Lost Media (2/3) My “Holy Grails” (Audio-Visual)

So, in the last section, I discussed what lost media means to me, how I came to be acquainted with the topic and works which I’ve helped save or at least bring attention to. In this and the following sections, I’m going to discuss specific examples of lost art which I hope are found someday and why they’re important to me. Some of the entries I’m going to provide are already well known, others aren’t. This essay will pertain to audio-visual media, the follow-up will deal with the written word.

TV/Nickelodeon

It’s a blessing and a curse to be a 90’s kid growing up on Nick. It gave me some really thought-provoking programming that I credit with stimulating my imagination and forming my personality. On the other hand, this network is so careless towards the fans who made it big, so cruel to its creators past and present, that I really hate to support them sometimes. They refuse to let the work which built their audience find a new home among the next generation via streaming or DVD. And that, in its own small way, is a real tragedy, because those shows meant a lot to me and I know they could mean a lot to others if given the chance. Luckily, a lot of the more iconic programs from back in the day, like Rocko’s Modern Life, The Angry Beavers and the first three seasons of Rugrats have been preserved online by dedicated fans and eventually released on made-to-order DVD in their entirety. Unfortunately a few gems have managed to fall through the cracks. Some of them, like Legends of the Hidden Temple and KaBlam, to this day have not been released in their entirety on home media or streaming but have managed to survive thanks to internet archival and illicit bootlegs. Other programs haven’t been so lucky…

Eureeka’s Castle

This is one of, maybe the, most obscure and poorly preserved of Nickelodeon’s “golden age” shows (which is an era I date to about ’91 through ’97.) This is surprising too, because it wasn’t some obscure program that got taken off the air quickly. No, Eureeka’s Castle was actually one of Nick’s first big hits complete with merchandising, 90 episodes produced and it aired in reruns for a decade. I actually got invested in this series–mostly its endearingly sweet protagonist–all over again as I watched the few surviving episodes online in preparation for this essay. I ended up having so much more to say than I’d originally planned that I had to spin it off into a dedicated blog post.

This is another one of my favorite individual skits. I love the way Eureeka talks directly to the camera ala Mr. Rogers or Clarissa Darling. The voice Cheryl Blaylock uses when addressing the young audience is just so adorable! This is the only surviving instance of Eureeka breaking the fourth wall in any of the available episodes and I couldn’t find out in my research if it was a common occurrence in the series or not.

All That

This show, man…

I think it most perfectly encapsulated the fun, zanny humor kids enjoy. If Clarissa had the best lead character, and Kenan and Kel had the best scripts, then All That completes my trifecta of favorite live action Nick shows by being the most fun. Whenever I watched this program, it never felt like a bunch of clueless adults pandering to kids with what they thought we might like, it felt like what you’d get if me and my childhood friends had been given the green light to just make our own show. It had slapstick (Coach Kreaton, Repair Man), mocking authority figures (Miss Piddlin, Loud Librarian), absurdity (Dear Ashley, Vital Information) and playing off pop media which kids see on TV all the time (Super Dude, Cooking with Randy and Mandy.) But my favorites tended to be the one-offs, like “The Wizard of Cos” and this other one I could never find more information about, where Kenan and Josh Server were a bunch of smug dorks on a double date. Something about the theme song, especially later seasons when the cast did a mock red carpet entrance all dressed up, made it feel like All That wasn’t just another series, it was an event.

With All That, part of the issue with finding it online comes from the title, composed of two generic words used in common conversation. This isn’t helped by the recent revival which takes up a lot of hits in any Google search. One of the biggest complications regarding availability is the musical guest stars and copyright hell which always comes with that. (The irony is I always hated the musical numbers even as a kid, and to this day I maintain that All That would have been better without them.) On Amazon, most of the well-regarded Nick shows are available on DVD but this is one of the few (along with Clarissa which I’m still pissed about) that has been relegated to Prime Video “best of” playlists which only preserve 1/3 of the episodes from each season. This is one of, maybe the, single most iconic series in Nickelodeon history sans SpongeBob. The fact that you still can’t get the whole thing anywhere is insane.

Wienerville

So. this is one series that I never once saw on Nick and have zero memories of whatsoever. And to be brutally honest, going from the few clips I’ve seen online, it’s far from my cup of tea. But I do still feel an investment towards its rediscovery and the reason is simple. Wienerville may be the single weirdest show to have ever aired on the Nickelodeon, and considering this network gave us Cousin Skeeter, that’s saying a lot. I mean…just look at it. What the fuck is this? I don’t mean that as an insult, but a compliment. I love bizarre media in this vein, even if it does nothing for me personally. Every wacky show that pushes the envelope, or makes people wonder what the hell they’re watching, is in some sense a triumph of the medium. I also just have to admire the low-budget, nothing-to-lose chutzpah it takes not only to create something like this, but (from the network’s POV) to produce it.

