Who’d have thought?

Who’d have thought that some of my most sought-after films, films I’ve spent seemingly eons searching for, would turn up on YouTube?

It’s no secret that YouTube, amid its assortment of pranksters, movie scene impersonators, video game commentators and drunken cooks, has become a prime resource for film buffs. In recent years I’ve uncovered quite a few sought-after films on YouTube, from the 4-hour restoration of GREED to a subtitled version of the Polish horror film MEDIUM, as well as the seven ultra-rarities outlined below, all of which I was just about convinced were lost.

Regarding copyright issues, I’m trusting the uploaders and/or YouTube’s overseers have that taken care of (yeah, right!). I’m also well aware that YouTube’s tiny screens are far from ideal for movie viewing, but in most cases YouTube is the only place you’ll find these films. In alphabetical order, they are:

The most elusive film by the late Ken Russell, a thoroughly unprecedented hour-long BBC biopic about the German composer Richard Strauss and his (alleged) ties to the Nazis. Strauss’ family was so outraged by the film they banned the use of his music on the soundtrack, and as a result DANCE OF THE SEVEN VEILS has rarely been exhibited in any form since its initial February 1970 airing. That’s a shame, as this is one of Russell’s signature films, a wild, unfettered phantasmagoria that foreshadows the excesses of the seventies-era features for which he’s chiefly remembered. In fact, DANCE OF THE SEVEN VEILS may well be his key work.

At the outset we’re warned by an announcer that this self-proclaimed “Comic Strip in Seven Episodes” contains “scenes of considerable violence and horror.” Those include a caveman cavorting with a band of randy nuns (foreshadowing THE DEVILS), a hallucinatory Salome doing her dance of the seven veils (foreshadowing SALOME’S LAST DANCE), women and children massacred by soldiers in a forest, Hitler transforming a crucifix into a swastika, dancing Nazis (foreshadowing MAHLER), a Jew tortured in a crowded movie theater, etc.

DANCE OF THE SEVEN VEILS isn’t as strong as Ken Russell’s later masterworks, due largely to the evident low budget–Russell’s outrages always worked best in expansive big screen format–and the fact that the two prints streaming on YouTube are both extremely faded and time coded. Still, kudos to the uploaders “quixotandovideos” (who posted it in six parts in 2009) and “velmawallenrod” (who uploaded it in full two years later) for saving this essential artifact from obscurity.

Uploaded in eight parts by “MyArtTV,” this Canadian telefilm from director Claude Jutra (of MON ONCLE ANTOINE and KAMOURASKA) is a stark and uncompromising look at a troubled young boy (Ian Tracey). After burning down a building the kid is interred in an institution, from which he promptly escapes. He takes up with an ancient First Nations man (George Clutesi) and his mute companion (Jacques Hubert), who attempt to use native magic to cure the boy’s demons. It isn’t long, however, before the kid is dragged back to the institution. I won’t reveal what happens in the end, but will say it’s as bleak as can be imagined (unlike Hollywood filmmakers, Canadians have no problem killing off kids in movies).

Jutra directs this tale in smooth and unobtrusive fashion, showcasing an unerring eye for lyric naturalism delivered without an iota of sentimentality. It’s impossible not to be deeply affected by DREAMSPEAKER, which is touching and shocking in equal measure.

Yet for all this film’s brilliance it seems destined to be known more for the award winning 1978 novelization by its screenwriter Cam Hubert (a.k.a. Anne Cameron). The novel, it must be said, more concretely delineates the story’s mystical bent (particularly in its depiction of a spectral snake creature that pursues the protagonist), and unlike the movie is still in print.

FERRUM 5000 (1995)
This 16-minute oddity was heavily promoted in the final issues of Film Threat Video magazine, yet nearly impossible to see–until its director Steve Doughton uploaded it to YouTube in 2009.

