Welcome to my movie blog, containing reviews and articles. I've been writing since 2004 - with a short break during 2009.

Missing in action...

You think you've seen me excited? Think again! They've found Metropolis!

Metropolis is Fritz Lang's 20's sci-fi silent classic. No, don't stop listening - its fantastic. You can't take your eyes off the screen - admittedly, the absence of dialogue means you can't follow it if you do that - but the imagery is impressive, and at times genuinely scary. The plot is dire, but who cares when its that pretty? My original review is here, in which I note:

"I'm going to start with the bad things, starting off with the fact it's not all there. A card flashes up at the beginning of the film and cheerily announces that a quarter of the film is believed to be lost. Now that is tragic - I don't believe anything has upset me that much all year. It's horrible to think that in seventy years time, current films may be similarly fragmented. It didn't spoil my enjoyment of the film, but I just thought the idea was pretty distressing. Somebody evidently had a grudge against the Thin Man, because virtually all his scenes were replaced."

And it really did give me the wobbles to think about a quarter of such a wonderful film curling away into flames, or rotting in a box somewhere. The Wicker Man almost met this fate - just imagine films as good, which chance and time didn't save. I remember passing a rundown, boarded up cinema in a tiny limestone town in France - all very Manon des Sources - and wondering whether Metropolis was hiding away there somewhere. So sign me up for the new DVD! Here's the news, straight from contactmusic!

"Lost footage from cult sci-fi film METROPOLIS has been discovered in
Argentina.The director's cut of Fritz Lang's 1927 classic, featuring an extra 30
minutes, was believed to have vanished forever after it was cut by Paramount
bosses because of bad reviews.However, the curator of the Buenos Aires Film
Museum discovered a copy of the movie in his archives - and a projectionist
noticed it was longer than all other versions of the iconic film. Film restorer
Martin Koerber, who is one of the few people to see the lost footage, says, "No
matter how bad the condition of the material may be, the original intention of
the film, including all of its sub-plots, is now once again tangible for the
normal viewer. The rhythm of the film has been restored."

Well, use of the word cult gets my goat as it always does, but you wouldn't believe how relieved the news makes me. I keep everything. I'm a hoarder, and a sentimental one at that. In front of me as I speak - a tin of uber-strongmints I won two years ago at a speacking contest, a 3-yr old birthday card, a dollar note from an old art project, a WKD bottlecap from my 18th, and a Guiness tower paperweight - with its original packaging. And I'm a creator - I draw, write, shoot, paint and everything. The idea that a whole work of creation has winked out of existance is one of the most horrific things to me. I'm still in mourning for a poem accidentally trashed a few years back. Admittedly, it wasn't great, but the idea still troubles me. Its why I love film, and not theatre. Yes, being in the room has an atmosphere - but its so brief, and my memory so short. It fades and vanishes. You can't compare theatre directors fairly, as you can in cinema - because all you are relying on is memories of distant events.

The impermenance of such things disturbs me. Ovid, Roman poet and quoted here suprisingly often to say he's never made a film, ends his first book of the Amores by claiming he will live on through his poetry. At the time, it was a pretty generic claim for a poet to make - but he has lived on, and will far longer than I shall, and in that sense it makes pretty chilling reading. He prefaces this claim by listing past greats who have been remembered. Homer! Virgil! But others, a lot of others, of who no trace remains. Particularly scary is his praise of Gallus, of whom not a single line remains, but whose name is also praised by most other Roman love poets. He must have written some formidable stuff. Aristophanies was a Greek comedy writer. To be a serious scholar of Aristoph. seems to be made up of trawling through his jokes and trying to work out why they are funny. Its like watching Comic Relief, without a knowledge of contemporary TV, or watching Broken News, without ever having seen a news item, or watching Spitting Image when its the only record you have of half the politicians mocked. One of the people he makes fun of all the time is fellow playwrite and author of tragedies, Euripedes, only 18 of his 95 plays which survive to the modern day. Some of Aristoph's jokes poke fun at plays we know he wrote, but no longer exist. We know, for example, that he was notorious for including beggars only through Aristophanies' parodies - because barely anything of what survives contains them. I blame the bastards who burnt the library at Alexandra. Tom Stoppard has a comment to that effect in Arcadia - which another character answers like so:

