A print of Orson Welles’ long-thought-lost first effort at filmmaking, “Too Much Johnson” was recently found in the kind of place where many of might like to end up: an Italian shipping warehouse. This New York Times story tells the whole story, including the time when Welle’s himself rediscovered a print and had ambitions to re-edit it before that plan, with the film stock, went up in flames. This was thought to be the end of it.
But things have turned out otherwise. “Too Much Johnson” has reappeared — discovered not in Spain but in the warehouse of a shipping company in the northern Italian port city of Pordenone, where the footage had apparently been abandoned sometime in the 1970s. Old films turn up with some regularity under similar circumstances — independent filmmakers aren’t always known for promptly paying their storage bills — but because nitrate becomes even more dangerously unstable as it ages, the usual practice is to junk it as quickly as possible.
This time, though, the movie gods were smiling. Pordenone happens to be home to Cinemazero, a cultural organization that regularly screens classic films, and which each fall partners with the Cineteca del Friuli to present Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, a gathering of scholars and cinephiles with a special dedication to the shadowy corners of film history.
Here is a short film about the restoration, done by George Eastman House in Rochester: