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10 Famous Found Films

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We just looked at 10 famous films that might be lost forever. But there's hope! Here are 10 famous films that were missing before magically turning up.

1. The first version of John Cassavetes’ Shadows

John Cassavetes shot his first film, Shadows, twice. Unhappy with the first version, he scrapped and reshot nearly sixty percent of it. Boston University professor and Cassavetes expert Ray Carney conducted an interview with the director and concluded that at least one print of the original might still exist. Carney spent decades following false leads from archivists, curators, and collectors—until he contacted a Florida woman who claimed her father, a junk collector and owner of a Manhattan second-hand shop, had purchased a box of reels labeled “Shadows” from a New York City subway system lost-and-found sale.

Carney was incredulous at first, and upon acquiring the reels, he let them sit, sure that they were yet another print of the film’s second version. Upon unspooling the film, he was struck immediately. The second version of Shadows opens with a crowd scene—the film in his hands opens with a lone figure walking down a street. The first version of the landmark indie film was found.

2. Ed Wood’s Necromania

Everyone is familiar with 1959’s Plan 9 From Outer Space, but “Z movie” auteur Ed Wood, Jr., made films all the way into the 1970s. That part of his career is characterized by his exploitation and porn films, such as Orgy of the Dead, The Only House in Town, and the 1971’s Necromania. Pieces of the film bounced around, but no complete copy was ever found, despite the best efforts of “Woodites.” That is, until 2001, when prominent Wood biographer Rudolph Grey, Jr., ended his 17-year quest by discovering a complete print of Necromania in a Los Angeles warehouse.??

3. Richard III, the first full-length film of a Shakespeare play

This version of Shakespeare’s Richard III is both the first feature-length film of a Shakespeare play and the earliest known American feature film still in existence. It was thought lost forever until 1996, when a Portland, Oregon, projectionist and collector donated a near-mint print of the 1912 silent to The American Film Institute, which was unaware of the print’s existence.??

4. Carl T. Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc

One of the greatest films of the silent era, The Passion of Joan of Arc featured what critic Pauline Kael described as what “may be the finest performance ever recorded on film” by one-and-done actress Maria Falconetti. Damaged, spliced-together copies of this Danish classic were known to exist, but the original, pristine version was thought lost forever. Cut to Norway, 1981, when a complete, near-perfect print was discovered—by a janitor, in the broom closet of a Norway mental hospital. It is thought that a doctor from the hospital had ordered a print of the film in the 1930s and had simply forgotten about it.??

5. A Thief Catcher, featuring a two-minute cameo from Charlie Chaplin

Silent comedy collector Paul Guriecki (aka “The Godfather of the Silent Comedy Mafia,” according to his Twitter profile) was browsing a Michigan antique sale earlier this year and came upon a reel tucked away in a trunk. He purchased the reel, thinking it was just another in a long line Keystone Studios shorts. Little did he know at the time, that ten-minute short, A Thief Catcher, features a film historian’s dream: a two-minute cameo from the not-yet-famous Tramp, one of the first of Chaplin wearing his iconic moustache.

??6. Upstream (and lots, lots more)

In the spring of 2010, a 75-film trove was found in a New Zealand vault. Many “rediscovered films” are found alone, forgotten in an archive, a closet, an attic (or, of course, in the New York City subway). Rarely do film geeks have the opportunity to salivate over a treasure trove of lost films like they did earlier this year, when 75 films were found in a Kiwi vault. As if finding 75 thought-lost films wasn’t enough, the collection also included manna for film geeks: Upstream, an early feature film directed by Hollywood legend John Ford, who went on to direct film-school standards Stagecoach and The Searchers. Other highlights are Birth of a Hat, a short industrial film from the Stetson Company; and Won in the Closet, directed by Mabel Normand, one of the earliest films directed by an actress.??

7. Nazi propaganda film Victory of Faith, directed by Leni Riefenstahl

Hitler’s infamous documentarian made a trip to Great Britain in 1934 to lecture college students on her filmmaking process. She brought with her Victory of Faith, a film featuring footage of the 1933 Nuremberg rally as well as appearances by Ernst Rohm, who at the time was Hitler's close friend and leader of the SA (more commonly known today as the Brownshirts). Rohm's career path in that early Nazi era was a little too ambitious for Der Fuhrer, who later ordered a purge of the SA, and arrested Rohm himself, denouncing him as a traitor. Rohm was deemed an outcast overnight, and Hitler demanded all references to him purged from the public record. This meant all copies of Victory of Faith were destroyed, too. That is, all but one, a copy made during Riefenstahl's visit to Britain, rediscovered in the 1990s.

