FILM / Better to have loved and lost: Readers nominated their pet 'lost' films; the result was a host of private obsessions. Sheila Johnston reports

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IT IS in the nature of lost films that they don't have the wide constituency that would confer upon them the status of a cult. Our large harvest of letters from readers reveals a host of private obsessions rather than a consensus over a single lost masterpiece, but that probably just goes to prove the point; after all, as one reader writes in defence of his or her choice, 'If this is the only letter on this film, it only proves how lost it is]'

This said, several names keep recurring. Two readers write in praise of Budd Boetticher and the series of low- budget westerns he made in the Fifties with Randolph Scott. D Bridgman of Manchester and Michael Voight of Lewes would both like to see Seven Men from Now (1956), which has not surfaced on television, and Mr Voight also puts in a plea for Anthony Mann's Man of the West (1958).

There are a number of votes for L'Avventura (1960) and L'Eclisse (1962), both by Michelangelo Antonioni, one of the premier art-film directors of the Sixties whose work has now - with the exception of the recently revived Blow Up - virtually vanished from sight.

As R G Smail of London SW16 writes, 'A mutant turtle? A renowned ceiling painter? Neither of these, but Antonioni seems to be a name that is less and less heard of' - and how absurd that films like L'Eclisse are 'completely forgotten while we gladly watch the hundredth repeat of The Sound of Music or The French Connection.'

As always, Stanley Kubrick has his champions. William Reiss of London NW3 cites Barry Lyndon (1975) and ingeniously suggests that this '18th-century epic of a rogue's attempt to gatecrash European society seems rather apposite to the Maastricht debate'.

Praising the film's 'austere pictorial beauty' and 'icy control', he points out that it has never been shown on British television.

Meanwhile, R S Hamlin of Hersham, Surrey puts in a rather optimistic bid for the revival of A Clockwork Orange (1971), which was withdrawn from circulation in this country by Kubrick himself some 20 years ago.

He also mentions Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs (1971), a film which was often coupled with A Clockwork Orange in the anti-violence debates of the early Seventies, on the grounds that 'a revival of this film could secure Peckinpah's reputation'.

On the art-film front, Derek Pasquill of Worthing regards Lars von Trier's The Element of Crime (1984) as a 'minor classic bathed in yellow light, drizzle, obsession'. Curt Beith of Aberdeen would like to revive Marguerite Duras's India Song (1975), a 'seemingly banal plot, worthy of a Forties potboiler, utterly transformed by the poetic, almost hallucinatory style . . . and radical use of sound.'

N Hess of London N11 picks Bertolucci's Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man (1981) for its 'teasing, suggestive quality which makes it much more than the sum of its parts' and Fred Schepisi's The Devil's Playground (1976), perhaps the director's 'most deeply felt work . . . One only needs to compare it with a film such as Dead Poets' Society to appreciate its depth, subtlety and complexity'.

James Nolms of London E17 has fond memories of Claude Autant - Lara's Le Diable au Corps (1947), but also wonders whether 'perhaps it is better if I never see it again. Memories can play tricks with you', which is probably true of many lost films. C R Hall of Warminster hasn't seen Der Rosenkavalier (1961), the film version of Richard Strauss's opera, for 20 years, but recalls 'the ethereal quality of the singing' as 'one of the all-time great experiences of opera'.

Andrew Henderson of Edinburgh writes a long, informative letter in praise of William Wellman's Nothing Sacred (1937), 'a film with none of the sentiment that clogs the majority of other comedies made at the time'. And, from Darmstadt, Germany, Allan Falla commends Blast of Silence (1961), a thriller that he saw once in a scratchy, dubbed German version and has never found since. We can't help on that front, but can answer his request for further information about the director, Allen Baron; his other work includes Pie in the Sky (1960), Jack the Ripper (1974), San Pedro Beach Bums (1977) and duties on Charlie's Angels and Cagney and Lacey in the Eighties.

101 Dalmatians (1961), requested by Kathryn Coysh of Ringwood, should, like other animated classics in the Disney canon, be up for reissue every seven years. However, according to Buena Vista, Disney's distribution arm, the film was last seen here in 1984 and won't be re-released until 1995. There are no plans to bring it out on video.

Space pressure precludes mentioning all letters in full, but other suggestions include Sidney Lumet's The Fugitive Kind (1960), Frank Capra's Lost Horizon (1937), Stuart Rosenberg's The April Fools (1969), John Brahm's adaptation of the bleak Patrick Hamilton novel Hangover Square (1944), Leo McCarey's Love Affair (1939), James Whale's Show Boat (1936), Steven DeJarnatt's Miracle Mile (1989), the Danny Kaye comedy The Court Jester (1956), Philippe De Broca's King of Hearts (1966) and (somewhat mysteriously) Terry Windsor's Party Party (1983).

Luckily some lost films turn out not to be lost at all. Good news for Tim Fleming of Buckhurst Hill; his choice, the classic compendium chiller Dead of Night (1945), 'an engaging and genuinely frightening film in which nothing is ever quite what it seems', is revived in this month's Ealing season at the Barbican, and can be seen there next Wednesday although, sadly, it's not part of the Ealing package being released on video by Warners this month.

Hazel Bridgeman of Gwynedd wonders what happened to Peter Greenaway's first arthouse hit, The Draughtsman's Contract (1982). It was once available on video but has since disappeared from view. According to the British Film Institute, which produced the film, negotiations are in progress to re-release it on video, and it should be back in circulation within the next six months: keep an eye on our video column.

Gordon Cairns of Glasgow would like to revive John Sayles' City of Hope (1991) - 'an excellent example of the resurgence of American independent films in the Nineties' - which garnered great reviews but failed to find an audience. It is, however, released on sell-through video (VC3392) from the Video Collection (tel: 0923 255558).

A footnote, finally to Nic Roeg's Eureka, which was my own chosen lost film: Alexander Walker, the film critic for the Evening Standard, writes to propose another reason why the film may have disappeared so precipitately from view: 'Enquiries I made at the time of its withdrawal suggest that the distributors had only realised late in the day that the story follows very closely events connected with the wartime murder in the Bahamas of the millionaire Sir Harry Oakes. One (at least) of the principals in the subsequent trial - and acquittal - of the suspect is still alive and, though the names had been changed in the film, would be identifiable.'

(Photographs omitted)