I have been fascinated by the concept of lost media since I was 16. I was a film buff for years even up to that point, had just gotten around to checking out Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, and read about his planned follow-up, The Magnificent Ambersons. That led down a rabbit hole which took me to Greed (1924), The Thief and the Cobbler (1995), Bio Force Ape and The Day the Clown Cried among others. I remember we had to write a poem in English class that year, about any topic we wanted, and I chose this. 😛 (The next year I would discover the Beach Boys’ SMiLE (partially lost and at that time, unreleased) and that kicked off a whole new obsession in its own right.)
Lost Media isn’t just a matter of historical preservation for me. Being a ’90s kid, with Nickelodeon’s abysmal treatment of the shows which made it a household name, this crusade to save the past is often personal. Some of my all-time favorite nostalgic programs are gone or severely hard to find thanks to the carelessness of the rights holders. I’ll get into some specific examples in a follow up post, but for right now as a quick example, I will reiterate what I’ve said before: Clarissa Explains It All deserves to be released in its entirety. I should not have had to resort to buying a bootleg DVD set of bad-VHS quality recordings to be able to enjoy one of my favorite shows, something that played a monumental role in making me who I am. It’s disrespectful to both the past creators and audience which made them huge when Nickelodeon does this crap.
Even beyond all that though, there’s something truly compelling about the unknown. I’ve heard many people also say that there’s a creepy (and subsequently alluring) feeling connected to lost media. I believe it’s at least partially due to the fear of the unknown in general, the idea that this work you’re about to see could contain anything, it hasn’t been “vetted” by others. It’s the concept that something which so many people worked hard on could just go missing (and in many cases, be forgotten) so relatively quickly. You wonder how and why everyone involved let this happen. Why didn’t the rights holders take action to preserve their property when there was still time? Why doesn’t the director or someone intimately involved in the production speak out and bring attention to the fact that their work isn’t available–or leak it themselves? It evokes the suspicion that what you’re looking for has been purposefully hidden rather than carelessly neglected, as if there’s something wrong with it to warrant being locked away. That in turn makes you feel like watching someone’s embarrassing memory or taboo thoughts.
To best illustrate what I mean by this, consider Uccidere in Silenzio. It’s not lost, but very close to it. It certainly took a lot of tracking down and every piece of media associated with it is extremely limited quantities and poorly preserved. The film begins suddenly, with none of the logos or promos we’re used to seeing in home media, almost like it’s a censored bootleg whom nobody wanted to be associated with. The picture quality is terrible, like watching someone’s intimate old home movies you weren’t meant to see, or finding an unknown, unlabeled tape in Grandma’s attic and unsure of what to expect. There are scenes like the opening with the toddler alone, naked, in a dark shopping mall among the staring mannequins which seem so bizarre. It straddles the line between a whimsical childhood sentiment and a creepy unexplained found footage. There’s something about all these little details at once that makes it somewhat unsettling to watch–at least the first time when you don’t know what’s around the corner. That’s the promise of lost media–anything can happen because nobody knows what’s going to be on the tape. That’s part of the fun, the idea of delving into the void with no way to know what you’re going to get should your search prove successful.
Categorizing Lost Media
This is my own way of classifying different types of lost media. It seems important, for me, to differentiate between something where the last known copy is unambiguously gone, or it’s just unavailable but very likely still exists in a vault somewhere.
- Red (Truly Lost): The last/only known copies have been discarded or irreparably destroyed (in many cases, because of a vault fire), and no one with authority, either on the production or archival of the media in question, can account for any others. Anyone who still has a copy is either unaware of the treasure in their attic or for whatever reason has chosen not to come forward to declare its existence.
- Orange (Unaccounted For): This category includes everything that’s never been officially released on home media but was shown in theaters or aired on TV. It can also include things that were definitively created but never meant for public exhibition. (Like a workprint, unaired pilot or project cancelled partway through.) In either scenario, the media in question may not be officially regarded as lost in the sense that no copies exist, but for all practical purposes it’s not available to the public. It’s possible or even likely the production company has a copy in their vaults but we can’t be sure.
- Yellow (Out of Print): This category includes anything that was released in some form of home media but only once and/or in limited quantities. Usually this means something that had a VHS or Laserdisc run but was never imported to any newer format. Or it may mean something that was available on some digital vendor (like iTunes for example) but then taken off and never put on any physical media. Copies may still exist in the company’s vaults or a private collection somewhere but it’s hard if not impossible for most people to access anymore.
- Green (Precipitous): Media that isn’t lost but very easily could be in the near future. This may include anything that only exists on a YouTube video or website, which time has shown can be taken offline at any time. It may also include the workprint or sole surviving print of a film or TV show which exists in only a single known copy that hasn’t had safety copies made.
- Blue (Ubiquitous): Media that is widely distributed and available to the public via home media releases, streaming and has been backed up by preservationists. These are the pieces of media which we can reliably assume are safe for the near future. (Think the Marvel series or a beloved QT film.)
- Purple (Speculative): Media that may or may not physically exist, or have even been made. This includes projects that were in development but cancelled early on, possibly before anything was even filmed/coded. It can also include media which may be a hoax or misunderstanding, like Polybius and Yeah Yeah Beebis I.
In my experience with things like this, when it comes to media in the Orange and Yellow categories, it’s usually a combination of the people who made it (or currently have access) not owning the rights to release or distribute any longer. Otherwise, it’s often inertia/forgetting it exists, not seeing a profit in releasing it, or being embarrassed by it. Maybe they personally are unaware of the search* for something they no longer hold any regard for. Maybe they honestly forget they made it because they do so much random work in film. Maybe they’re contractually obligated not to discuss it for whatever reason. It’s usually a combination of stupid legal bullshit and just the simple fact that often nobody cares outside of us on the Lost Media Wiki with these things. In the case of small independent projects, like Uccidere in Silenzio, it’s probably that the owners don’t have the money to spend transferring their little film to newer media, especially when it was unsuccessful in its initial release and probably will be again. I know these are unexciting scenarios but it’s precisely the fact that they’re the simplest explanations which don’t require some bizarre theory of the artist going crazy or some big shady conspiracy to keep a piece of benign media hidden for no reason that makes them plausible. This is my explanation for why the makers/rights-holders for Cracks (aka “Crack Master” — one of the most infamous pieces of Lost Media online) were so reluctant to release their work despite the concerted effort find it.
*This was the case for the “Clock Man” short, another infamous search effort on the Lost Media Wiki. It had been hiding in plain sight the whole time, on YouTube, just under a different name than we had expected. I remember reading the YouTube comments and smiling at how touched the uploader/owner was by the amount of attention their short was suddenly receiving.
And now, here are some of the searches for Lost (or Unaccounted For) Media which I personally took part in.
Cry Baby Lane
I had been trying to get a copy of Cry Baby Lane for years, and this particular effort predated my knowledge of the Wiki or my fascination with the concept of Lost Media in general. I just knew that I had seen this scary film on Nickelodeon one Halloween, when I was in second grade. It really affected me at the time. I vividly recall being too scared even to get up from the couch and turn it off, too scared to turn around lest those horrible pupil-less eyes might be staring back at me. So I just let it play on, sat stunned even for awhile after it had ended, then ran upstairs as quickly as I could.* The next day, Cry Baby Lane was all I could think about, and I remember visualizing the evil twin and his white-eyed minions for a week or two afterwards. I recall it had been hyped on the channel for at least a few days prior to its airing but, unusually for Nick, there was no encore screening. It never played again, and for a few years I sort of forgot about it.
*ASIDE: I also distinctly recall there was one commercial just as scary as the film itself, with like a blonde woman in the woods who’s trying to walk her way home. I can’t remember what on Earth the commercial was advertising but it ended with her saying “Forget it, I’m getting a taxi!” This commercial must have aired right after the movie had ended because it hasn’t surfaced even on versions with the original commercials intact.
Once or twice during the mid-2000s I would get the urge to comb through the internet and try to find any videos, or even just discussions about the film with other people who remembered it. What frustrated my efforts for a long time was that I didn’t remember the name of the damn thing! I tried searching plot details and thought the title was “Someone Wants to Meet You” after a phrase I distinctly remembered hearing in the movie. Eventually, I did find the real title when looking through a list of Nickelodeon original TV movies on Wikipedia. From then on, I saw there was only one 3 minute clip inexplicably posted to YouTube but the user never answered questions of how they got the footage and if they could upload the whole thing. There was a terrible creepypasta filled with misinformation which did a lot to muddy the waters and cause people to disbelieve the film was even real. (I distinctly remember some jackass online telling me CBL never existed and I was lying about seeing it. There’s nothing more frustrating than having your lived experiences doubted for no reason by some smug SOB.) I saw a search on 4chan that was active but making no real progress. There were some discussions on various forums which seemed to answer my question of why the film had never been shown again–it was so scary parents complained. One person even said–I’ll never forget–“this film wasn’t just banned for scaring kids, it scared their parents too!” At the time, none of this felt like hyperbole to me, I remembered being so terrified by the movie myself I was willing to believe these kinds of rumors.
