ABOUT THE PROJECT
More than 75% of movies made before 1929 no longer exist. Most were sold for scrap, burned in fires or simply rotted away as the unstable silver nitrate film decomposed, with the incalculable loss to human cultural heritage. Topping the American Film Institute's list of missing motion pictures, Cleopatra is the queen of lost films. Made in 1917, it was the biggest box office success of 1918, in spite of (or because of) the loud protestations of state and local censors about the titular character's overt sexuality and near nudity.
Cleopatra starred Theda Bara, the first Hollywood sex goddess. Fox studios promoted her as a mysterious vamp 'born in the shadow of the sphinx,' the daughter of a French artist and an Arab princess (or an Italian sculptor and a French actress-- the stories varied). In reality, she was Theodosia Goodman, a nice Jewish girl from Ohio. Bara vamped her way in dozens of movies portraying a man-devouring femme fatale, making her one of the biggest stars of the movies.
However, practically none of her 40 movies survive, as most of them burned in a film vault fire in 1937. Among the destroyed was Bara's most famous movie, Cleopatra, of which only a few seconds survive.
Which is a pity, as Cleopatra was so deliciously and outrageously over the top as to be irresistible. There were land battles, a sea battle, civil war, military conquest, assassination plots, numerous seductions and betrayals, adultery, infidelity, jealous rages, unrequited love, the fury of women scorned, nudity, rioting in in the streets, a tomb robbing, mummy curses, necromancy, black magic, attempted murders, an attempted poisoning,
secret passages, summary executions, a prison escape, regicide, patricide, suicide, the desecration of a holy relic, a hand being chopped off-- basically fun for the whole family. And reigning over all is Theda Bara as Cleopatra, and even in still photos, she dominates every scene, revealing, in more ways than one, why she was one of the most popular stars of the silent era and why Cleopatra remains such a famous and iconic film decades after anyone has seen it.
As a writer and a film historian, I started writing a book about Theda Bara and her lost epic. Finding hundreds of stills related to Cleopatra, I realized, as a filmmaker, that these images, combined with the original screenplay, could be made into a video that reconstructed how Cleopatra looked to audiences in 1918 through a montage of stills and replicated title cards. Lost Cleopatra is dedicated to reimagining this lost film through its surviving images. So far I have edited together a 90 minute rough cut composed of approximately 500 still pictures, but more is needed for its completion.