Scene4 Magazine — International Magazine of Arts and Media
Scene4 Magazine-inSight

june 2008


by Salem Kapsaski

A post on the ‘Criterion Film Forum’ a few months back has caused quite a stir among Cinephile, after one member stated, that Murnau’s long lost 1928 film ‘4 Devils’ had finally been discovered. However after months of waiting for any sign of configuration, it was most likely a hoax.  If the film reels were indeed found, an official statement would have been made by now.  Let’s assume for a second, that it was not a hoax, and that the film was found indeed (the best way to let us know would be through a young punk on a message board). We still don’t know in what condition it is, and how the film was treated and stored over all these years. If the film still exists, is it in reasonable quality, and has it not come in contact with oxygen and thus caught fire?  (You can find out more about ‘4 Devils’ with the ‘Traces of a Lost Film’ documentary that came with the ‘Sunrise’ DVD released by 20th Century Fox.) 

Here’s the story of a real magnificent find. About 30 years ago, historical documents and only existing eyewitness reports about the Greek liberation written were discovered by a teacher. The priceless manuscripts were wrapped around fish at a market - my point, if the lost film reels of ‘4 Devils’ or the last 45 minutes of ‘The Magnificent Ambersons’ still exist (and have not been chucked out in order to make space in some warehouse) they might just be used to balance a wobbly table in some old lady’s home.

After paintings having been used to fix leaking roofs, it might be best not to even think about what might have happened to all those lost films and missing scenes, bloopers and original film roles. And now with the new means of storing everything on digital, even more originals will be simply thrown away. Can we trust those interns to save film and sound reels properly? 

Hasty restoration or wrong re-editing of classic films is nothing rare. Some genius was tricky enough to edit out the rain in ‘Citizen Kane’ mistaking it for ‘film hiss’ for the US DVD release (the film was also brightened up at wrong places), and most of the silent films run at the wrong speed on newer DVD releases (as well as their Video predecessors), which now all appear to flicker, with all characters running and moving really goofy. No, that was not the only technique of the time! Played at the right speed a film from 1920 runs just as smooth as any new film, it’s just that silent films have more mechanical drawback and can’t even be looked at without the right equipment. The problem is: the ‘right’ equipment is generally wrong, and now they are all presented to us for all eternity at wrong speed due to incompetence.

But it’s not just old films that get bad treatment. In the case of Bertolucci’s ‘Novecento’ the first half hour is simply missing on the region 2 DVD. The mistake has been pointed out, but the faulty DVD still remains on sale.

Well it’s your own fault for liking classic cinema, go buy the Spiderman trilogy on Blu-ray or the fourth edition of Ridley Scott’s ‘Blade Runner’ if you want films running at the right speed and without missing scenes.

I wonder what people would say if the first act of Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ was simply missing in one edition, or if monologues were given to the wrong characters and certain lines were taken out; ‘mistaken for ink smudges‘… one thing is for sure, nobody would tolerate the excuse, ’well, it’s an old play, restoring and printing it was really hard, also nobody at our book press even understands or knows what Shakespeare goes on about.’

Nobody also dares to rewrite classic literature they way they bring out one horrible remake after the other. We didn’t need ‘Psycho’ in colour!


Hitchcock’s film was just perfect the way it was, and no ‘improvement’ was needed. You’d think people learned from Gus Van Sant’s mistake, but no… To name just a few more unnecessary remakes currently in production that have come to my attention; ‘Seven Samurai‘, ‘The Birds’, ‘The Day the Earth stood Still’, ‘The Man who fell to Earth’ ‘Death Wish’, ‘Hellraiser’, ‘Rosemary‘s Baby‘ ‘The Evil Dead’, ‘Rififi’ and the list goes on endlessly. Rumor has it that no one worse than Madonna will star in a remake of Casablanca (now set in Iraq) and an English Remake of ‘The Live of Others’ is also planned.

It’s sad to see Werner Herzog jump the bandwagon with a remake of Abel Ferrara’s masterpiece ‘The Bad Lieutenant‘, now with Nicolas Cage in the role of the Lieutenant, which once belonged to Harvey Keitel.

A more unfitting choice could clearly not have been made. So I’m asking you: when will it all stop? Is anyone out there writing any new scripts? If not, then what was the writers strike all about? Everybody can strike to cover up their incompetence and lack of inspiration.

Only suggesting to remake Kurosawa's ‘Seven Samurai’ should already be punishable by death.

We wouldn’t accept it if anybody repainted the Mona Lisa with eyebrows and a stylish new dress! So, why should we tolerate this sloppiness and abuse when it comes to film? Aren’t films art? Don’t they deserve the same special care and treatment like any old artwork? Isn’t cinema equally part of human history?

Let’s show some respect to the great minds of cinema and put a final stop to this obsession of replacing outstanding cinema classics with cheap new versions.



©2008 Salem Kapsaski
©2008 Publication Scene4 Magazine

Salem Kapsaski is a writer, sound engineer,
an aspiring film director and a writer for Scene4.
For more of his commentary and articles, check the Archives


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