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7 Classic Films Rescued From Obscurity

7 Classic Films Rescued From Obscurity

Last week, it was announced that “Warm Bodies” director Jonathan Levine’s feature film debut, “All The Boys Love Mandy Lane,” is finally getting U.S. distribution, seven years after its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. “Mandy Lane” was purchased by The Weinstein Company and scheduled for a 2007 release, but the failure of the Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez exploitation saga “Grindhouse” scared the company and led them to sell the film to Senator Entertainment. Senator Entertainment went out of business shortly thereafter, and so the film fell by the wayside until its rescue last week. This is not the first time an acclaimed film has been rescued from obscurity. Here are seven others lucky enough to find an audience against all odds.

“Killer of Sheep,” dir. Charles Burnett
Probably the greatest Master’s Thesis ever filmed, “Killer of Sheep” was delayed for 30 years because Burnett could not afford the rights to the music. That didn’t stop it from achieving a monstrous reputation, having won the Critics’ Prize at the 1981 Berlin Film Festival and in 1990 was in the first batch of films entered into the National Film Registry for preservation. Thanks to Steven Soderbergh and Turner Classic Movies, the rights to the original soundtrack were purchased (for $150,000, 15 times the film’s budget) and the film was blown up to 35mm and distributed in 2007, where it appeared on many critics’ top 10 lists. Last year, it ranked #202 on the Sight & Sound poll of the best films of all time.

“Miami Connection,” dir. Richard Park
Y.K. Kim was sure that his film would be a blockbuster, but instead, the Orlando Sentinal called it the worst film of 1988. Twenty-one years later, an Alamo Drafthouse programmer named Zack Carlson won a blind bid for the film on eBay for $50 and exhibited it to favorable reactions in Austin, TX. Drafthouse Films decided it would go over well in distribution, and they called Kim, who was still so hurt by initial reactions that he thought the requests were joke. They eventually reached a deal, and a series of midnight screenings throughout the country helped it find an audience and more favorable critical reception.

“The Lovers On The Bridge,” dir. Leos Carax
The production history of “The Lovers on The Bridge” is a story in and of itself, but when it finally made it to Cannes, it won over many critics while at least impressing the doubters with its extravagance. However, the film’s lofty price tag prevented it from getting U.S. distribution until 1999, when Miramax decided that Martin Scorsese coming on as the “presenter” would be a pretty good way of ensuring the film generated revenue. Since then, its cult following has only grown.

“The Room,” dir. Tommy Wiseau
This is one of those “so bad it’s good” situations, where awful dialogue and storytelling devoid of logic becomes fodder for comedy. Scott Foundas’ wrote for Variety that most audience members walked out and demanded refunds within half an hour. A week later, Michael Rousselet of 5-Second Films decided that the film was so amazingly bad it demanded an audience, and he called his friends and told them to join him at the next screening. Word of mouth generated a dedicated following and led Wiseau to book a midnight screening, which proved successful enough to book another, and another, and another, until the cult phenoon of “The Room” as we know it fully came into being.

“This Is Not A Film,” dir. Jafar Panahi
This one wasn’t saved from obscurity in a distribution sense, but anyone who has seen it is lucky to have done so. “This Was Not A Film” was made while Panahi was under house-arrest (for six years, mind you; essentially prison) and banned from making movies for two decades. Panahi quite literally risked his life to make and distribute this movie. Digital filmmaking may have saved it, as the film was smuggled to the Cannes Film Festival on a USB drive inside a birthday cake. And it was nothing less than exactly what his fans hoped for.

Wake In Fright,” dir. Ted Kotcheff
Premiering at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival as “Outback,” the film later to be called “Wake In Fright” received critical acclaim but failed to make a spark at the box office, with some calling it too uncompromising and others blaming United Artists’ marketing. Whatever the case, the film was tossed to the wayside in such a hurry that many believed to be lost at one point. It was found in a Pittsburgh warehouse and restored, leading to its breakthrough in 2009. Martin Scorsese (he sure does save a lot of movies, doesn’t he?) revived it for another screening as part of Cannes Classics, and just last year Alamo Drafthouse gave it theatrical distribution. Reviews are considerably more positive this time around.

“The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” dir. Jim Sharman
“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” was not the first cult classic, it was not the first midnight movie, and it was not the first film to be rescued from obscurity, but more than any other film, it achieved an unlikely turnaround from forgettable schlock to an unforgettable pop culture phenomenon that continues to this day, and it’s all thanks to a few dedicated fans. An advertising executive for 20th Century Fox convinced Bill Quigley to screen the film at midnight at New York City’s Waverly Theater. Denise Borden, the theater’s manager, took a liking to it and began playing the soundtrack before the screening to create a party atmosphere, one which quickly turned into people shouting lines at the screen. The rest, as they say is history, for without “Rocky Horror” there would be no “The Room” and countless other cult classics.

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