It was several years later when, for whatever reason, the film came to my attention again. This time, as I combed the internet in vain once more, I found some musical clips on the composer’s website and actually created my YouTube account specifically to post them. I decided it might be a good idea to write a Wikipedia page for the film–I was hoping an “official source” as opposed to vague murmurings on forums might help finally bring some attention to it. Admittedly my article was far from objective, intentionally playing up the dramatic aspects of the whole thing to make the story seem more interesting. (And oh boy, the wiki-police, especially a user named KingTurtle really gave me hell for my methodology, let me tell you.) In any case, the endeavor succeeded in its true intended purpose beyond my wildest dreams. A few days later, my article made the front page of Reddit, went viral, and led to a user named firesaladpeach uploading her old VHS copy to the web. I had never imagined when I wrote the essay that it would get the ball rolling so quickly. My only regret with how it all turned out was that people were rude to firesaladpeach when she took awhile to get around to uploading the video, so much so that she deleted her reddit account and never spoke publicly about the matter again. That, and it would have been nice to have gotten some acknowledgement from redditors and the media for my own contribution towards Cry Baby Lane‘s rediscovery.
Anyway, while I’m glad it was found, the sad truth is the film did not live up to the hype at all. Not only was CBL decidedly un-scary, but it flat out sucked even just as a story. I wasn’t expecting to be terrified again, but I figured there would be some creepy moments at least. There was hope that it might live up to expectations when firesaladpeach uploaded two clips to tide us over while she converted the VHS to digital. These scenes, the intro and first sighting of the evil twin, seemed to live up to the promise of a genuinely scary (for kids) movie. Unfortunately, everything else was as bland as a bad episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark. We didn’t even get a satisfying explanation from Nick, even after they played the film off as a hoax for years anytime someone contacted them directly about it. The emails proving this were taken down from the Wikipedia and swept under the rug by the internet conversations in the proceeding weeks. Then the network reaired it on Halloween and got to act like the hero for “listening to the fans.” I found the whole thing to be very cynical and distasteful on Nick’s part; if we hadn’t found it by illicit means, CBL never would have seen the light of day ever again and people like me spreading the word would have been dismissed as liars.
Overall, I’m glad that it apparently made the director, Peter Lauer, happy to see the film get a second wave of attention. I was proud an article I’d written briefly captivated the internet. Finally, the film just so happened to get leaked literally the night before I left for college, which seemed like a poetic “closing the door on my childhood” moment. So that was kinda cool. All the same, Cry Baby Lane is a bad movie that didn’t live up to expectations and the most interesting thing about it is that it was lost for 11 years in the first place. In the absence of an official explanation from Nickelodeon, I will offer my theory on what happened. I believe the reason why this film went missing must be that Nick executives didn’t like it and/or Mr. Lauer rubbed somebody high up on the chain of command the wrong way. They probably aired it once out of a contractual obligation but did no more than legally required (the film wasn’t advertised in Nick Magazine nor dubbed in any other language.) After they fulfilled their legal obligation, the network buried CBL with the intention it be quietly forgotten. All pesky internet discussions were dismissed as liars and creepypasta (and the actual creepypasta based on this film sure didn’t help our credibility.) That’s my speculation, anyway–fortunately they didn’t count on the dedication we obsessed nostalgic teenagers are capable of.
Just for Kicks
I’ve talked about this show in-depth before and the circumstances of my rediscovering it. This one didn’t require any in-depth detective work or persuasive writing to save like the others, it was just a matter of me being a hormonal teenager in the right place at the right time. I happened to have purchased a copy in the brief window it was available on iTunes, then saw it was considered lost on the internet 10 years later and shared my footage with YouTube. Nickelodeon cares so little about JFK that to this day they haven’t copyright-flagged my videos. My theory for why this one went missing is that 2006 is when Cyma Zarghami (who is a notoriously terrible executive) took over Nickelodeon. I suspect this show had been greenlit by her predecessor, she didn’t like it and killed it after taking command. (Though, given her abysmal track record of cancelling good shows before their time, maybe it just wasn’t pulling Spongebob numbers immediately like the rest of her victims.)
