FILM / Films that should come back from the dead: The movies you can see aren't necessarily the cream of the crop. Sheila Johnston reports on the reasons why great films go Awol

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
WHY ARE so many worthwhile films nigh-impossible to see? It's not uncommon for us to receive glossy brochures from distributors at the beginning of the year announcing all sorts of goodies - a number of which never arrive. One reason is that the cost of 'P&A' (prints and advertising) can be prohibitive and if a film is shaping up as a loser, it could seem better to shelve it than to throw good money after bad.

Sometimes the decision to dump a film originates in Hollywood politics - the 'new broom' syndrome of an incoming studio head keen to disown the brainchildren of his predecessor. This may have something to do with the untimely demise of Eureka (see right) and also with several of David Puttnam's pet projects during his time at Columbia - according to Charles Kipps' book Out of Focus, a measly dollars 900,000 was spent on distributing Bill Forsyth's fine film Housekeeping. Sometimes it's sheer distributor incompetence and indecision (vide the burial of Donald Cammell's brilliant White of the Eye a couple of years ago).

And radical shifts in release patterns over the last few years mean that the pressure is on for a film to clean up quickly at the box-office; often, it's not allowed the time to build an audience. Movies can disappear forthwith if they're not instant hits.

None of this prevents a 'lost' film from skulking out on video a year or two later, but that's no guarantee of your being able to see it now: even a large company like Warner Home Video can only, according to a spokesman, handle 1,000 to 1,500 titles at any time. Those not shifting enough 'units' slip quietly out of circulation.

There's television, of course, but the disadvantages of that don't need enumerating (and it is also an active disincentive for reissue on the big screen). And while we do see a steady trickle of revivals (Ealing comedies next week; Performance in mid-August), it's rare for even intrepid distributors to disinter a film which died on its original release.

Independent writers beat the drum for four favourite films, none of which is available either in 35mm distribution or on video, although diligent foraging may throw up an ancient deleted copy. We invite readers to make their own suggestions (in not more than 100 words) for 'Lost Films - the Sequel' in two weeks' time. Letters to: Lost Films, Arts, The Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB.