A major discovery screened Mostly Lost this year. Researcher James Fennell has identified a clip from some footage purchased on eBay as scenes from one of the most sought-after “lost films” of all time: Cleopatra (1917), starring iconic vamp Theda Bara. While the image of Theda Bara in her risqué pearl breastplate (now on display at the V&A as part of the Diva exhibition) is well known to all silent cinema fans, the film itself has long been missing.
Here is the new footage:
The new footage joins a previous rediscovered clip of Bara sneering in a state of undress, less than 20 seconds long. But this new footage is longer, clearer and more spectacular. In all we have just a tantalising glimpse of this extravagant film, a genuine blockbuster that was a huge hit on its original release, although much censored. Following the implementation of the Hays Code, it was widely considered to be too raunchy to be shown in any cut, and shortly after that, disaster struck.
The last known prints of the film were destroyed in the notorious Fox vault fire of 1937. But as tthis new discovery proves, hope springs eternal. We may yet see more of this Cleopatra.
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