Lost Films

Discuss films and filmmakers of the 20th century (and even a little of the 19th century). Threads may contain spoilers.
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Tommaso
Joined: Fri May 19, 2006 10:09 am

#51 Post by Tommaso » Tue Oct 09, 2007 2:25 pm

This makes me absolutely speechless. Completely unbelievable, really.

Good to hear that you contacted the right people already, but PLEASE make sure that they have good lawyers or anyhow enough authority to get this thing into the right hands. The more official and 'governmental', the better. If the US people can't handle it rightly, call the BFI or Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung in Germany (who should be informed anyway). This is a matter of not just national importance for the US, but for the rest of the film-loving world as well. Hope whoever takes care of it will see that the print is handled with utmost care and that no studio with commercial interest (Fox or not) will put their fingers in.

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Danny Burk
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#52 Post by Danny Burk » Tue Oct 09, 2007 2:37 pm

A few more thoughts.

Your friend doesn't realize what he's got here. He needs to understand that he shouldn't attempt to project the print! Too risky. And I hope he's not storing nitrate in a room with a heating source, speaking from personal experience of a collection I once went to examine; the owner of the latter stored nitrate a few feet from his furnace!

It's likely that Fox will provide him with a new print in return, if he requests it. That was the offer by MGM (and perhaps nowadays WB, the current rights owner) if anyone were ever to turn up a print of LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT; it would be accepted "no questions asked".

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Matt
Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 12:58 pm

#53 Post by Matt » Tue Oct 09, 2007 3:24 pm

Danny Burk gives some good advice there. I hope I can add a little more...

I'm sorry to say, but all 35mm prints (and negatives and outtakes) are always, always, always the property of the studio unless there has been a specific donation made, in which case it would be documented with a deed of gift or something similar. Your friend should not attempt to sell this print or any other. I would not, however, advise calling up Fox just yet (and yes, if there is no documentation of a donation or deposit, they have every right to come snatch it right out of your friend's hands).

If he wants to do the "right" thing, I would recommend talking to someone at an archives. George Eastman House or UCLA are excellent suggestions, but I would recommend the Academy Film Archive, mainly because I know a few people there and trust them to handle this (call (310) 657-5431 and ask for Mike Pogorzelski). If your friend goes this route, the best he can probably hope for in terms of compensation is an appraisal of the film's worth which he can then deduct from his taxes as a charitable donation. No reputable archives will pay cash for a film of questionable provenance.

I know it will be tempting for your friend to hang on to this film or to sell it (and there is a market out there with lots of cash), but I would appeal to his higher instincts. If this is truly a lost film, I feel he has a moral imperative to get it into an archives as soon as possible.

And yeah, don't project it, whatever you do. I wouldn't even suggest opening the cans. Your friend should also make the acquaintance of a good tax or estate attorney right about now, too.

Finally, as much as we appreciate you sharing your good news with us, I would keep any remaining discoveries quiet for the time being.
Last edited by Matt on Tue Oct 09, 2007 3:49 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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davebert
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#54 Post by davebert » Tue Oct 09, 2007 3:36 pm

I feel like just by reading this and having this whole event take place on a forum I've participated in for many years, I am suddenly participating in cinema history (or at least watching closer on the sidelines than usual). That alone is exciting.

Since you are already in talks with people, I can only wish you and them the best of luck in making a great claim for Art. The prospect of finally seeing this (and other potential finds in the larger collection), even in a damaged print, would be worth the excitement.

I've rarely felt this giddy... and it will be quite the letdown if this doesn't end up panning out, so I suppose I will just stop here.

Good luck!

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tryavna
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#55 Post by tryavna » Tue Oct 09, 2007 3:44 pm

Danny Burk wrote:If this really is a cache of late silent and early sound Fox films, it's anybody's guess what else might be hiding there... some missing John Ford silents, just to make wild speculation.
Not to mention Borzage silents, some of Tom Mix's films, potentially better prints of Howard Hawks' earliest films, etc., etc. There's really no telling how valuable this particular collection can be. And lest anyone feels we're over-reacting, this is precisely the sort of scenario that does indeed turn up long-lost masterpieces, as Michael B. pointed out earlier.

By the way, aren't there a few forum members who live in Washington state, Oregon, and Vancouver? Maybe they should all get together with 125100 and run some sort of covert op. I can just picture it now: a bunch of film geeks dressed in black knit, breaking into the poor old man's building -- all the time communicating via satellite phone with Herr Schreck, who'll be moving flags around a giant table map in his underground lair....

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GringoTex
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#56 Post by GringoTex » Tue Oct 09, 2007 3:57 pm

Apparently, there are other films titled "Four Devils" or "4 Devils" that have been initially mistaken for Murnau's on occasion.