"We shed as we pick up, like travellers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind. The procession is very long and life is very short. We die on the march. But there is nothing outside the march so nothing can be lost to it. The missing plays of Sophocles will turn up piece by piece, or be written again in another language. Ancient cures for diseases will reveal themselves once more. Mathematical discoveries glimpsed and lost to view will have their time again. You do not suppose, my lady, that if all of Archimedes had been hiding in the great library of Alexandria, we would be at a loss for a corkscrew?"

Yes, I just typed it all up. I think its meant to be comforting. It doesn't work. What does work is Neil Gaiman's Sandman, in which the God of Dreams has a library of lost, half finished, half dreamt of books. At least they still exist somewhere.

Its not just film and TV which suffer from the ravages of time. Back in the late 60s, the BBC destroyed old episodes. Why shouldn't they? Contracts prevented rebroadcasting, and the home video player unthought of. Whole TV shows have vanished into the aether. The show Z-Cars has two whole years from which no episodes survive - despite the fact it was being shown weekly at the time. United! has no episodes left at all. A whole show! Just like that! You remember faintly enjoying something from yesteryear, look back and its gone. I only found this out recently via my association with Doctor Who. 108 episodes are missing, presumed destroyed. It used to be more - just like Metropolis being discovered in Argentina, so episodes have been recovered from censors offices in Australia, New Zealand, Japan. All that's left of them is a few photos (or "telesnaps" if you're a real fan) and the audiotrack of each episode. Gone.

On the DocWho forums, there's a lot of conspiracy - and anger - directed against collectors who supposedly own and secretly hoard some of these episodes. They're thinking too small - I'll be unhappy if I never see Fury from the Deep. But I'll be unhappier if there is no way at all for me to ever have seen it - short of a time machine and a video-recorder. I find the concept of these things gently sitting in someone's private room quite comforting -we come, we die, but the art lives on. And one day - maybe not in my lifetime - a well meaning relative will return it to the BBC. I rank its survival for the human race as a whole as more important than it being recovered by this generation.

Does this give anyone else the shivers in the same way it does me? Its not only their absence. There are people who have memories of these things that no longer exist - they've seen them, and one by one their memories die with them. Recently, I got onto Doctor Who with my Latin teacher - not an avid fan, but she used to watch Hartnell and Troughton. Back in the 60s. My first reaction to Hartnell fans normally is one of faint embarassment - he's the original, his episodes are lengthy and B&W, I've still not got around to seeing them - in film parlance, like talking to someone who claims Citizen Kane is their fave. But she's not a fan who discovered them through video like me. She was there. At the time. My first reaction was one of internal shock - maybe she saw "Fury from the Deep"? Or "The Tenth Planet"? Its there, in the corner of her mind, just flickers of black and white - the odd image or idea she recalls, augmented by time and memory. These things which only exist in minds.

I was only 9 or 10 when I watched Through the Dragon's Eye. Its one of those surreal childhood memories which everyone has tucked away. Children from the 60s recall hiding from the Daleks behind the sofa - I was terrified by this, an educational program wrapped up in a sub-Narnia story of a magical fantasy world. Not just me either - IMDb reveals a whole generation it has tainted. It was scary at the time, but its scared me since as well. Our hero disappearing into the fog. Boris drowning in a quagmire. Charn. The knitted scarf. For years, its been in the corner of my mind - and one of the questions I ask pretty frequently of strangers is if they have seen it. The tactics payed off recently - turns out one of my best friends not only remembers it, she recorded it on video. We watched it, and it was weird. Like going back to a place you remember but have not visited for a long time. I remembered very little, yet it was all familiar. And the scene I remembered most vividly - the human-sized mouse turning back into a real animal in the underground cave sequence - where was it? It never happened. And just as entire seasons of Troughton's Doctor Who have been erased in solid form, so they are being erased in the memories of those who saw it.

