Works of art are lost all the time, usually because human beings act like the morons above. There’s nothing we, as a species, really seem to like better than gathering up the sum of all our knowledge and using it as combination toilet paper and kindling. We burn classic film prints, we lose the only copy of priceless artifacts, and we misclassify paintings… a lot can happen. Fortunately, despite our ability to destroy virtually everything, we’re also really good and turning that stuff back up. Here are five works of art we thought we’d wrecked that turned up again, kind of like whack-a-mole.
5) “The Passion of Joan Of Arc”
“The Passion of Joan of Arc” is considered to have one of the best acting performances on film, end of story — namely that of Renee Falconetti, who played everybody’s favorite martyr and general loon. For decades everyone thought it was lost, thanks to some idiot burning down the vault where the original negative was held. The director, Carl Dreyer, tried to assemble something a bit like the final cut with outtakes, which is a bit like trying to put together a movie using the blooper reel; it just wasn’t as good.
Then, years after everybody thought it was lost forever, a print turned up. In Oslo. In a closetÂ of a mental hospital. Nobody knows how it got there, why it was sitting in that closet for what must have been decades, or why they decided a movie about a woman who gets railroaded and burned to death would be great entertainment for mental illness sufferers. We’re guessing “Taxi Driver” or “Psycho” were checked out at the library that day or something.
Peter Silverman figured, when he paid $19,000 for a painting without a title listed as a German work from the fifteenth century, that he was getting a little known piece with a simple provenance. After all, it’d been sold at Christie’s, who know their way around highly valuable artifacts, for about nineteen grand, so there was no reason to assume they hadn’t accurately assessed the painting and its value. This was until somebody started poking around for fingerprints and discovered that it was actually a work by none other than Leonardo Da Vinci.
How, exactly, a highly valuable artwork drawn by a Renaissance master had wound up Christie’s and been classified as from the wrong Axis power is up for debate, but after being subjected to just about every possible scan and test, it was determined that it really was done by the Ninja Turtle with the katana, and Leonardo scholars rejoiced. As well as Peter Silverman: a painting that used to be worth a good new car was now worth $150 million or so.
Imagine having a book that collected the proclamations of Roman emperors from about 150 years. Imagine it’s a key legal work that served as the basis for much of the law in the beginnings of the Common Era. Imagine having millions of copies of this vital document everywhere.
Now imagine losing every last copy of the damn thing, because that’s pretty much what happened. Partially this was due to it being outdated, but until recently we only had references to it in other works. Humanity is awfully good at losing vital documents like that, like our Social Security cards, and the best we had were some approximations and quotes.
At least until somebody went rooting around in old book bindings and discovered seventeen fragments. It turns out that back in the day, it used to be common practice to bind books using other books, because they had to make their own fun back in the day and pointless activities like that were common, just like trying to lick your elbow and perform an impossible act of oral stimulation. OK, maybe not totally impossible, we’ve seen a site or two in the Internet, but anyway.
Yeah, they found one of the most important legal documents in history in a book binding. Yeah, it’s only seventeen fragments, but hey, at least it’s something.
2) The First Version of “Shadows”
John Cassavetes is widely considered the godfather of independent film, and “Shadows” is considered the first independent American film. It’s a trenchant, relevant work of film, which is our way of saying that we’ve never seen it, but people paid to do nothing but write about movies seem to think it’s really important, which is why it turned up in our research, which is our way of saying we Googled it while drunk and managed to write a vaguely coherent note to look it up after our hangover wore off the next day.
Anyway, there were two versions of “Shadows”; the 1959 version, which is the one in general release, and the 1957 version, which Cassavetes wasn’t happy with and decided to scrap. That was the nice thing about paying with your own money; Cassavetes was unhappy with the reaction to the original cut of the film and wound up reshooting about half of it. Over time, a legend grew up around the first version, about how great it was compared to the second version, and how much better, and how Cassavetes had made a mistake, you know, the kind of thing that people really tend to say when either they’re really in the know or want to pretend to be in the know, and it’s not like anybody can contradict their opinion. After all, nobody could see the first version!
Well, until film professor Ray Carney came along. He actually managed to track the film down after it got lost on the New York subway system and wound up in Florida. Now everybody could see the first version.
Whether it held up, we don’t know, but we hope so. That’d be a heck of a letdown.
The naked guy who just looked like he stepped in something is Achilles, he of the bad heel fame. There was a play about him, written by the Greek tragedian Aeschylus, who has a really hard-to-spell name and died in a truly awesome way: a seagull mistook his bald skull for a rock and dropped a turtle on it. Seriously, that’s how they said the guy checked out!
Anyway, he wrote a trilogy of plays about Achilles which, like a good chunk of his work, didn’t really stick around in the intervening millenia of burnings, lootings, and general stupidity that marks human history. Fortunately, human stupidity was working in Aeschylus’ favor for once as his play were used to stuff mummies, and the excerpts they were able to recover were reconstructed into a trilogy.
It just goes to show you, you can really do worse than have your classic works shredded and stuffed into a dried up corpse. Just not much worse.