This is the kind of programming only a struggling channel would ever take a chance on, as they throw everything they can get at the wall to see what sticks. It reeks of individuality as well as dedication to the craft and for that it has my undying respect. It’s the same kind of low budget passion which made the early days of YouTube so special. We will never ever see something like this on a basic cable network ever again, not with the consolidation of media by the wealthy, corporatized rule-by-committee decision making and the modern trend to play it safe. It could only have come from Nick’s messy, flying-by-the-seat-of-their-pants early 90’s period. In that sense, it’s a perfect time capsule of what made the network so wonderful back when I was growing up.

I would hazard a guess that the reason Weinerville has never been officially released, and many episodes have never reaired since the 90’s, is because Nick is ashamed of it. Not that it’s bad, but it’s low budget and a product of its time in a way that many other Nick classics are not. I would imagine when Nickelodeon tries to attract creative talent, investors and media accolades they want people to associate them with polished hits like SpongeBob, not B-tier oddities like this. For my money, I say they ought to embrace their humble roots; it’s a big part of the charm which 90’s kids loved them for.

Face (Nick Jr) Bumpers

The cool thing about Nickelodeon back in the 90’s was that even the commercials could be fun. You had the Pete and Pete shorts which would eventually get spun off into a series, singing fruits and stop motion dinosaurs. That iconic jingle which would play before shows aired was a masterpiece of the wacky “anything goes” atmosphere Nick perfectly embodied back then. The iconic splat logo would feature in almost every bumper in those days, in as many different shapes as one could imagine. It was messy, it was creative, it could be whatever you wanted it to be…in that regard the “splat” was the perfect symbol of childhood fun. (Nick would eventually replace that signature graphic with its current sanitized, boring, corporate iteration which defeats the whole purpose of its founding principles and spirit.)

Nick Jr had some excellent bumpers too. I remember sometimes they would go on for as long as the shows themselves. I doubt I’ll ever see any of them again, but a few stick out to me all these years later. I remember one which had an animated fly or mosquito who was voiced by a girl and she flew around a fire station and explained how everything worked. Another featured two cartoon characters who went on a truncated adventure that ended with them playing music out the back of a truck headed to Timbuktu. Finally, one was a real life little girl showing some drawings she did of a witch and cartoon girl. The witch told the girl “you’re not gonna get any candy!” and then a boy came to stand up for the girl and said “give her some candy right now!” It was very cute, and at least as far as I recall, the real life girl came up with the drawing and story herself.

The most recurrent and memorable of these Nick Jr bumpers though, was Face. The mascot for Nick Jr, this disembodied, bouncy, multi-colored, talking proto-emoji would introduce and sign off on every individual show during the programming block. As a 90’s kid, I always just took Face for granted. He exists, he’s not strange, he’s my televised childhood friend. He makes a trumpeting sound anytime he says the network’s name. He has a cute voice and imaginative personality. It was only after seeing my very much older boyfriend’s reaction to the Face bumpers while watching the Eureeka’s Castle YouTube uploads that I appreciated just how bizarre of a mascot he really was. (I mean that in a good way, of course–nobody could ever not love Face.)

I promise, I’ve grown out of the college-aged “whoa dude, everyone look at me, I do (soft/non-addictive) drugs, I’m cool!” phase many years ago. But a sativa-heavy blend of weed still has a legit function outside of its youth-rebellion status symbol. It can also help you look at familiar things in a new and more analytical light, and in many cases this has made me appreciate art I previously took for granted a lot more, from Clarissa to Empire Strikes Back and Femina Ridens. So, with that context in mind, I’d really like to get stoned and watch a marathon of Face bumpers. Again, I’m not saying this to get a cheap laugh at the expense of corrupting innocent children’s media but like…isn’t this just the perfect media to accompany that state of mind? In any case, stoned or not, I could watch these things for hours, but only so many survive online and unlike a TV series, they will almost certainly never be released officially or in their entirety.

Film

Besides the well known entries which I alluded to in the previous essay of this series, these are my holy grails of the cinema.

The Great Gatsby

When it comes to the silent era, of which anywhere from 70% to 90% of all films are currently lost, I most want to see the first cinematic adaptation of The Great Gatsby. The novel is a masterpiece because of its beautiful prose, and I’ve avoided watching the other three adaptations so as not to spoil my image of the story. (I did accidentally catch a few minutes of the 40’s version’s climax and it was awful–mostly due to rewriting the story to conform to the moralism of the time. But I digress.) However, it would be interesting to see how a silent, pre-Hayes Code era movie might adapt the more grisly aspects of the narrative. And the “dialogue cards” would be a nice way to preserve at least some of that prose while putting picture to words. These brief glimpses of the movie, which survive in the trailer, are very tantalizing indeed. I could feel the tension in the Jay Gatsby/Tom Buchanan standoff even just in that one second fragment. And the thought of a silent era cue card reading “they’re a rotten crowd! You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together!” or “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future which year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then but that’s no matter, tomorrow we will run faster, stretch our arms out further. And one fine morning– And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past,” fills me with a glee that only a literature fangirl can know.