Incidentally, mum has the same reaction to Escape to Witch Mountain. She has minimal interest in watching Doctor Who, but keeps harassing me about a particular episode which she recalls through the same creepy childhood mist. Her predominant memory is of corridors, dark corridors in a military base - although she did recall enough for us to track down the only one it could be. "The Singing Ringing Tree" is another one often associated with childhood trauma. And I'm sure you have your own. But I stray from my point, which was that in absence of a solid version, our own ideas start to influence the story as it exists.

Robert Rodriguez plays with it in Planet Terror by deliberately inserting a "Missing Reel" card, then jumping to twenty minutes later in the movie with no explanation. Characters have been killed or injured, buildings damaged, whole situations changed. Tarantino, in one of the many pre-Grindhouse interviews, describes a film he saw when this actually happened, and which he was always dying to know. Eventually, with fame, time and cash, he managed to dig one up - and it wasn't half as interesting as the speculation. It happened with "Tomb of the Cybermen", which people raved about for years as the lost gem of Doctor Who - a real classic. Then it was found, and everyone discovered it was really rather ordinary after all. It led to a pretty effective quip on Tachyon TV webzine, "The BBC have found Episode 7 of The Daleks Masterplan. However, it's so embarrassing they've wiped it again." In another place they suggest: "The BBC have announced that the final three episodes of the new Doctor Who series will be destroyed before they are even transmitted. A BBC statement said: "For the fans who complain that the series isn't as good as it was in the 60's and 70's, we will be wiping the final three episodes as soon as they leave the edit suite. This way fans can debate whether they were ever any good or not for years". Losing things gives them an epic status - and this is because memory takes over.

I warned you I had a hangup about this. People often refer to these times as a "throwaway lifestyle" - temporary communications through email, temporary fame through TV or the web, using items designed for temporary use. What no one points out is that now we're saving more than ever before. Take your favourite DVD - chances are it'll have deleted scenes, maybe even a blooper reel. You can order Through the Dragon's Eye on video - other vigilantes have copied their copies, and buy them through eBay. Day of the Daleks has survived, been released by the BBC, and so my mum can resolve her bizzare memories. Amazon, ebay and the rest allow you to contact people who have what you look for - myriad file formats, and the technology to muck around with them in the home gives us a greater flexibility. Look at those 60s Doctor Who fans, who recorded the episode as best they could with an audio tape recorder and a microphone - creating the only surviving evidence. We can record onto video, Skybox, a HDD player, transfer it to DVD, download it off the iPlayer or even, for those of flexible moral standards, various illegal methods of preservation. In the medieval times, few people were rich enough to have books - they were rare luxuries, which had to be hand copied at great expense. Ever seen medieval chained libraries - like something out of Harry Potter- where the books are in heavy wooden boxes, literally chained to the shelves to preserve them? How many books do you have in your house? We have the National Film archive, and a library under the British Museum with a copy of every book ever written. The BBC have even apologetically set up a detailed tribute website so you can reconstruct what's gone, and Blue Peter are offering a life sized Dalek to anyone who can return missing footage.

In such an atmosphere, its unlikely anything will be lost in quite the same way as Metropolis was. And after sinking into a well of despair halfway through, maybe there is some comfort to be found in Arcadia.

"oh Septimus - how can you bear it? All the lost plays of the Athenians!
Two hundred at least by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides - thousands of
poems - Aristotle's own library brought to Egypt by the noodle's ancestors?
How can we sleep for grief?"

"By counting our stock. Seven from Aeschylus, seven from Sophocles, seventeen from Euripides, my lady!"

Because this isn't a record of all the things a careless human race has misplaced, or "put in a safe place" - it's an expression of joy that something has been saved. The rest of Metropolis! Pray, O desparate movie buffs, pray that unlike "Tomb of the Cybermen" it was as truly worth recovering as everyone has always hoped. And now I'm going to watch some celebratory Through the Dragon's Eye...


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