The concept of a ‘lost film’–in other words a film that there is proof of having been made but no known print extant–is a terribly sad one. But the concept of a fragment of a lost film surviving is downright ghostly. Oftentimes these scraps of otherwise vanished films are all historians and archivists have to cling to, while hoping that a forgotten print of the full film turns up in some unlikely place. (Actually, a number of lost films have turned up in New Zealand, as that was generally the last country studios shipped their prints too). As a filmmaker myself, the idea that the backbreaking labor that goes into making a movie–not to mention the tedious and frustrating process of raising the money to even get the damn thing started–results in the whole thing simply vanishing without a trace is a ghastly thought. So when fragments such as the above one from ‘Three Week-Ends’ starring Clara Bow (1928) are found I feel a special affection for them and more than a little poignancy. The fragments attest to the hard labor that went into the production, staging, editing etc. and the vibrancy of the performers, while allowing us to examine what amounts to a few pieces of a major jigsaw puzzle. The fragment seems to cry out “Hey! Wait! Don’t forget about me!’ from some distant cinematic graveyard.
As for the movie itself, this Wikipedia entry will fill you in on most of what’s known about ‘Three Week-Ends’, including the various ways in which the title was misspelled. What we see in this roughly two minute clip is a view of the late 1920s, with sexy chorus girls dancing, a swank high-energy party in progress and a man with brilliantine hair attempting to pick up Clara Bow. The twenties were such a different time than any other and seemed to come to a crashing halt at the end of the decade, with almost nothing left of the styles of the time in music, dress, mannerism or even storytelling. So this ghostly little piece of film is as much a part of cultural history as film history. Note that I’ve posted a recording of Bix Beiderbecke and Frank Trumbauer’s recording of ‘Ostrich Walk’ directly beneath the film clip. It’s very important that you mute the dreadful ‘silent movie theater’ piano music on the ‘Three Week-Ends’ clip and sync it up to the ‘Ostrich Walk’ record. The two work beautifully in tandem, if I do say so myself.