A few days ago, I mentioned that I’d finally tracked down a copy of Berkeley Square, a 1933 time-travel film starring Leslie Howard and Heather Angel and directed by Frank Lloyd for Fox, and my copy of the film arrived in the mail yesterday afternoon.
Berkeley Square is one of the earliest time-travel films made by a major studio (I’d argue that some of Edison’s shorts might qualify as “time travel”), whihc makes it important to my book project, but I’d been led to believe that the film could not be viewed, that it was among the hundreds of films from the early history of cinema that had not been preserved. The film is also of interest because Andre Breton once commented on how it realized some of the principles of Surrealism (an observation that was somewht more significant to my dissertation than it likely will be to my book). So, yeah, I’m incredibly excited to have the film in my hands, but I’ve now found myself resisting the idea of sitting down and watching it. It’s not that I’m not interested or that I’m bored with my book project. Quite the opposite, in fact. And I don’t think that my resistance comes from any sense that the film will “disappoint” me. I’ve read enough about the film that I have some sense of what to expect.
Instead, I think I’ve always enjoyed the idea that a “lost” film might provide the framework for a project about cinema and time. This attraction to lost objects may also explain why I found Bill Morrison’s Decasia, which consists of a montage of decaying film footage set to the symphonic music of Michael Gordon, so appealing. Now that I know the film exists, if only on video (another medium that is prone to decay), I fear that some of the film’s magic, or aura in Walter Benjamin’s sense of the term, will be lost.