Stroheim was the first white people to visit the site.
The problem is that von Stroheim had the epic sweep of Peter Jackson and was cramped in his time. The director's cut of the film is almost on par with "The Lord of the Rings" in terms of timing: it had forty-two reels, which is nine hours of screen time. The Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer management was horrified and demanded to cut the film down to a standard ten reels. The director reduced the number of reels to twenty-four, but the studio was not happy with that. As a result, the picture was cropped to 140 minutes. Then von Stroheim refused to recognize the film as his own and even got into a fight with the head of MGM Louis Mayer - a story in the spirit of the finale of "Greed".
In the late 1990s, a four-hour version of the film was restored based on the surviving materials, but the original is considered lost. True, the famous film critic Roger Ebert sarcastically said:
“The original version of Greed is mourned, but hardly missed. There is a limit beyond which the audience would simply not sit out. "
Mountain Eagle (1926)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Surprisingly, but in the filmography of one of the most famous directors in the world, there is a disappeared film. This was Hitchcock's second directorial work for a German film studio. Although the action took place in Kentucky, the shooting took place in Germany and the Austrian Alps.
It is known that it was a melodrama, in the finale of which the loving heroes safely got rid of the main villain. True, according to the surviving footage, there is no impression that Hitchcock has hit the sweetness. The style of the film has features of German expressionism - a dark genre. And there was at least one murder in the story.
It is not entirely clear whether the film was released. It is believed that he was shown in England after all. And then he just disappeared - only a few photos remained. In 2012, we discovered quite a few shots from the filming, but not so much of the film itself as of work on it. Young Hitchcock himself also appeared on them.
Mountain Eagle is not only one of the ten most wanted films by the British Film Institute, but is also considered the most wanted in the world - the holy grail of missing films. It seems the only person who has never looked for him is Hitchcock himself. From the book by François Truffaut, based on conversations with Hitchcock, we learn that he considered his early work "terrible" and was glad that there was no trace of it left. Let's assume that the director was too strict with himself.
London After Midnight (1927)
Director: Tod Browning
The first film about vampires by one of the creators of the horror genre in the cinema Tod Browning was not at all known to all "Dracula" (1931). Browning released a horror film several years earlier, filming a detective story with elements of mysticism with his favorite Lon Cheney.
The painting would be of great value already because of the participation of Cheney, who was called "a man with a thousand faces." The genius master of transformation, Cheney, applied makeup on his own and appeared unrecognizable in every film.
In addition, the actor usually performed several roles in films. In "London" he played a detective investigating a crime and a sinister hypnotist with eerie "shark" teeth. Cheney had an inhuman dedication to his work and wore a prosthesis made of real shark fangs on set.
Teeth, vampires and horror were received with enthusiasm by the public, and the film became the most commercially successful for the duo Browning and Cheney. Their next joint project was to be "Dracula". Unfortunately, Cheney died, and the opportunity to play the most famous vampire fell to Bela Lugosi. In 1935 Browning directed The Sign of the Vampire, a sound remake of London, starring Lugosi. And the film with "London" burned down in a fire at MGM studios in 1967, forcing all horror fans to mourn the loss of a great example of the genre.
Bezhin Meadow (1937)
Director: Sergei Eisenstein
Eisenstein worked on the painting based on the story of little Judas Pavlik Morozov, the action of which was transferred from the Urals to Turgenev's Bezhin Lug, for two years. It was his first film after a long American voyage, from which he hastily returned when Stalin called him a deserter in a telegram. The director tried to shoot something so patriotic that no censorship commission could find fault. Lyon Feuchtwanger, who was visiting the Union at that time, described his impression of the materials shown to him as follows:
“The scene of Pavlik Morozov's murder by his father can justly be put alongside the greatest tragic scenes in classical works of art.<...>I am sure that Bezhin Meadow will make a huge impression on the thinking people of Europe, even if they are opponents of socialism and enemies of the Soviet state. "
But there was no compromise between the Stalinist Soviet Union and Turgenev's Russia. After reviewing the results of Eisenstein's works, the authorities issued a verdict: the shooting of the picture should be stopped "in view of its anti-artistic character and obvious political inconsistency." It took eleven days to complete the film.
As punishment, Eisenstein was forbidden to shoot the planned film based on Babel's stories, he was suspended from teaching and forced to write a penitential article for the magazine "Soviet Art", in which he, in the words of film critic Nei Zorkaya. "Apologized for being Eisenstein."
It is believed that the only copy of the unfinished film disappeared during the war. But a lot of materials that Eisenstein always made for work have survived: sketches, drawings, notes of the master himself, as well as cutting frames and eight meters of film. Based on them, the chief specialist in Eisenstein's work, film critic Naum Kleiman reconstructed the main episodes of the picture.