Lost Cleopatra documentary project

Resurrecting a Lost Film
More than 75% of movies made before 1929 no longer exist. Most were sold for scrap, burned in fires or simply rotted away as the unstable silver nitrate film decomposed, with the incalculable loss to human cultural heritage. Topping the American Film Institute's list of missing motion pictures, Cleopatra is the queen of lost films. Made in 1917, it was the biggest box office success of 1918, in spite of (or because of) the loud protestations of state and local censors about the titular character's overt sexuality and near nudity. Cleopatra starred Theda Bara, the first Hollywood sex goddess. Fox studios promoted her as a mysterious vamp 'born in the shadow of the sphinx,' the daughter of a French artist and an Arab princess (or an Italian sculptor and a French actress-- the stories varied). In reality, she was Theodosia Goodman, a nice Jewish girl from Ohio. Bara vamped her way in dozens of movies portraying a man-devouring femme fatale, making her one of the biggest stars of the movies. However, practically none of her 40 movies survive, as most of them burned in a film vault fire in 1937. Among the destroyed was Bara's most famous movie, Cleopatra, of which only a few seconds survive.

Which is a pity, as Cleopatra was so deliciously and outrageously over the top as to be irresistible. There were land battles, a sea battle, civil war, military conquest, assassination plots, numerous seductions and betrayals, adultery, infidelity, jealous rages, unrequited love, the fury of women scorned, nudity, rioting in in the streets, a tomb robbing, mummy curses, necromancy, black magic, attempted murders, an attempted poisoning, secret passages, summary executions, a prison escape, regicide, patricide, suicide, the desecration of a holy relic, a hand being chopped off-- basically fun for the whole family. And reigning over all is Theda Bara as Cleopatra, and even in still photos, she dominates every scene, revealing, in more ways than one, why she was one of the most popular stars of the silent era and why Cleopatra remains such a famous and iconic film decades after anyone has seen it.

As a writer and a film historian, I started writing a book about Theda Bara and her lost epic. Finding hundreds of stills related to Cleopatra, I realized, as a filmmaker, that these images, combined with the original screenplay, could be made into a video that reconstructed how Cleopatra looked to audiences in 1918 through a montage of stills and replicated title cards. Lost Cleopatra is dedicated to reimagining this lost film through its surviving images. So far I have edited together a 90 minute rough cut composed of approximately 500 still pictures, but more is needed for its completion.

What is needed
My project has generated considerable interest among silent film buffs. However, to reach a wider audience, through television, DVDs and digital downloads, I need to create a highly polished and technically precise production, for which I lack the necessary resources. Your donations will contribute to the following:

Hiring a composer to create and record a score for the finished reconstruction.
The purchase and licensing of additional Cleopatra stills from archives, collectors and other sources, as some archives charge $100 per image or more.
The surviving film clip of is badly scratched and needs to be restored, which will be costly.
The construction of a website which will promote Lost Cleopatra and help find missing stills by publicizing the project, and search out additional stills for lost films for possible reconstruction.
Hiring researchers who can comb through remote archives and perhaps uncover additional remaining stills.
The creation of additional stills to represent scenes that are missing photographic representation, using image elements of existing stills. Moreover, some badly damaged stills require extensive photo editing.
The arranging of DVD extras, including additional films and a DVD commentary.
Why 'Lost Cleopatra'?
Lost Cleopatra cannot replace Cleopatra; at most it can only suggest of the glorious Hollywood epic that once was. That's why I'm titling it Lost Cleopatra as the original film is still lost. Arguably, the most important contribution Lost Cleopatra may have is to generate enough publicity that a film collector somewhere realizes that he has a print of Cleopatra and shares it with the world. Barring that wonderful (though remote) possibility, Lost Cleopatra will highlight the need to preserve our cultural treasures, because not only have so many films been lost, they are still being lost due to the lack of resources to save them from inevitable deterioration and disintegration. Let Lost Cleopatra be the banner to which we rally to save our cinematic heritage. Through it, there may be an understanding that we have tragically been denied viewing this wonderful epic that once was, and learn how many other films are clamoring for preservation.

I am Phillip Dye, a writer, producer and director with many video productions to my credit and having assisted before and behind the camera on many more films and videos. I am also a published writer and as a film historian have researched extensively on Hollywood and especially the silent era. Lost Cleopatra will be my first independent production, in which I have been supported by some of the top leading film historians, who have contributed numerous stills, information and technical advice to this project in hopes of it reaching fruition. I have been engaged in this project for nearly twenty years, mostly gathering up stills and doing research, chiefly at my own expense, but I have reached a stage in the production where I lack the technical expertise and resources to complete the project on my own without financial assistance.

Why Support 'Lost Cleopatra'
Why not just contribute to the the saving and restoration of archival films? Well, yeah, you can do that, and I encourage you to do so by contacting the National Film Preservation Foundation and other such organizations to see how your donations can go to film preservation. But you might consider donating to the reconstruction of Cleopatra, because Lost Cleopatra going to be totally awesome, recreating as much as possible that scandalous jaw-dropping epic. Cleopatra may not have been a cinematic masterpiece, but it was a whole helluva lot of fun, and you can be a part of its resurrection and reanimation through the modern magic of computer editing. As the centennial of the film's premiere in October of 1917 approaches, it is unlikely a print of Cleopatra will be found, but you can make sure that Lost Cleopatra will enthrall and thrill audiences just as the original did a century ago.

To complete Lost Cleopatra I need support to find and get additional stills, technical assistance and a score written for the finished production, otherwise, I'll have to rely on a stock music library (which can also be expensive) or maybe just me and a kazoo. But your contributions can make sure that Lost Cleopatra can be a polished production that can get broadcast on television, that can get distribution on DVD or through digital download and actually get seen by a wide enough audience that will in turn support film preservation.

If you can't donate directly, at least spread the word about someonetrying to reconstruct a lost film through a video composed of a bunch of stills-- but it's going to be really cool!
Spread the word about the need to preserve our cinematic past.
I thank you. And Theda Bara thanks you.


Phillip Dye
Los Angeles, CA

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