Legendary Lost Film Found in UNCSA Archive – To Screen at RiverRun

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by Camel City Dispatch

By Chad Nance

Celluloid has a distinctive smell. To guys like myself and the UNCSA School of Filmmaking’s senior curator David Spencer, it is our napalm in the morning. A clean, vaguely chemical ambrosia that brings back memories of a lifetime spent sitting in the dark, working on set and sharing the dreams with generations of filmmakers and film fans.

When David Spencer and I walked through the UNCSA School of Filmmaking’s archive, it was hard not to become intoxicated by the miles of dented, rusty film cans with labels like The Trial of Billy Jack, Bloodfist II and Bastard Swordsmen. It was in this vast archive that Spencer discovered one of cinema’s lost treasures. The film, originally released as Catch My Soul before being re-titled as Santa Fe Satan, is an exclusive rarity that we in Winston-Salem will have the honor of seeing at the RiverRun International Film Festival, where it will be screened publicly for the first time in decades .

catch my soul
catch my soul

The story really begins over 10 years ago, when UNCSA purchased 180 tractor-trailer truck loads of film prints (20,000 in all) from National Film Service. The prints had belonged to a company that distributed on the drive-in circuit at the time when that was a “B” or second tier theater system thriving in rural America. The purchased films were brought here to Winston-Salem. First they were stored in a warehouse once owned by RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co. Then the prints had to be removed when the building was leased out to someone else. Three moves later and the UNCSA film archive was able to begin to sort and catalog the films. Because of spotty paperwork and damage to the film cans, many of these prints have to be gone over one at a time in order to figure out exactly what the various cans contain.

In 2003, after having sorted through and cataloged a portion of the films, Spencer was seeking to trade some of the Archive’s duplicate prints. Spencer told CCD that he met with a private film collector to see if some of the duplicates could be traded for film prints the Archives wanted. While they were looking at one another’s wares, Spencer noticed that one of the prints the gentleman had was titled “Santa Fe Satan.” Once Spencer understood that the film was a musical version of Othello starring Woodstock opening act Richie Havens, he was positive he had to have that print. The collector told him to just take it.

It was only after doing some research that Spencer realized that this Richie Havens curio was, in fact, one of the legendary “Lost Films.” Hard core cinema fans and film preservationists like David Spencer know that there are a certain number of  these “Lost Films” – films for which there are set photos, stills, scripts, posters, or personal memories, but where the film print itself has disappeared. Films such as Lon Chaney’s London After Midnight and Jerry Lewis’ The Day the Clown Cried are famous examples, but there are hundreds of other lesser known “Lost Films” such as King Kong Appears in Ido (the first kaiju movie, pre-dating Godzilla by 16 years) which is presumed to have been incinerated in the fire-bombing of Tokyo during World War II.

Catch my Soul is a well known Lost Film. listed it in their article on the top ten Lost Films. Film Threat has listed it as #19 in their Lost Film list. CoolcatDaddy has it on their Lost Films wiki, and Mental Floss has it in their top ten Lost Films list. Now, with Spencer’s discovery in the UNCSA archive, Catch My Soul is lost no more.

The story of Catch My Soul began in 1968 when a musical theater version of Othello titled Catch My Soul opened as a play for a short run in LA, with Jerry Lee Lewis playing Iago. The British creator Jack Good took the play back to the UK after a three month run that scored them some decent reviews, but no financial success. An article written by Gregg Kilday in the Los Angeles Times in 1972 reported that after the play wrapped in the UK, Good returned to LA, where he tinkered with the script for a while. One of the most vicious and legendary murders in American history occurred close to Good’s home in LA, and went on to make headlines around the globe and scare everyone who already looked on America’s hairy headed youth as somewhat of a threat. Charlie Manson and his gang of mutants slaughtered a nice middle class couple and then went on to murder actress Sharon Tate and those who were unlucky enough to be with her. This butchery affected Good in a profound way, and the musical began to take on elements of the counter culture, with Iago morphing from a crazed red-neck with whiskey breath and a Steinway into a Manson-like cult leader of a group called The Tribe of Hell.

mcgoohan as danger man
mcgoohan as danger man

Good decided to set up shop to direct a film version of Catch my Soul himself.  Eventually Good would decide that he didn’t have the skills to do the work justice and he heard that Actor Patrick McGoohan was in New Mexico and wasn‘t currently working. McGoohan had relocated from England to Santa Fe. At the time McGoohan was a world famous television star. He had first played John Drake in the BBC import TV program Danger Man and would soon be known as The Prisoner to an growing and loyal cult of fans. (His swan song was as Edward I in Mel Gibson’s Braveheart.) Santa-Fe had already become a retreat for celebrities and artists such as painter Georgia O’Keeffe, sculptor John Connell, and writers like George R.R. Martin (Game of Thrones).  Jack Good met with McGoohan, and after several meetings eventually convinced McGoohan to make his debut at the helm of a feature film. “It took me weeks of argument before I could even persuade Patrick to direct this picture,” Good told the U.K. Sun. “He’s a genius, but a difficult son-of-a-bitch. I love the man, but his indifference to his trappings of success would exasperate a saint.”

The film was shot by nearly mythic cinematographer Conrad Hall. He was the camera man behind such classic films as In Cold Blood, Cool Hand Luke and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. In the 1980’s he shot Robert Townes’ beautiful Tequila Sunrise and capped off his career with Sam Mendes’ American Beauty and Road to Perdition.

The film was made featuring legendary folk singer Richie Havens as Othello. Havens has played famous gigs from Woodstock to President Bill Clinton’s first inauguration. Haven’s only other acting job was in an exploitation film called Street Hunter(1990) which featured Yor The Hunter, himself, Reb Brown and a young John Leguizamo.

A former Elvis Presley stunt double named Lance LeGault originated Iago on the London stage following the LA version, a role he reprised in the film. LeGault would go on to cult fame in the 1980s appearing in classic television shows like Magnum PI and Quantum, Leap. The role he will always be associated with, however, is as the A-Team’s US Army nemesis, Colonel Decker.

Season Hubley played Desdemona. She already had hard-core drive-in cred, co-starring with Jeff Bridges and Rod Steiger in Lolly-Madonna XXX (also considered a lost film by some historians, although there are rumors of prints floating around). She would also appear in John Carpenter’s Escape from New York then go on to bear Snake Plisken’s children until she and Kurt Russell split up.

The film was released as Catch my Soul and didn’t exactly burn up the box office. The drive-through company put a new credit sequence onto the film, re-titling it Santa Fe Satan (because, remember, Satan was cooler then) and the film played in Drive-Ins wherever they could program it… then it disappeared. All that was left were the memories of those that worked on it, some photos, lobby cards and a soundtrack album that was still available after the coming of CD’s.

hubley and degault
hubley and degault

Nearly 30 years later, when David Spencer found the film, he knew that the UNCSA Archives had something special on their hands. They had, for the first time, a genuine Lost Film. According to Spencer the print is in good condition. There is some color fade, but no green sparkle or rain lines. “It’s clearly been used.” Spencer said, “but it doesn’t have serious emulsion scratches or any damage of that kind.” The print UNCSA has does not contain the original title sequence, rather it has the Sante Fe Satan opening.

Spencer is currently at work on a restoration and has been in touch with the McGoohan estate about the print. McGoohan’s daughter, Catherine, is an actress in her own right having appeared on television shows like General Hospital and The Gilmore Girls. She has since flown to Winston-Salem to see a special screening of the print that Spencer arranged for her.

Enter the cinema fans and dedicated staff who produce Winston-Salem’s RiverRun International Film Festival. On April 12, 2014 RiverRun and UNCSA will team up to screen Catch My Soul publicly for the first time since its Drive-In run as Santa Fe Satan. This will be a historic screening of a film that has not been seen in decades and been thought lost for all time.

Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation has stated that “half of all American films made before 1950 and over 90% of films made before 1929 are lost forever.” German film archivist at Deutsche Kinemathek estimate that between 80-90% of all silent movies are lost. The UNCSA archive is working to preserve films and keep them from going the way of the lost. The archive is home to important prints such as a 70mm road show print of Apocalypse Now that is so rare (and just plain dope) that Francis Coppola himself borrows the print when he wants to screen his master work. Other cult gems are preserved there as well, films like 1977’s Bare Knuckles, 1976’s Mean Johnny Barrows, and 1972’s The Big Bird Cage starring Winston-Salem’s own Pam Grier.

uncsa film archive
uncsa film archive

Film archivists are right this moment rummaging around old barns, warehouses and sometimes in the basements of people who died and left film collections. They are looking to find a lost treasure that will allow scholars to mark the title of another Lost Film off of the list. They are searching for that unique, crystalline feeling when a searcher finds something historic and important. Searchers long to feel that mad rush of discovery that David Spencer knows firsthand… and those lucky enough to catch the upcoming RiverRun screening will soon feel that tingle themselves.


If you are interested in coming to Winston-Salem to see Catch My Soul you can find out about the screening at the RiverRun homepage HERE.  You can also find out about travel arrangements, hotels and other amenities available in Winston-Salem HERE


richie havens as othello
richie havens as othello


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