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10 Great Discoveries of “Lost” Movies and TV Shows

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A recent study by the Library of Congress revealed that 70 percent of the 11,000 silent films produced in America have been lost forever due to time and neglect. But we shouldn't completely give up hope that some of the films won't be recovered. A number of films and even television shows once thought lost have been rediscovered, quite unexpectedly, in many unusual ways. Here are some of the more surprising finds.

1. Found on eBay: Charlie Chaplin in Zepped

In 2009, an English inventor bought a can of film for $5 on eBay, containing a 1916 Charlie Chaplin film. Not only was the film “lost,” but nobody was even aware of its existence. Though filmed in Hollywood, Charlie Chaplin in Zepped supported Britain’s World War I effort. It would be auctioned in 2011 for £100,000 ($164,070)—just before another copy of the same film was discovered at a charity shop, in a box with many other odds and ends. 

2. Found in milk churns: The Mitchell & Kenyon Collection

Filmmakers Sagar Mitchell and James Kenyon roamed the British Isles between 1900 and 1913, filming people in their everyday lives, news footage, and slapstick comedy that might have influenced Chaplin. Their films were missing until 1994, when two workmen, at the site of an old toyshop, found three large milk churns containing hundreds of small spools of film. How the films found their way into milk churns was unknown, and it was lucky that the highly flammable nitrate film had survived so long, in such conditions, without exploding. The discovery, however, was a buzz for historians.

3. Found in the wrong place, with the wrong title: The Sentimental Bloke

Considered by many buffs to be Australia’s greatest silent movie, The Sentimental Bloke (1919) was based on a popular poem. For decades, it was assumed that no high-quality copy existed—until an Australian archivist found it, by chance, in a U.S. archive. If it had been archived, why didn’t anyone know about it? Well, it had been relabeled “The Sentimental Blonde.” The slang word “bloke” (man) is common in Britain and Australia, but not in the U.S., so the librarian assumed that it was a misprint and helpfully “corrected” it. 

4. Left for safekeeping: Outside the Law

In the 1920s, a man who worked for Universal Pictures, delivering films around the country, left some films for safekeeping with friends in Crystal, Minnesota. He never returned for the films, and the family forgot about them for over a generation, leaving them in the barn. The films might still be there today, if a later resident had not heard film historian Bob DeFlores interviewed on radio, talking about lost films. After she called in, DeFlores discovered that the one of the films was Outside the Law (1920), a lost crime film starring Lon Chaney and directed by Tod Browning. 

5. Found in a dead man’s collection: The White Shadow

Many lost films and TV shows are jealously guarded by private collectors—and sometimes, these collectors don’t know the treasure they’re sitting on. The private collection of a New Zealand cinema projectionist was left in an archive after his death in 1989. It was not until 2011 that an American archivist was sent to investigate—and she found that the collection was far more exciting that its owner had thought. A reel labeled “Twin Sisters” was actually half of The White Shadow, a lost 1924 film whose assistant director (and writer, set designer, and editor) was a multitalented 24-year-old named Alfred Hitchcock, who would make his directing debut the next year. “Unidentified American Film,” meanwhile, was found to be part of Upstream (1927), an important John Ford comedy.

6. Found in an asylum: Tarzan and the Golden Lion

Many “lost” films have been discovered in attics, sheds, barns, flea markets, even one in a film can that was being used as a football by a bunch of schoolboys! However, few places were more unusual than a French asylum in the 1990s, where many silent films were stacked in a closet. This included the lost film Tarzan and the Golden Lion (1927), starring former All-American footballer Big Jim Pierce as Tarzan.

7. Rescued on the way to the junkyard: The Flying Doctor

In Australia, a project called the “Last Film Search” was started in the 1960s, tracking down early films before they were destroyed in the hot Australian summers. As Aussies heard about this project, some of them made daring rescues. In one case, workmen clearing a building site in Sydney opened a structure that (unknown to them) was an old vault of a demolished film studio. The vault was full of films (naturally), which were loaded into a truck to be (uh oh) taken to a local junkyard. On the way, however, they were noticed by an office worker, who chased them in his car. Like a dashing movie hero, he stopped them in the nick of time. The films were saved—most notably a lost 1936 film called The Flying Doctor. 

8. Finally uncovered by the star: The Honeymooners

For decades, fans of the classic sitcom The Honeymooners could watch only 39 episodes, shot on 35mm film during the 1955-56 season. These were shown in endless reruns. However, dozens of episodes (recorded live on kinescope film between 1951 and 1957) had been hoarded by the star of the series, Jackie Gleason. Eventually, Gleason released the “Lost Honeymooners” to the public, and this newly discovered treasure trove began airing on Showtime in 1985. The reason that Gleason finally revealed these episodes? “I’m sick of watching those other Honeymooners.” 

9. Found in the star’s garage: Richard Burton’s Hamlet

This filmed record of a very popular Broadway production in 1964, starring Burton and directed by Peter O’Toole, was thought not so much “lost” as destroyed. By contractual agreement, all prints were to be destroyed after the film’s (somewhat less than successful) cinema run. As with the play itself, the idea was that you had to be there. However, a print was unexpectedly discovered in Burton’s garage following his death in 1984. 

10. Found in the censors’ vaults: the nastiest moments from Doctor Who!

Of the classic Doctor Who episodes, 97 are missing, thanks to film and videotape being erased or junked. That sounds terrible, until you consider that, back in 1983, a total of 134 episodes were missing. Since then, several episodes have been retrieved—partly by the BBC (which has been searching to fill in the gaps in their archives) and partly by the show’s fans. One of the more unusual retrievals was in 1996, when fans noticed that the Australian Archives had several scenes on 16mm film, excised from the show for Australian broadcast. The censors had deemed these scenes—most of which last only a few seconds—to be too violent, too scary or too disturbing for children. It is ironic that, since that discovery, the censored moments of some episodes, the ones too terrible to show, are the only ones that survive!

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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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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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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