Let My Movies Go: Five Films That Need Wider Releases

For many reasons, some films are in peril of being lost to time. For instance, Luis Buñuel’s Viridiana was perceived as so blasphemous that Franco and his censors ordered that all copies be destroyed. On the Criterion Collection release, the film’s star- Silvia Pinal- says that two copies of it were buried, waiting to see the light of day only after better times had come. It took some 16 years before Viridiana gained traction. Here’s a list of five films that need a wider release and deserve to be more readily available to people.

Los Olvidados (1950)

Speaking of Buñuel, one of his best films is virtually impossible to find. The best luck I’ve had finding Los Olvidados is with out of print VHS tapes that have very poor subtitling. Everything about the film screams “Buñuel”- it hums with the skewering of class structures, total institutions, and an eerie, experimental dream sequence that’s one of the best I’ve ever seen put to film. It deserves to be seen.

Napoléon (1927)

This film is brilliant in every single way. I can’t really find enough superlatives to do it justice. The final 40 minutes or so were almost exclusively in triptych. And there were some other experimental (at the time) uses of the camera- handheld camera shots, cameras on the ceiling swooping down on the actors during the French Revolution to accentuate the pandemonium, lots of overlapping imagery, etc. Gance’s use of nature to set tone in various scenes was spectacular, Kurosawa-esque (even though it obviously predated Kurosawa by over a decade). It’s the quickest four hours (or more, depending on which version you get) you’ll ever spend, and true film fans are being deprived.

The Phantom Carriage (1921)

This film is notable for a lot of reasons. Chief among them is the influence it had. Future horror makers can’t ignore it. It’s part of Victor Sjöstrom’s catalogue that famously turned young little Ingmar Bergman onto film. The camera tricks are beautiful, breathtaking, and creepy. It has the sort of depressing panache that could only be infused by the Swedes. And the story is a treasure trove for folklorists, drawing inspiration from an old Swedish folk tale about New Year’s Eve. As near as I can tell, the best hope that you have is the occasional appearance on TCM’s trusty “Silent Sunday” series. Keep an eye out for it for now, and maybe one day we’ll all be able to see it in a wider release from Kino or Criterion or anyone else who wants to do the world a favor.

Johnny Got His Gun

A lot of you would more commonly recognize this film as the one that’s interlaced with the music in Metallica’s “One” video. As I understand it, Metallica owns the rights to the film and that’s what keeps it from a wider release. It finally reached Netflix, so it’s not impossible to find. But it deserves a better treatment. It’s the type of film that begs for extras. The reasons you should see it and why it deserves a wider, better release: Donald Sutherland’s turn as Jesus; Jason Robards’ dialogue as the maimed protagonist’s father; and the raw effectiveness of it as an anti-war film.

The Day the Clown Cried

This film is a sort of urban legend among film nerds. When I found out about it, I felt like I knew the type of information that would allow me entry into speakeasies with hinged slots on the door, manned by cautious bouncers. What is The Day the Clown Cried? It’s quite possibly the most horrifying plot you’ll ever come to know. From the Wiki page:

The Day the Clown Cried is an unfinished and unreleased 1972 film directed by and starring Jerry Lewis. It is based on a scriptment of the same name[citation needed] by Joan O’Brien, who had co-written the original script with Charles Denton 10 years prior. The film was met with controversy regarding its premise and content, which features a circus clown who is imprisoned in a Nazi camp.

…he ends up accidentally accompanying the children on a boxcar train to Auschwitz, and he is eventually used, in Pied Piper fashion, to help lead the Jewish children to their deaths in the gas chamber.

Jerry Lewis is a clown in a concentration camp who leads children into gas chambers. You can see why it’s not readily available. It’s the one film on this list that I haven’t seen. And I might never see it. There are only a handful of prints available. My understanding is that the film is only shown every few years, in a very private screening, in front of very limited audiences. Harry Shearer has allegedly seen it. I suppose the only real reason I’m so anxious to see it is the same reason that one might rubberneck at a car accident.


10 Comments

Filed under Foreign Film, French Film, Movies, Spanish Movies, Swedish Film

10 responses to “Let My Movies Go: Five Films That Need Wider Releases

  1. I haven’t seen any of these. I have never even heard of that Jerry Lewis film. I have always felt there was a real sadness to him (which he really shows in King of Comedy). I need to find that thing. This is a great list.

    • They’re some of my favorites, in many ways. If you only find one, I’d start with Napoleon. It’s four hours, so caveat emptor. But in terms of what 1920’s filmmakers were capable of, it’s sort of mind blowing.

  2. I’ve seen the first two, and “Phantom Carriage” (and “The Wind”) have sat atop my Holy Grail list for a while now. Alas, the 12 in monitor in the Michigan State audio visual library is not the ideal screening room for “Napoleon”. Anything that brilliant, that ambitious, deserves much better.

    A couple other titles (some that I’ve seen, some not) that I’d like wider availability on would have to include “A City of Sadness,” “The Crime of Monsieur Lange,” “Liebelei,” “Titicut Follies,” most Greenaway films, and my personal favorite “Celine & Julie Go Boating.”

    What I would pay to see “The Day The Clown Cried” though. Legendary…

  3. Vince

    John,

    Bunuel is one of my all-time faves and too many peeps don’t know about his work. Los Olvidados is a remarkable movie. One of my favorites is Exterminating Angels and of course, Belle du Jour.

    • I’m a huge Bunuel fan. He’s my 2nd favorite, right behind Bergman. Phantom of Liberty is my favorite, followed by Exterminating Angel. And I’ve really enjoyed everything else he’s ever done. I started to rank his movies but I don’t think I could get beyond #2.

      • Vince

        Speaking of Bergman, I’m thinking of doing a review post of Hour of the Wolf for Flixchatter… I’ll see what rtm thinks of that. Glad I found your blog!

        Vince

  4. Florsie

    Maybe I’ve come in too late but let me tell you Los Olvidados isn’t that hard to get anymore. About a couple of years ago, they made a huge buzz around the movie here in Mexico because apparently some new rolls had been found and gave the movie a different ending. Together with that and also that it was the movie’s anniversary (can’t remember exactly which number), they made this special edition with a book and other glossy stuff. The DVD had these new scenes and the book had many production stills and other cool stuff. Maybe you should try amazon and see if you can find this version.

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