Last week, fans of River Phoenix learned that Dark Blood, the unfinished film he was working on at the time of his tragic death, was available in its final form on YouTube. Here’s hoping they watched it quickly — the film has been pulled, ostensibly due to “a copyright claim by Harold Jalving” (the film’s credited sound designer and re-recording mixer), though the Phoenix family reportedly wasn’t wild about the film’s release, either. Whatever the reason, this isn’t the first time a seemingly rare, officially unavailable movie was disseminated via the world’s most ubiquitous video streaming service. After the jump, you’ll find several movies unavailable via legal channels, yet somehow streaming (for now, anyway) on YouTube.
Falstaff (Chimes at Midnight)
Though recognized now as one of the 20th century’s finest filmmakers, Orson Welles’ classic directorial efforts (including Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, and Touch of Evil) fared badly at the box office, forcing him to direct his later films independently, financing his efforts with his own acting appearances and scrounging up funds from a variety of shaky sources. Some of those films weren’t finished; some are locked up in rights disputes; some were released, forgotten, and subsequently rediscovered and acclaimed. Among the latter is Chimes at Midnight, a clever 1966 mash-up of scenes from Shakespeare’s Henry IV (parts one and two), Richard II, Henry V, and The Merry Wives of Windsor. The common thread was the comic/tragic supporting character of Falstaff, whom Welles played himself (indeed, whom he was kinda born to play). The initial reviews were mixed, though some (including Pauline Kael) pegged it as one of his best works. The film’s sketchy ownership (it was financed by a variety of international interests) has kept it from official DVD release stateside, though international DVDs have provided materials for several YouTube streams.
Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey began shooting this anthology of short films at the world-famous Chelsea Hotel and Warhol’s own Factory in the summer of 1966. Mostly improvised and shot in 35-minute unbroken takes, the final product ran an alarming six and a half hours — nearly as long as Warhol’s eight-hour Empire and longer than his 321-minute Sleep. Warhol and Morrissey’s solution: split the screen in half, and run two segments simultaneously on either side, podding the audio up and down and immediately slicing the running time down to a more tolerable three-and-a-quarter hours. The film was an underground sensation when it was released later that year, but the difficulty of exhibiting it in repertory screenings (the prints are accompanied by a complicated instruction manual) and lack of any home video release (save for an Italian DVD) have made it all but impossible to see. But this YouTube version went up in March and hasn’t yet been targeted by the notoriously litigious Warhol estate — presumably because, since it didn’t originally carry a copyright notice, the film is technically in the public domain.
In 1972, Bernardo Bertolucci created a worldwide commercial and critical sensation by pushing the boundaries of onscreen eroticism with Last Tango in Paris. Seven years later, he tried to push even further — and maybe, possibly went a little too far. His 1979 drama Luna was the story of an opera singer (Jill Clayburgh) whose troubled relationship with her heroin-addicted son takes a turn for the overly familiar. And by “overly familiar,” I mean, yes, that. Most critics and audiences were so repulsed by the incestuous premise that the film around it hardly mattered, though some Bertolucci aficionados have proclaimed it a misunderstood masterpiece. It was a box office failure in the US (though Clayburgh received a Golden Globe nomination), and 20th Century Fox never released it on either VHS or DVD. But here’s a nearly year-old YouTube upload — in Spanish, but with English subtitles available.
Frequent Bond director Terrence Young (Thunderball, From Russia with Love, Dr. No) helmed this 1982 Korean War drama with a remarkably esoteric cast: Laurence Olivier, Jacqueline Bisset, Ben Gazzara, Toshiro Mifune, and Richard Roundtree. But it was greeted with an avalanche of bad press, mostly due to its heavy financing by the Unification Church (colloquially known as “The Moonies”), the religious sect founded by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon. The lethal pre-release buzz warned that the film was an elaborate recruiting effort, or an attempt for the church to fill its coffers with sweet Hollywood money. They didn’t — at $50 million ($10 million more than its contemporary, Heaven’s Gate) it was a notorious flop, and its reputation was so bad that it’s never been released on video. That reputation wasn’t entirely earned, according to Phil Hall over at Film Threat’s invaluable “Bootleg Files”: “Inchon is not the wacky turkey that everyone claimed back in 1982. It is just a monotonous bit of noise and fury.” (Watch the whole thing via this playlist.)
Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story
Far From Heaven and I’m Not There director Todd Haynes got his start with a much smaller-scale production; doll scale, in fact. Haynes made this 43-minute student film in 1987, telling the true story of the life and death of Karen Carpenter with an all-Barbie-doll cast. Surprisingly, it took two years of festival screenings and theatrical engagements for the lawyers to swoop in, with counsel for both Richard Carpenter and Mattel forcing Haynes to pull the film from circulation. But its lack of proper availability merely contributed to the picture’s notoriety — bootleg videos were plentiful, and it still frequently plays theatrically, albeit only advertised as a “secret screening” (as at 2009’s SXSW Film Festival) or in packages of Haynes’ early work. But this lo-fi upload has been online since 2008, and has thus far eluded the corporate lawyers.