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gubbelsj
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#57 Post by gubbelsj » Tue Oct 09, 2007 4:05 pm

GringoTex wrote:Apparently, there are other films titled "Four Devils" or "4 Devils" that have been initially mistaken for Murnau's on occasion.
I know of the 1913 Russian film Four Devils by pioneering animator Wladislaw Starewicz / Ladislos Starevitch, one of the few live-action films he directed. Others?

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125100
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#58 Post by 125100 » Tue Oct 09, 2007 4:06 pm

By the way I'd just like to say the owner of this collection isn't an ogre keeping these films hidden away. He's just an old guy who probably doesn't realise the importance of what he has. To be honest neither did I until recently so I should have argued more with him to unearth this.

Things have really snowballed now though, I've been in contact with a legal expert in this field who tells me that whoever owns the distribution rights does have a claim but to get it back would be such a legal blackhole it could take years and years of expensive legal action.

Also it is possible people like the AFI and the National Film Archive could get the government to class it as Culturally or Historically significant and have it taken away so with that in mind I've been told not to say anything more until the film's been independently verified and a financial agreement as been reached between it's current owner and whoever has the rights to distribution.

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GringoTex
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#59 Post by GringoTex » Tue Oct 09, 2007 4:10 pm

gubbelsj wrote:
GringoTex wrote:Apparently, there are other films titled "Four Devils" or "4 Devils" that have been initially mistaken for Murnau's on occasion.
I know of the 1913 Russian film Four Devils by pioneering animator Wladislaw Starewicz / Ladislos Starevitch, one of the few live-action films he directed. Others?
There's a 1911 Danish film and a 1932 Indian film.

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tryavna
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#60 Post by tryavna » Tue Oct 09, 2007 4:25 pm

GringoTex wrote:
gubbelsj wrote:
GringoTex wrote:Apparently, there are other films titled "Four Devils" or "4 Devils" that have been initially mistaken for Murnau's on occasion.
I know of the 1913 Russian film Four Devils by pioneering animator Wladislaw Starewicz / Ladislos Starevitch, one of the few live-action films he directed. Others?
There's a 1911 Danish film and a 1932 Indian film.
Were any of them released in the U.S. by Fox, though?

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MichaelB
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#61 Post by MichaelB » Tue Oct 09, 2007 4:29 pm

tryavna wrote:Were any of them released in the U.S. by Fox, though?
The date of 1929 on the documentation eliminates one of the alternative titles, and it's extraordinarily unlikely to be the Starewicz.

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starmanof51
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#62 Post by starmanof51 » Tue Oct 09, 2007 4:40 pm

tryavna wrote:By the way, aren't there a few forum members who live in Washington state, Oregon, and Vancouver? Maybe they should all get together with 125100 and run some sort of covert op. I can just picture it now: a bunch of film geeks dressed in black knit, breaking into the poor old man's building -- all the time communicating via satellite phone with Herr Schreck, who'll be moving flags around a giant table map in his underground lair....
I live in the Seattle area - perhaps it's a dim commentary on my character, but this was the first thing I thought of. Schreck with a table map (and presumably riding crop, monocle optional) had not occurred to me, however.

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125100
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#63 Post by 125100 » Tue Oct 09, 2007 4:48 pm

MichaelB wrote:
tryavna wrote:Were any of them released in the U.S. by Fox, though?
The date of 1929 on the documentation eliminates one of the alternative titles, and it's extraordinarily unlikely to be the Starewicz.
No it must be the Murnau, most of the films I've seen from the collection are early sound musicals like Sunny Side Up, Pre-Code films like Me and My Gal and late silents like Street Angel, 4 Devils fits with the later but I fail to see how the other "Four Devils" would fit in this collection...

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starmanof51
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#64 Post by starmanof51 » Tue Oct 09, 2007 5:09 pm

125100 wrote:most of the films I've seen from the collection are early sound musicals like Sunny Side Up, Pre-Code films like Me and My Gal and late silents like Street Angel, 4 Devils fits with the later
Somebody had a thing for Janet Gaynor.

Roger_Thornhill
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#65 Post by Roger_Thornhill » Tue Oct 09, 2007 8:19 pm

I'm sure someone's already mentioned this but I don't have to time to read the whole thread, if this "lost" film is a silent it's likely it's copyright expired sometime ago according to US copyright law. So, in effect, it'd be in the public domain. I suppose, however, that the studio could renew the rights to lost films in case one did appear. I would check to see if it's still copyrighted if you can.

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Danny Burk
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#66 Post by Danny Burk » Tue Oct 09, 2007 8:28 pm

Roger_Thornhill wrote:I'm sure someone's already mentioned this but I don't have to time to read the whole thread, if this "lost" film is a silent it's likely it's copyright expired sometime ago according to US copyright law. So, in effect, it'd be in the public domain. I suppose, however, that the studio could renew the rights to lost films in case one did appear. I would check to see if it's still copyrighted if you can.
No. In the US, basically anything copyrighted up to and including 1922 is now P.D. After that, it depends on whether it was renewed after the initial 28 year period expired. MOST 20s films of the major studios were renewed (with some obvious exceptions such as PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, THE GENERAL, and others); offhand, I can't think of any 20s Fox films at all that are P.D. While I've not specifically seen reference to FOUR DEVILS, I would be *extremely* surprised if it was not renewed.

At the time when renewal was due (28 years after initial copyright), most 20s films were not considered lost. They were simply neglected by their makers, but normally still renewed to protect possible remake rights and so forth. If they weren't renewed at that time, they became P.D. and cannot be renewed "after the fact" if they were suddenly rediscovered or otherwise decided to contain valuable content.

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#67 Post by Roger_Thornhill » Tue Oct 09, 2007 8:32 pm

Danny Burk wrote:
Roger_Thornhill wrote:I'm sure someone's already mentioned this but I don't have to time to read the whole thread, if this "lost" film is a silent it's likely it's copyright expired sometime ago according to US copyright law. So, in effect, it'd be in the public domain. I suppose, however, that the studio could renew the rights to lost films in case one did appear. I would check to see if it's still copyrighted if you can.
No. In the US, basically anything copyright up to and including 1922 is now P.D. After that, it depends on whether it was renewed after the initial 28 year period expired. MOST 20s films of the major studios were renewed (with some obvious exceptions such as PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, THE GENERAL, and others); offhand, I can't think of any 20s Fox films at all that are P.D. While I've not specifically seen reference to FOUR DEVILS, I would be *extremely* surprised if it was not renewed.

At the time when renewal was due (28 years after initial copyright), most 20s films were not considered lost. They were simply neglected by their makers, but normally still renewed to protect possible remake rights and so forth. If they weren't renewed at that time, they became P.D. and cannot be renewed "after the fact" if they were suddenly rediscovered or otherwise decided to contain valuable content.
No. In the US, basically anything copyright up to and including 1922 is now P.D. After that, it depends on whether it was renewed after the initial 28 year period expired.
Um, yes, that's exactly what I wrote but in a roundabout manner - I mentioned renewing at the end. Every film from that period had expired by now if it wasn't renewed, you say most of them were, so that's reassuring. But can they renew something they don't have? You suggest it's likely to have been renewed but we don't know that for certain. He should look into that.

IF it has expired and wasn't renewed then the studio has no legal right to take it away from the owner of the print. Sad but true.

EDIT:
Bummer, it looks like all copyright registrations prior to Jan. 1, 1978 have to be looked up the old fashion way: going to the Library of Congress or using snail mail for requests or (thankfully) an online form. Maybe the studio will have information on whether they renewed it? Hopefully they did.

I filled out an online request form to get information on 4 Devils' copyright registration and whether or not it was renewed. They claim they'll get back to me in 2 to 5 days. If you get in touch with Fox they'll be able to tell you. If not I'll post what I find out from the Library of Congress.

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Danny Burk
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#68 Post by Danny Burk » Tue Oct 09, 2007 8:59 pm

Roger_Thornhill wrote:Um, yes, that's exactly what I wrote but in a roundabout manner - I mentioned renewing at the end. Every film from that period had expired by now if it wasn't renewed, you say most of them were, so that's reassuring. But can they renew something they don't have? You suggest it's likely to have been renewed but we don't know that for certain. He should look into that.
Not exactly. You suggest that it's likely to be P.D. if it's silent, which is certainly not true of most films copyrighted after 1922. And there are many silents copyrighted after 1922, including FOUR DEVILS, and as I stated, the majority of them were renewed. It's safer to assume that most major-studio silents of the late 20s are NOT P.D. unless proven otherwise.

Of course the copyright can be renewed even if there is no film extant; survival of the film itself has nothing to do with copyright status. Many lost films are still in copyright, e.g. LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT, CASE OF LENA SMITH, THE DRAG NET, to name only a few.

There is a film copyright status book (can't remember the title offhand) that indicates whether a given title was renewed. Generally, a film is P.D. if it doesn't show a renewal, although even this isn't always 100% legally reliable due to omissions, underlying rights, etc. and needs to be checked more thoroughly before it could be considered safe to copy, sell, etc.