I love how this trailer incorporates the iconic “face” cover of the novel with the eyes shown during the title cards. That image is just so beautiful and I love it.

Him

From the post-talkie era, the one lost film that interests me most is the mysterious gay Jesus-themed porno from 1974 known only as Him. Little is known about its contents except that it involved an unnamed protagonist who’s erotically fixated on the son of man. In terms of specific content, there are vague references to a scene where a modern day man confesses his sexual infatuation towards Jesus to a priest who masturbates in the confession booth. Then we have some surviving publicity shots of, apparently, Jesus in the modern day reenacting his crucifixion–probably a fantasy of the unnamed protagonist. I’m sure this movie is probably terrible and doesn’t live up to the infinitely inflammatory subject matter, but how could anyone not be interested all the same? Even if it is awful, something like this has the potential to be another The Room or Manos given its brazen premise.

This is one of those pieces of media which just makes you wonder how the hell it got made, how it didn’t provoke massive controversy ala Deep Throat, and how it could be forgotten given the unbelievable plot. This one is also particularly interesting because of the circumstances of its search. The very same book (The Golden Turkey Awards, which mocked its uniquely unerotic premise in porn) that saved it from total obscurity also made people write it off as a hoax when it was still recent enough to have been rediscovered and preserved. This is because TGTA claimed that one film in the book was fake, and nobody could believe something like a gay Jesus porno was real. It wasn’t until the 2000s when newspaper ads surfaced online which proved Him‘s existence once and for all.

This was my small contribution to the ongoing search. I found this particular newspaper clipping.

Oil and Vinegar

There are a lot of films where work began on the script, production, or even filming but they were never completed. Hitchcock’s Kaleidoscope, Kubrick’s Napoleon biopic and Orson Welles’ Don Quixote are some good examples of this. But my favorite of these unfinished would-be masterpieces has to be Oil and Vinegar by John Hughes. It’s true that some of his 80’s films haven’t aged super-well (Sixteen Candles plays date rape for laughs, as an example) but for the most part, they were some of the best screenplays ever made. This particular script, from what little we know of it, sounds like it would have been the best of the lot. Essentially a grown businessman (played by Matthew Broderick) would pick up a hitchhiking young woman who’s in a rock band (played by Molly Ringwald) and they’d talk about life during the ride. This would have combined the “unlikely bonding during a road trip” element of Planes, Trains and Automobiles with the limited-setting “bottle episode” feel of The Breakfast Club which coincidentally are two of Hughes’ three best films. (The third is Ferris Bueller, also starring Broderick.) It was said to be John Hughes’ favorite script he’d ever written, and as a huge fan of his work I’d give anything to read a copy–but thus far, it has never surfaced online.

The Thief and the Cobbler

Finally, there are some movies which do get finished and released, but with substantive cuts against the will of the director/writer. Some of the most famous examples include Greed (1924), Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons and the 1954 version of A Star is Born. In that vein, the most heartbreaking case of studio interference I’ve ever heard of is The Thief and the Cobbler. It is by far the most significant loss to the field of animation as well as the longest and most agonizing production in cinema history. If you don’t know the story, legendary animator Richard Williams intended to adapt the stories of Nasruddin into what he hoped would be the greatest animated film of all time. Due to independent financing, production difficulties and working on other projects in the meantime, the film remained uncompleted from its inception in the 60’s until the late 80’s when Warner Bros agreed to produce the remainder of the picture. Since Williams was a perfectionist, his team fell behind schedule and an impatient studio took control of the project away from him. This resulted in two abysmal cuts being released in place of a would-be masterpiece. Subsequently, Disney started work on an official restoration which has been put on hiatus. In the meantime though, we have a fantastic fan-edit known as the Recobbled Cut that’s definitely worth checking out. Unlike most other lost works out there, we could theoretically still save this movie if some rich individual or corporation was willing to fully animated the unfinished segments according to Williams’ rough cut, sketches/storyboards and other surviving material. It would have to be non-digital 2D animation though, in keeping with the spirit of the original vision. And considering how high Williams set the bar, it would certainly be a Herculean effort.

