The child of the broken heart, Elaine May‘s classic anti-rom-com, turns 50 this year. But unlike The Godfather, also celebrating its golden anniversary, opportunities to see it are limited. The broken child has not been restored and has not been re-released theatrically. It is not available for streaming. Your best bet is to find a now-out-of-print VHS or DVD edition of the film, which is currently $57 and $170, respectively, on Amazon.
For all practical purposes, The broken child is missing. It’s one of many contemporary films that, to the surprise and distress of their creators, have fallen into distribution limbo. “All of us involved in The broken child I was hoping it would be reissued,” Jeannie Berlin, Oscar-nominated for her hilarious and heartbreaking performance as Lila, the bride dumped by her husband on their honeymoon, says vanity lounge in an email. “There are many practices, theories and ways of making decisions in this business that don’t make sense to me.”
For The child of the broken heart, as well as movies like I killed Andy Warhol, the documentary The weavers: wasn’t it time? Laurie Andersonthe movie of the concert house of the brave, and much more, a happy ending may be on the horizon. Missing Movies, a consortium of artists and film professionals, has formed an advocacy group on behalf of directors seeking to reclaim the rights to their films. She also hopes to raise public awareness of the vagaries of film distribution.
“So many people say, ‘You can get anything on the internet,'” notes Amy Heller, member of the founding board of directors of Missing Movies with her husband, Dennis Doros. “We are talking about an industry that is owned by a few extraordinarily large organizations. It also reduces diversity and flexibility [in what is available].”
Doros adds, “The subscription model depends on the new product. That’s where the money is. They focus on creating new content.
Officially launched last February, Missing Movies largely began about four years ago. That’s when Ira Deutschman asked the manager Nancy Savoca to screen his 1993 independent film, household saints, at Columbia University, where Deutchman taught for 35 years.
“The university organized a retrospective of my career,” he says. “One of the movies I advocated for was household saints, in which I participated as an executive producer and co-financier when I ran Fine Line Features. I started calling to find out if he was available for the screen. Low and be, not only was it not available, but it was a mystery who controlled the rights and where the materials were. It was a mess.”
No one was more surprised than Savoca and her husband and producing partner, Richard Guay. Saints of the house was one of the highest rated films of 1993 and won an Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Actress (Lili Taylor). “The 1990s were a wonderful time,” Savoca says. “All of these companies wanted to deliver home video content. A lot of wonderful filmmakers have had the opportunity to do really interesting work. So, we thought, move on to the next movie. Little thought has been given to previously published works.
Deutchman’s request was a wake-up call. household saints, as well as the Emmy-nominated anthology *If These Walls Could Talk – *which Savoca co-wrote and directed two segments – are not available to stream. “I turned to Richard and said, ‘I’m going to disappear,'” she said.
There are many reasons why a film may disappear, ranging from obtaining prohibitive music rights, to producing entities and rights holders going bankrupt, and to the indifference of the studios. The problem with household saints, said Deutchman, was that the rights to New Line and the rights to Columbia TriStar Home Video had expired. “Nancy, Richard, myself and Sue Bodine, their lawyer, began to investigate to whom the rights had reverted. We created a TV production company that no longer existed, and there was no successor company either. This further added to the mystery.
But all is well, according to Deutchman: The rights of Saints of the house have been erased, and the film will be restored and re-edited. “But this whole adventure has made us all think that there are many movies that fall into this trap, and the filmmakers aren’t even aware that this trap exists,” Deutchman says. Other artists emerged with similar tales.