There is a common misconception among many film lovers that in this age of Netflix and Blu-ray and MOD, we have nearly unlimited access to every movie that's every been made. That couldn't be further from the truth. Even with the unprecedented numbers of classic films available instantly at our fingertips, there are still hundreds more we can’t see and sadly never will.
It’s sort of like the infamous Donald Rumsfeld line. As lost movies go, there are known knowns—movies that exist but that aren’t currently in print, like Thom Andersen’s documentary Los Angeles Plays Itself—there are known unknowns—movies we’re certain once existed but are no longer extant, like the original cut of Erich von Stroheim’s Greed—and there are unknown unknowns—movies so obscure that their very existence has fallen through the cracks of history.
Variety film critic Scott Foundas has the remarkable story of the discovery of one such unknown unknown, a vastly different and previously unseen cut of the Buster Keaton silent film The Blacksmith. Film historian Fernando Pena was examining a lot of vintage silents he and a colleague purchased on eBay, when he stumbled on this new (old) version of The Blacksmith completely by accident. In this cut, Foundas says, “half of the film’s first reel (approximately 5-6 minutes of screen time) consists of entirely different, never-before-seen Keaton gags, while the ending of the film also differs slightly.”
The article includes a short video clip of the footage:
Pena is also the man who found the previously known unknown print of Fritz Lang’s cut of Metropolis that toured festivals and repertory houses a few years ago. He tells Foundas that the next step with The Blacksmith is “to get the film restored and made available again to audiences.” Hopefully after that he goes back on the hunt for more unknown gems.