It’s no surprise that Hollywood stands today as very much the centre of cinema. Home to the biggest studios with the biggest pockets, tinseltown is the place to be to see your cinematic dream realised no matter its size or subject. Even the USA as a whole, in its huge fifty-state-spanning entirety, is host to the biggest market of movie consumers on the planet. So is it really that bewildering that not every film made actually makes it out of the country or even Hollywood itself alive?
From a British standpoint we may well get all of the big releases, and even our own fair share of the smaller ones, but there’s still that special little group of films that sit in purgatory, lost between domestic and international distribution. Most of the time it’s purely out of fear – studios not wanting to take a risk on distributing a film where it won’t make money (after all, why should a movie exist if it’s not going to rake in the cash?), but sometimes the odd few just happen to slip through the cracks, even in the face of a growing tide of VOD services (thank you Netflix, MUBI and the rest).
Join us now as we journey through the lost zone of cinema, to that hazy space where the best and brightest unreleased pictures live, dangling in limbo and begging to be seen.
Snowpiercer (directed by Bong Joon-ho)
From the director of the much-loved Korean creature-feature The Host, this was (and to a certain extent, still is) one of the most highly-anticipated films of the year amongst aficionados and the like. Despite its oriental director and crew, Snowpiercer is in fact an English-language adaptation of a French graphic novel, that finds Chris Evans, Jamie Bell and John Hurt locked into a class-based revolt aboard a train hurtling through a frozen Earth in a not-too-distant dystopian future.
For a film that is, quite literally, a sci-fi actioner starring Captain America, it sounds like it should be gunning for a summer release, let alone finding itself floating around in purgatory. But alas, the powers that be have interjected. After rumours of big-shot producer Harvey Weinstein demanding a much-shorter and less-complex cut of the film for domestic release, negotiations broke down and although the full director’s-cut of Snowpiercer has since been shown in the US, it was initially only on a limited run in a very small number of theaters. Despite an overwhelmingly positive response from the public and critics alike, the film still hasn’t made it to the UK, even after receiving both cinematic and home-media releases in a number of other European countries. It’s out there if you look hard enough, but sadly not enough have.
Stretch (directed by Joe Carnahan)
Famed in Hollywood as the “almost-director” of hundreds of different projects, from a “punk-rock” take on Mission: Impossible III to a Fox-lead reboot of Daredevil, the few films that Joe Carnahan does actually manage to get off the ground are almost always distinct and, to a certain extent, unhinged. Stretch is most definitely no exception, following an ex-addict limo driver (Patrick Wilson) on the craziest night of his life as he attempts to get hold of a mysterious suitcase for a deranged billionaire (Chris Pine) in order to pay off his gambling debts.
Made on a shoe-string budget with Carnahan cashing in on quite possibly every favour he’s ever been owed, Stretch did initially have backing from Universal until of course they pulled their distribution deal at the eleventh hour. Refusing to re-edit his wacky little crime-flick (that boasts Ed Helms as the driver’s crazed imaginary friend and The Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus as himself) Carnahan instead opted to self-distribute and the result is, of course, a very limited US-lead home-media release. Whether or not it’ll one day show up on our branch of Netflix is unclear, but when/if it eventually does, Stretch is certainly worth seeking out.
The only listed work of little-known-about director Panos Cosmatos, Beyond the Black Rainbow may well prove to be the weirdest title on the list. Drawing on a whole cavalcade of influences, from Cronenberg and Lynch to the more stylish side of Kubrick, this Canadian sci-fi based psycho-thriller tracks Elena (Eva Allan), a possibly disturbed teenage girl held against her will in the mysterious Arboria institute. When the villainous Dr. Nyle begins to take a more active interest in her potentially-psychic abilities, Elena attempts to escape but as expected, things take a turn for the odd.
During its relatively small run in the US between 2010 and 2011, Beyond the Black Rainbow was largely praised for its striking visual style and brave descent into the surreal, whilst others remained a tad more divided on exactly what the film was trying to do. Either way, Cosmatos’s picture is certainly far from the standard mould and offers one of the most inspiring visual styles in recent years. For fans of cinematography, it’s a definite must but obviously this isn’t a particularly huge crowd, hence Rainbow’s distinct lack of any representation overseas. In fact, the film remains so firmly buried that the only way to see it is to basically live somewhere in North America or have incredibly deep pockets and a multi-region DVD player.
Despite boasting a cast of hip young up-and-comers consisting of Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley and Brie Larson (all of whom are, in Hollywood terms, “blowing up” right now) and a script by famed teen-fiction and (500) Days of Summer wonder-scribes Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, this charming little indie romance never seemed to quite take off. Even a string of overwhelmingly positive reviews and a deserved (although sadly unsuccessful) awards-push couldn’t quite find the film international distribution, which seems in hindsight, almost completely preposterous.
Adapted from a mostly unknown novel of the same name, The Spectacular Now follows the high-school senior year of borderline-alcoholic teen Sutter (Teller) as he battles the demons of his past and embarks on a positively adorable romance with the sweet and unassuming Aimee (Woodley). That’s it: no risky ulterior motives or controversial nude scenes, just a seriously cute and delightful little tale of young love and the hurdles it builds, a perfectly marketable plot that comes complete with two stars who have since headed-up their own blockbuster franchises. Yet, here we are. Although the film premiered at the London Film Festival way back in 2013, it failed to find a proper distribution deal and has been basically invisible to the country ever-since. All we can do is hope and pray that at some stage, someone down the line remembers this endearing indie gem and fires it over to Netflix ASAP, before it becomes lost forever.
Mostly known for his auditory-nightmare horror Pontypool amongst random forays into television (including a bizarre stint on ITV drama The Bill), Canadian director Bruce McDonald isn’t a name easily recognised by the masses. Unlikely then was a wide release for his ever-so-slightly experimental project The Tracey Fragments, which follows depressed teenager Tracey (Ellen Page) on her quest through the seedy underbelly of a unnamed Canadian city, desperately searching for her lost little brother Sonny, who thinks he’s a dog.
The kicker here is that the entire film is divided up into the Fragments of the title, with multiple images and shots appearing on screen simultaneously. True, this can be a little jarring, but it’s an effect that encourages multiple-viewings and with a fierce, vulnerable lead performance by Page and a tremendous score composed by indie-rockers Broken Social Scene, The Tracey Fragments is a seriously under-seen gem. Again this one is devoid of a full release but oddly enough, a small number of UK-released DVDs do exist in circulation and can be relatively easy to get hold of, for a price. Or if you’re lucky enough to have a subscription to MUBI, it occasionally does the rounds on there too.