Roger_Thornhill
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#69 Post by Roger_Thornhill » Tue Oct 09, 2007 9:20 pm

Danny Burk wrote:
Roger_Thornhill wrote:Um, yes, that's exactly what I wrote but in a roundabout manner - I mentioned renewing at the end. Every film from that period had expired by now if it wasn't renewed, you say most of them were, so that's reassuring. But can they renew something they don't have? You suggest it's likely to have been renewed but we don't know that for certain. He should look into that.
Not exactly. You suggest that it's likely to be P.D. if it's silent, which is certainly not true of most films copyrighted after 1922.
What I tried to suggest in haste is that all those films would've expired by now and it's important to check to see if it's been renewed. Good Lord, we're getting sucked into a pointless discussion of semantics. Maybe we should hit the brakes on that since I'm not disagreeing with you about copryight law.
And there are many silents copyrighted after 1922, including FOUR DEVILS, and as I stated, the majority of them were renewed.
Wouldn't it have had to been renewed in 1956 and again in 1984?
Of course the copyright can be renewed even if there is no film extant; survival of the film itself has nothing to do with copyright status. Many lost films are still in copyright, e.g. LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT, CASE OF LENA SMITH, THE DRAG NET, to name only a few.
Well, that's a relief. I guess the studios can tear that guy a new one if he wants to hold onto it, but judging from a few posts above it looks like he'll cooperate.

Now, I wonder, since it's likely to be still copyrighted would the studio be able to take it away from the owner legally without compensating him? Hypothetically speaking, of course, because I'm sure they'd still give him a little dough.
There is a film copyright status book (can't remember the title offhand) that indicates whether a given title was renewed. Generally, a film is P.D. if it doesn't show a renewal, although even this isn't always 100% legally reliable due to omissions, underlying rights, etc. and needs to be checked more thoroughly before it could be considered safe to copy, sell, etc.
Sounds like an interesting and useful book.

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Matt
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#70 Post by Matt » Tue Oct 09, 2007 9:27 pm

I'll just add another stir to the pot: while content can be public domain, any film print will still be property of the studio that struck it.

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#71 Post by Roger_Thornhill » Tue Oct 09, 2007 9:32 pm

Matt wrote:I'll just add another stir to the pot: while content can be public domain, any film print will still be property of the studio that struck it.
That's fascinating and since it's likely Fox struck the print the issue of renewal is irrelevant, no?

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Danny Burk
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#72 Post by Danny Burk » Tue Oct 09, 2007 9:56 pm

Roger_Thornhill wrote:Wouldn't it have had to been renewed in 1956 and again in 1984?
No, only one renewal period is allowed. Originally, this meant that everything would go P.D. after 56 years. Around 1974, IIRC, the second period was increased to 47 years for those that hadn't already become P.D., making a total of 75 years. And again (late 1990s), thanks to Disney and Sonny Bono, it was increased yet again to 95, which now applies to anything that was copyrighted in 1923 or afterward. That's why everything up to 1922 is now P.D...their copyrights expired in 75 years, but those originally copyrighted in 1923 or afterward (and renewed 28 years later) won't be P.D. until 95 years. So, films of 1928 (such as FOUR DEVILS) won't go P.D. until 1 January, 2024. Unless, of course, the studios (Disney being the major culprit) succeed in getting it extended again.

(Back in the dark ages, I used to be a dealer in silents on video, so I needed to know this stuff.)

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125100
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#73 Post by 125100 » Tue Oct 09, 2007 10:06 pm

Roger_Thornhill wrote:
Matt wrote:I'll just add another stir to the pot: while content can be public domain, any film print will still be property of the studio that struck it.
That's fascinating and since it's likely Fox struck the print the issue of renewal is irrelevant, no?
It's best not to go into this discussion, from what I've been told, there's 100's of arguments for and against who actually owns it, even before you get into the US Statute of Limitations. Also remember copyrights apply to screening, distributing and reproducing not the actually possession of reels.

There's also many legal precedents to say that he's had the reels so long now (40+ years) he can claim legal ownership of the physical film stock making it unconstitutional for them to be just taken. There's also no evidence/reports that Fox's copies were stolen or destroyed by accident whereas there is evidence Fox thought them worthless once "talkies" were established and consciously discarded them. I won't even go into the issue of it possibly being legitimately given to or purchased by the previous owner from Fox for his/her private use.

I'm certain the guy will do the right thing and give it up but since he's preserved it, all be it unknowingly, for 40 years surely he's entitled to remuneration?

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davebert
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#74 Post by davebert » Tue Oct 09, 2007 10:26 pm

125100 wrote:I'm certain the guy will do the right thing and give it up but since he's preserved it, all be it unknowingly, for 40 years surely he's entitled to remuneration?
Hell yeah, I'll buy him a case of beer and a full cake!

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domino harvey
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#75 Post by domino harvey » Tue Oct 09, 2007 10:34 pm

What's better, a couple thousand bucks, or going down in history as having saved a lost film for future generations? Even if his name isn't known, his actions will essentially be his legacy.

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