??8. Momotaro: Umi no Shinpei, the first Japanese animated feature

Translated to “Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors,” this propaganda cartoon—a sequel to director Mitsuyo Seo’s earlier 37-minute film featuring the same character—from the land of anime features the Japanese folklore character Peach Boy, who leads a band of animals in an attack on an Indonesian island with the mission to liberate Asia. After the war, most Japanese propaganda films, Momotaro included, were thought to have been destroyed. But one print of the important animated feature survived and was found in 1984, in the offices of Japanese film company Shochiku.??

9. Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino romance Beyond the Rocks

This silent-era treasure featuring two of Hollywood's greatest stars was considered lost forever, except for a one-minute fragment kept by the Nederlands Filmmuseum. In 2002, a Dutch film collector passed away, leaving his assortment of 2,000 reels to the museum. Archivists spent months cataloging the donation, which included all six complete reels of the Swanson-Valentino film, each in remarkable condition.??

10. Howard Hughes production Two Arabian Knights

Hughes, famous aviator, film producer, and mentally ill recluse, produced this 1927 silent comedy about two American World War I POWs starring Mary Astor, she of The Maltese Falcon fame. (The film also features horror-movie legend Boris Karloff in a small role.) Knights was well received in its day, winning director Lewis Milestone an Oscar for "Best Direction in a Comedy," an award that the Academy no longer hands out. It disappeared shortly thereafter, and wasn't recovered until Hughes' death about fifty years later. It was found in his film collection and then restored by a University of Nevada film historian. Certainly more interesting than the jars of Hughes’ urine that may have accompanied it!

Today is October 10, 2010—10.10.10! To celebrate, we've got all our writers working on 10 lists, which we'll be posting throughout the day and night. To see all the lists we've published so far, click here.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Live Smarter
Working Nights Could Keep Your Body from Healing
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The world we know today relies on millions of people getting up at sundown to go put in a shift on the highway, at the factory, or in the hospital. But the human body was not designed for nocturnal living. Scientists writing in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine say working nights could even prevent our bodies from healing damaged DNA.

It’s not as though anybody’s arguing that working in the dark and sleeping during the day is good for us. Previous studies have linked night work and rotating shifts to increased risks for heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, and car accidents. In 2007, the World Health Organization declared night work “probably or possibly carcinogenic.”

So while we know that flipping our natural sleep/wake schedule on its head can be harmful, we don’t completely know why. Some scientists, including the authors of the current paper, think hormones have something to do with it. They’ve been exploring the physiological effects of shift work on the body for years.

For one previous study, they measured workers’ levels of 8-OH-dG, which is a chemical byproduct of the DNA repair process. (All day long, we bruise and ding our DNA. At night, it should fix itself.) They found that people who slept at night had higher levels of 8-OH-dG in their urine than day sleepers, which suggests that their bodies were healing more damage.

The researchers wondered if the differing 8-OH-dG levels could be somehow related to the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate our body clocks. They went back to the archived urine from the first study and identified 50 workers whose melatonin levels differed drastically between night-sleeping and day-sleeping days. They then tested those workers’ samples for 8-OH-dG.

The difference between the two sleeping periods was dramatic. During sleep on the day before working a night shift, workers produced only 20 percent as much 8-OH-dG as they did when sleeping at night.

"This likely reflects a reduced capacity to repair oxidative DNA damage due to insufficient levels of melatonin,” the authors write, “and may result in cells harbouring higher levels of DNA damage."

DNA damage is considered one of the most fundamental causes of cancer.

Lead author Parveen Bhatti says it’s possible that taking melatonin supplements could help, but it’s still too soon to tell. This was a very small study, the participants were all white, and the researchers didn't control for lifestyle-related variables like what the workers ate.

“In the meantime,” Bhatti told Mental Floss, “shift workers should remain vigilant about following current health guidelines, such as not smoking, eating a balanced diet and getting plenty of sleep and exercise.”