Director E. Elias Merhige made this experimental feature in 1989, using $20,000 of inheritance money earmarked for his education. The film is a reimagining of the Book of Genesis, using black-and-white reversal film and layers of optical effects, but no dialogue and little music. It’s a bit of a tough sit for the literal-minded, but a wildly fascinating bit of way-out filmmaking, and it became something of an underground hit after its brief, self-distributed theatrical run in 1990. It was eventually released on VHS via World Artists Home Video, which also released it on DVD in 2001 after the modest mainstream success of Merhige’s Shadow of the Vampire. But when that company went under, the film went out of print; it’ll set you back $75 on Amazon, or you can just watch this 2012 upload for free.
The Deep Blue Sea (1955)
The 2011 film adaptation of Terence Ratigan’s play was a sleeper hit and critical success, garnering kudos for Tom Hiddleston as well as numerous awards and a Golden Globe nomination for Rachel Weisz. But even that success didn’t prompt a resurrection of the earlier version of the story, shot in 1955 with Vivien Leigh and Kenneth More (who originated the role on stage) in the leads. Though the Production Code of the era undeniably stifled the story’s mature themes, it still seems strange that Leigh’s first film after A Streetcar Named Desire was never released on home video and is seldom shown on television. This upload isn’t the highest quality — the print is fairly shabby, and the CinemaScope image is unfortunately pan-and-scanned — but it’s better than nothing.
HWY: An American Pastoral
As anyone with even a passing knowledge of The Doors knows, lead singer Jim Morrison didn’t initially aim for rock stardom; he wanted to be a filmmaker, and received an undergraduate degree at UCLA’s film school. So it was no stretch that in 1969 — as the band was unraveling and his own legal troubles were mounting — Morrison would take another crack at movie-making. He wrote, produced, co-directed, and starred in HWY: An American Pastoral, an experimental 50-minute film shot in the Mojave Desert and Los Angeles. It was initially intended as a full-length feature, but was never completed; the short version was rarely screened publicly, and though director Tom DiCillo restored and remastered sections of it for his Doors doc When You’re Strange, the film remains only available in time-coded bootlegs like this one.
Martin Scorsese has juggled fiction and non-fiction throughout his career, clear back to his earliest efforts as an editor (including Woodstock), and in the 1970s, he would often make a documentary as a thematic companion piece to his big narrative features. In 1974, on the heels of his breakthrough film Mean Streets, Scorsese was one of several filmmakers contracted by the National Communications Foundation to create programs on the immigrant experience. Scorsese’s film, Italianamerican, wasn’t the typical densely researched sociological study — he just took his cameras to his mother and father’s Little Italy apartment on a Sunday and let them talk. The resultant film is charming, funny, and disarmingly casual, thanks primarily to the undeniable warmth and charisma of Scorsese’s mother Catherine, who frequently made cameo appearances in his films (she plays Joe Pesci’s chatty mother in Goodfellas). Plus, it ends with the recipe for Catherine’s pasta sauce — or “gravy,” as she calls it. Four years later, his American Boy profiled Taxi Driver bit player Steven Prince, a roadie, manager, and all-around oddball who spent years lurking on the fringes of the music and film industry — and had the stories to show for it. (One of them, a tale of an overdosing girl brought back to life via a hypodermic to the heart, may have shown up in a certain 1994 indie smash.) The films, which each run about an hour, were issued together on VHS and laserdisc, but they have yet to see an official DVD release — an oversight which should be corrected immediately, as these are among the great filmmaker’s most overlooked and underrated efforts. Watch both in this playlist.
Eat the Document
Though it was a critical and commercial success, Bob Dylan was no fan of D.A. Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back. Yet he admired Pennebaker enough to ask him to come along on his 1966 English tour with the Hawks, in which contentious audiences booed and heckled the “electric” half of the show. Pennebaker was working as a hired gun this time around, shooting but not directing; he did, however, put together a first edit of the project, which was slated to air as an ABC special. Dylan rejected the Pennebaker version as too conventional (and too similar to Don’t Look Back) and decided to re-cut it himself. He spent years on the project, poring over the footage while recovering from his 1966 motorcycle accident. When he finally turned it over to ABC, they rejected the film as indecipherable. To some degree, they were right; it’s a confused hodgepodge of snippets and notions with only tantalizing, brief snatches of the incredible music created on the tour. (Scorsese repurposed much of the footage, to better effect, in No Direction Home). Eat the Document was never released, theatrically or for home video, but it frequently appears (in clips and in its entirety) on YouTube.