FERRUM 5000 mixes gaudily photographed depictions of B-movie extraterrestrials with verite footage of bubbling mud and erupting steam at Yellowstone National Park, as well as some elaborate Busby Berkeley-esque dance numbers performed by gals in goofy fake alien get-up, all set to pleasantly ambient industrial muzak. I’ll refrain from offering any idea of what this all “means,” as I’m pretty sure there is no meaning. Doughton, however, displays real visual panache, and the film, unlike so many other nineties cult items, is refreshingly free of camp.

Also streaming on YouTube are Steve Doughton’s other shorts FORMING, BETWIXT and CIRCUIT, which are very much of a piece with FERRUM 5000, and suggest that with a decent budget Doughton might give cult auteurs like Guy Maddin a serious run for their money.

Uploaded by “EuroMegaMovies,” IL FISCHIO AL NASO is an Italian-made adaptation of Dino Buzzati’s 1937 story “Seven Floors.” Ugo Tognazzi, who also directed, stars as a businessman interred in a bizarre hospital because of an odd whistling in his nose. The whistling is cured, but he keeps having to go back for other ailments. He gets transferred to a different floor each time, eventually winding up on the seventh floor–where, as you might guess, he breathes his last. A very sixties-centric production, with much “hip” music and psychedelic decor, though never as weird as it could have been. One can only dream of how this material might have played in the hands of (say) Fellini.

One of several Italian TV movies made by the late Carmelo Bene, uploaded onto YouTube by “Joseph Mengele.” This PINOCCHIO lacks the feverish invention and kinetic energy of Bene’s feature films (like CAPRICCI and SALOME) but does contain many odd and fascinating elements. Adapted from Bene’s infamous avant-garde theatrical version of Carlo Collodi’s PINOCCHIO, this production is marked by outlandish (and often downright horrific) masks and costumes, featureless backgrounds, minimalist lighting and “human” characters rendered in distinctly puppet-like fashion, while the puppet protagonist (played by Bene himself in powdery white makeup and a pointy nose) is portrayed in a thoroughly humanistic manner–and in true Bene fashion often explodes into frenzied oratories that, as this upload is lacking in English subtitles, I didn’t understand.

Thanks here to “Assis Arruda,” who uploaded this heretofore impossible-to-find Brazilian freak-out (sans subtitles), a futuristic dark comedy from Brazilian maestro Nelson Pereira dos Santos (of HOW TASTY WAS MY LITTLE FRENCHMAN?).

The setting is a future world where society has been decimated by a contagion that appears to have turned much of the population into mindless zombies. The “hero” is a pistol-packing young man living with his girlfriend in a secluded cabin. The two dispassionately shoot anyone they see (they apparently have unlimited ammo), at least when they’re not sequestered in their cabin watching a memory playback machine that runs on smoke. Eventually they’re joined by another woman named Beta who inexplicably disappears (hence the title), leading the protagonists to search for her. In the process they meet several more eccentric folks, most notably a hot blonde the guy bangs in a roadside ditch and a randy young man who moves into the cabin.

As is his custom, dos Santos visualizes this odd tale in highly eccentric, surreal fashion, with a penchant for densely populated wide shots. Perhaps the pic, with its near-constant matter-of-fact violence, was meant as a Vietnam metaphor, but who knows?

Uploaded in two parts by “TheMademoiselle36,” an early Dennis Potter teleplay written for BBC’s Play for Today series. It’s about a depressed housefrow (Anna Cropper) whose distant husband (John Carson) is more enamored with his elaborate model train set than with her. One day while Carson is at work a strange young man (Tim Curry) turns up on their doorstep. He claims to be the son Cropper gave up years earlier, and now wants to resume their relationship–with (it’s implied) an added sexual component. Then Curry threatens to destroy Carson’s train set and abruptly vanishes, leaving us pondering how much (if any) of the preceding was real.

If all this sounds familiar it should, as SHMOEDIPUS was the uncredited inspiration for the Potter scripted feature TRACK 29. As directed by Barry Davis, SCHMOEDIPUS infers what the movie made explicit, and is overall far more claustrophobic and intense. It helps, of course, that Curry is at his most devilishly seductive, and that his otherworldly air has never been better utilized.