Stories of long-lost films have always fascinated me. From the 1921 Marx Bros film Humor Risk (which Groucho, reportedly, personally destroyed), to Jerry Lewis’s 1971 Holocaust movie The Day the Clown Cried (the only copy of which exists in Jerry Lewis’s house), these films are the stuff of legend. I’ve often dreamed about finding a copy of Lon Chaney Snr’s London After Midnight (1927) or owning Woody Allen’s Men of Crisis: The Harvey Wallbanger Story (1971) on DVD, but deep down I know this is never going to happen.
What’s unusual is when a modern film joins the ranks of The Missing. It’s practically impossible these days for entire films to go missing, so if they’re unavailable for the general public, there’s usually a very good, very specific, very deliberate reason.
In 2010, Steven Soderbergh directed the play Tot Mom for the Sydney Theatre company, about the recent Casey Anthony trial in the US. As the play came together, an exciting piece of news emerged: during rehearsals, Soderbergh was shooting an improvised film with the play’s cast.
Here’s the thing: Steven Soderbergh is my favourite working director, so the idea of another film from him always excites me. I waited patiently for news of the film’s release, keeping an eye on movie news sites and occasionally looking it up on IMDb. Then I discovered the truth: the film, titled The Last Time I Saw Michael Gregg, was never coming out. It was only ever intended to be seen by the cast.
I was a little crushed, but also a bit thrilled, because it’s this sort of thing that makes me love Soderbergh. Sure, there may have been various other contributing factors (such as release forms or music rights or all sorts of things that meant a public release was never feasible), but I liked the idea that it was an exercise for him. A bit of fun. This is, after all, a man who, rumour has it, edited Hitchcock’s Psycho and van Sant’s Psycho together into one supercut, just because the idea tickled him.
It was disappointing, but I resigned myself to the fact that I would never see it.
Then, something happened to snap me out of my stupor of acceptance. For the past two-and-a-half years, I’ve been recording a monthly film podcast with my filmmaker friend Paul Nelson, called Hell Is For Hyphenates. Each month, we have a different guest on to talk about recent film releases, debate a hot-button cinematic topic, and explore the career of a filmmaker as chosen by the guest.
In the past, we’ve talked about everyone from Mike Leigh to Pier Paolo Pasolini. From Michael Bay to Jan Svankmajer. David Fincher to Andrei Tarkovsky.
When our August guest, film critic Alice Tynan, told us that she’d chosen Steven Soderbergh, I decided to throw caution to the wind and attempt track down a copy of The Last Time I Saw Michael Gregg. I knew the task would be close-to-impossible, but I also knew that if I failed, the result would be the same as if I never tried. And if I succeeded…
I wish I could tell you the story of how I got it. I really do. It sure as hell wasn’t easy. It’s a story filled with the most extraordinary twists and turns, joys and disappointments, and about six instances in which it became clear if failed, that even the screenwriter of Wild Things would find it a bit far-fetched. Unfortunately, I have to protect my sources, so I can never tell it. But trust me: it’s a good one.
I’ve done some searching, and, as far as I can tell, nobody else in the world has reviewed or discussed The Last Time I Saw Michael Gregg, publicly and so Hell Is For Hypehantes can proudly lay claim to this exclusive.
You’ll have to listen to it to find out what I thought, but I will say this: I wish more people could see it. (It goes without saying that I won’t be the one to facilitate this. Honestly, don’t ask me for a copy or an upload to the web. It’s not going to happen.) But I do hope that, at some point in the future, it eventually gets a release. Soderbergh fans who, like me, revel in his more handmade films like Schizopolis or Full Frontal will absolutely eat this up.
There aren’t many filmmakers who can successfully throw together a film like this, but Soderbergh is one. And I say that with all due credit to the actors, who clearly improvise much of the material, and are, without exception, hilarious.
So, in the meantime you can hear me surprise the hell out of Paul and Alice with my revelation in the August 2012 edition of Hell Is For Hyphenates. Download it from the website, or subscribe via iTunes. And do feel free to check out previous episodes whilst you’re there. They have fewer world-first exclusives, but they’re packed full of moxie and some pretty engaging, funny and insightful film talk.