Music

The Newport Pop Festival ’68

Everyone knows something about Woodstock and the Altamont Free Concert. Classic/Psychedelic Rock fans know about the Isle of Wight and Monterey Pop festivals (the latter of which was, judging by the films and recordings, the best of the lot.) What gets relegated to the realm of obscurity is the ’68 Newport Pop Festival. I remember reading somewhere, years ago, that this concert was filmed but the footage has never been released due to copyright and/or personal issues between the promoters. I couldn’t find reference to that during the research for this essay but I’m inclined to believe it’s the case since the successor festival, Newport ’69 as well as the preceding Newport Folk festivals and the other big outdoor musical concerts (IE the the four mentioned above) were all filmed. It’d be quite a coincidence if this one wasn’t for no particular reason.

In any case, whether it’s a tale of pettiness or lack of foresight which prevented us from seeing Newport ’68 years later, it’s a shame. Just reading people’s memoirs about the concert, it sounds like there were some fun events that’d look great on camera. Some of the highlights include: a) helicopters dropping flowers on the crowd, b) a pie fight between Jefferson Airplane and Crosby Stills and Nash, c) Sonny and Cher getting booed off the stage and finally d) Country Joe yelling “what are we fighting for?” and the crowd responding by collectively flashing peace signs. These are the kind of photogenic moments which, had they been recorded (or released) could have been iconic. As a huge aficionado of the Flower Power/psychedelic rock scene, someone who’s watched every other late 60’s music festival on video, I would give anything to see this one.

Newport ’69, the closest substitute we have.

The SMiLE Tapes

This is a subject I’ve dissected at length, but one detail I brushed over is the scope of material still unaccounted for. In the SmileySmile forum, there were many regular posters with inside connections to the Beach Boys’ managers and archivists. It was passed along to us laymen on the board that a good number of the old acetates and master tapes from the SMiLE Era are missing. There are descriptions of different takes by Michael Vosse in the two articles he wrote about the project that have never been heard. (I’m referring to his description of “Wind Chimes” in particular, and “The Barnyard Suite.”) There was a two-sided single cut of “Heroes and Villains” along with many other test edits for the song which none of us have ever heard. There have been persistent rumors that the instrumental backing track for “Surf’s Up” was recorded but lost. Vosse’s water recordings and possibly other entries in the Psychedelic Sounds skits are unaccounted for. (I read that Brian recorded a bar fight for use in “Heroes” but information on this anecdote is scarce.) Several primary sources mention Brian playing his entourage various acetates of each day’s session highlights. These are now gone, except for those that were given to Durrie Parks. (Unless there’s more I never heard of.)

There were vocal sessions which were recorded but no longer survive, most tantalizingly are those which pertain to “Look,” a song that now exists solely as an instrumental. (I always loved that backing track in particular–it perfectly captures both the whimsy and angst of growing up in just two minutes. I’m dying to know what the vocals were that went along to such beautiful music.) I cannot verify it anywhere else and the picture is gone from the site in which it was hosted, but somebody on the forum claimed they saw a picture of the vaults from decades ago and there was a reel labelled “Brian Wilson – Dumb Angel” that is now missing. If true, that’s certainly a devastating loss. Considering “Dumb Angel” was the original title of the album as a whole, I’m inclined to believe it may have contained some kind of “rough draft” of the project as it existed in the Fall or early December of ’66. Admittedly that’s probably wishful thinking but either way it would have been a valuable piece of the puzzle for sure.

Also, the other two Jasper Dailey tracks are either lost or still unreleased. While they’re infamously terrible and recorded only as a joke, (Dailey was a photographer, not a singer and it shows) they’re still a part of the SMiLE story and I would like to hear them.

Black Gold

For an artist whose every scrap, every studio outtake, has been poured over for posthumous releases, it blows my mind that Jimi Hendrix essentially laid the groundwork for a new album and it still hasn’t seen the light of day in 50 years. Granted, the tapes were presumed lost until the 90’s, but that was still 30 years ago and there’s been no progress since then either! This project interests me particularly due to its autobiographical nature and the fact that he’s playing an acoustic guitar rather than the usual electric. Jimi is undeniably the most iconic of the late ’60s psychedelic scene and we only have 3 studio albums to remember him by. It is hard to emphasize enough how precious this material is.

Camille

This was an unreleased album from Prince, intended to be unaffiliated with his real name, with the vocals sped up to sound like a woman. It was to be credited to the eponymous alter-ego Camille. First of all, as someone who’s trans and really respects those with the courage to “gender bend” and especially guys who aren’t afraid to be feminine…that concept alone is awesome. The music itself isn’t my personal cup of tea, but this is definitely the most interesting idea for an unreleased album I’ve ever heard. (Though Pink Floyd’s Household Objects is a close second.)

1 Comment

  1. As a former Art History teacher I admire you commitment to finding and saving lost media. I also admire your diversity of interests in different forms of media. I wish you much success in all your quests.

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