Any avid followers of my blog know by now that I’m a political history and science buff who’s so fanatical I’ve seen every major debate and speech. It’s not always the most fun subject in the world but it’s important to understand the nation’s history on our own terms without the spin which news media adds in their summations. The problem is a lot of older debates and speeches cannot be found. Not on CSPAN.com, YouTube or anywhere else. You would think this stuff would be well-preserved since it’s our history…but it isn’t. I’m honestly shocked to see there is not an effort anywhere to raise awareness and find any of this material either. CSPAN only reliably goes back to the ’70s when it was created, and while they have some stuff from earlier decades, there are many gaps in their catalog. There are a few other sources which archive some of these speeches/debate but usually just in text. And while some of these aggregates are fantastic, they always fall short in something, and they’re usually just limited to media that pertains to the President and little else.
Here are some of the most significant gaps in the US political record which I’ve noticed in the course of my research. I’m sure there’s much more unaccounted for that I’m not aware of:
- Many old conventions from the two major parties cannot be found in their entirety.
- The primary debate between LBJ and JFK in 1960 is missing.
- The primary debate between McCarthy and RFK in 1968 can only be found in audio, the video is unaccounted for except a few short clips.
- The primary debates from 1972, chiefly between McGovern and Humphrey, only exist in written transcripts. The video is missing except for a few short clips.
- The 1948 VP candidates’ convention speeches (from both parties) exist only in very short fragments.
- The 1952 VP candidates’ convention speeches from both parties cannot be found anywhere in their entirety.
- Thomas Dewey’s nomination speech at the 1948 convention exists only in a short fragment.
- Ted Kennedy’s keynote address at the 1972 convention cannot be found.
- Eugene McCarthy’s convention speech advocating for the nomination of Adlai Stevenson over JFK in 1960 cannot be found.
- George McGovern’s speech at the 1984 convention exists only in a short fragment. While CSPAN claims to have the full convention for this cycle, their footage seems to be based on an old VHS tape. It cuts out at some points, and cuts in abruptly towards the end of this particular speech.
^It’s frustrating getting invested in certain candidates/politicians from the past, like McCarthy or McGovern, and wanting to see everything they did, only to discover that a lot of it is nowhere to be found online. It’s really sad that such important artifacts of our heritage could go missing. I think most people don’t give it a second thought because they assume the government itself, or CSPAN or something, would have all this backed up somewhere and easily viewable. Before I went digging for all these old speeches and debates, I assumed the same. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. There isn’t even an official government YouTube channel, or some historical society taking on the role of preservation to catalog all this stuff into uniform playlists for the public–I had to do that myself, on my own YouTube channel! It really blows my mind that nobody had done so already.
Below is an extensive list of all missing primary debates, based on my cross-index of this list (the most comprehensive I could find) with what I was able to rip from CSPAN and copy to YouTube. (Fortunately, the general election debates have survived intact.)
The Filmography of Giuseppe Rolando
So, again, I’ve talked about my wild ride researching Uccidere in Silenzio earlier on this blog. To summarize, while the film isn’t exactly lost, it’s obscure as hell and it will be lost soon without extensive restoration work on any usable prints that may still exist. Not only that, but the filmography of its director, Giuseppe Rolando is still largely unaccounted for, with only a few screenshots to prove even half of them still exist and no physical evidence for others.
As best I can determine, this is Giuseppe Rolando’s complete filmography and each entry’s current preservation status. I am going to assume his production company, Novarolfilm, (now under the care of his son) has no clean master prints to donate/upload until they get back to me to confirm. (And as of the publishing of this blog post, many weeks later…they still have not responded to my inquiries.)
(According to one source he worked on this, but according to another he didn’t direct and if he had some minor role in the production I couldn’t find it. I couldn’t easily find the film itself either, although admittedly I didn’t do as comprehensive of a search for this one. It’s production date is earlier than when Rolfilm was established, in 1959. I suspect this may be a faulty credit, or he was just some kind of minor assistant or something.)
1959: Sotto il cielo di San Marcer
(Besides Nova Rolfilm’s own website I could find only one additional source corroborating that this movie ever even existed. It seems it was shot on 8mm and was probably more of a “proof of concept” film for Rolando, it may not have even been publicly screened.)
1960: Appuntamento in paradiso
(All I found were screencaps but the movie itself is not coming up in English or Italian Google searches nor DuckDuckGo.)
1965: Suor Anna Rosa
(I found references to this in some film aggregates and sites but no physical proof of its existence.)
1966: L’albero verde
(All I found were screencaps but the movie itself is not coming up in English or Italian Google searches nor DuckDuckGo.)
1969: Tralci di una terra forte
(The whole film has been uploaded to YouTube.)
1972: Uccidere in Silenzio
(I found four vendors selling the film, two in hand-me-down VHS’ from the ’80s, one in the form of bootleg DVDs/downloads and another as a 16mm film print. I found the soundtrack on CD, several posters from 3 different countries, screencaps and a newspaper ad. The problem is my/DVDLady’s print is in bad shape, the two vendors selling 40 year old VHS tapes are almost certainly as bad or worse, and we can’t be sure of the 16mm’s quality.)
I could find no physical proof of this film’s existence and only like two film aggregate sites mention it. I eventually found the IMDb through a roundabout means but for some reason the film’s IMDb page never came up with a direct Google search, probably because the date given in other sources is incorrectly listed as ’73. It does not appear to have been directed by Mr. Rolando after all but it was produced by Rolfilm, his production company.)
1987: Giovanni, il ragazzo del sogno
(The whole film is uploaded to YouTube in several parts. This seems to have been a direct to video film.)
1988: Laura un amore così grande
(The whole film has been uploaded to YouTube. This seems to have been a direct to video film.)
2005: Juan, el chico del sueño
(I could find no physical evidence this movie still exists and its production date is after the year Novarolfilm lists as Mr. Rolando’s year of death, 2001. It may have been posthumous.)
^I cannot stress enough, this is the only site on the cached internet where this man’s entire known filmography has been painstakingly cataloged in its entirety. (Well, here and the Lost Media Wiki.) I suspect there may be a few more Rolando projects out there somewhere I missed; notice the gap between Simona and Giovanni for example.
Now as far as why this man’s filmography has largely gone missing, the reason is clear. He was a small scale, independent filmmaker whose work probably never played in many (if any) cinemas and was eventually forgotten. It seems likely that Uccidere in Silenzio is the only commercially released/close-to-mainstream film he made and it did not make the impact it was expected to. I get the impression his son’s production company doesn’t want to talk about Giuseppe’s films for whatever reason; it’s been almost two months and I still never heard back from my friendly request for info.
The Most Obscure Film I’ve Yet to Encounter
There’s a movie called Penis from 1965, and it is probably the single most enigmatic film I’ve stumbled upon in my life. The IMDb page is almost completely barren: just the directors name (AJ Rose Jr), a confusing plot synopsis that differs across sources, less than 70 votes* and two obvious joke reviews. There are a few film aggregates and an American Film Institute catalog that mention its existence but otherwise no screencaps, footage, detailed information, music or posters to corroborate its existence. A reddit user has made several attempts to find a copy which is how I heard of it.
*Uccidere in Silenzio has the least votes I’ve ever seen at 11 (!) but it’s likely Penis only has more because of the title. There’s certainly far less information about it or physical proof of its existence. I imagine a couple bored teens probably typed a “naughty” word into the search bar and found it by mistake.
A big problem that compounds this film’s obscurity is the fact that its title is a single, commonly used word. Another is that its director shares the name of some football player. That means the only way to filter out the noise is to use both terms in your search “AJ Rose Jr” and “Penis 1965.” That comes up with just a handful of results on Google. In any case, here’s everything I’ve found thus far:
- A Published Book from the American Film Institute circa 1997 which mentions Penis in its index.
- A foreign film aggregate site with an entry for the movie.
- An entry on Movie Chat forums.
- An entry on film web.
- Yet another foreign film aggregate site with an entry for it.
- Blog post claiming to offer a download–which doesn’t work.
- A Turner Classic Movies Listing.
- Additional film aggregate corroborating its existence, though frustratingly with no additional info.
I contacted AFI directly myself since that’s one of our only leads. I asked if they had any more information on this film and if they knew of the existence of any prints. I did hear back from them and while they unfortunately told me they no longer archive “sex films” they were able to provide me the information in their database. It’s not much but there was at least one important revelation–the film was originally released in 1965 as a 45 minute short called Penis before being recut to 29 minutes and rereleased in 1967 as, wait for it, 1967.
Another poster on the Lost Media Wiki took the initiative to contact the Film Makers’ Cooperative and confirmed they have the shortened 1967 version in their archives. It’s currently unclear if there is more than one print for safety, or if it’s been digitized. Right now we just know of this lone 16mm print they have which they’re renting for $100. That still leaves the cut 16 minutes from the original version unaccounted for, and we currently have no idea what quality this particular print is in.