THE UNMUTUAL PRISONER ARTICLE ARCHIVE
IMMERSION PART 2:
THE REDISCOVERY & RESTORATION OF CATCH MY SOUL (a.k.a. SANTA FE SATAN)
By Tom Mayer
This recent activity regarding Catch My Soul actually began almost twenty-five years ago, when I became interested in Patrick McGoohan's career after first seeing The Prisoner in 1990. Within a few years, I had gotten to know most of the titles from his filmography, including the ones I hadn't seen. As a result, I was familiar with the general details of Catch My Soul. Once, I recall scanning the movie listings in TV Guide, and experiencing a split-second of excitement upon seeing what I thought was a show time for Santa Fe Satan -- only to realize it was for the classic western, Santa Fe Trail!
Later in my college library,
sometime around 1994, I stumbled upon a review of the film that contained the
phrase "frenziedly directed by Patrick McGoohan." Well, that would
make sense, I thought, since this is the director of "Fall Out" we're
talking about here! I couldn't find that review for this article, but the phrase
always stuck in my memory.
So, while Catch My Soul was nowhere near the top of my want-list of rare films and TV shows, I was nonetheless interested enough to watch it if I ever got the chance. I simply assumed that, like everything else, sooner or later it would turn up somewhere.
Fast-forward to 2013. The DVD and internet revolution had occurred, and countless films and television series were now available -- including many of McGoohan's which I had finally been able to see. After writing an article on his just-as-obscure TV series Rafferty, I looked over his filmography to see what else was worthy of research. It was then that I became aware of the still-total unavailability of Catch My Soul.
My reaction was one of
mild surprise, along the lines of, "That STILL hasn't turned up!? Then
where is it?" The time seemed right for some solid research into the film's
history, as well as an investigation into its current whereabouts. I had no
idea of the journey that awaited me. . .
DAWN OF A NEW ERA
After a dormant period of almost thirty years, the first signs of renewed interest in the film began to surface online in the early-21st century. The film was being discussed on several websites and blogs among aficionados of underground and cult cinema.
First, in 2001, the magazine Film Threat featured an article called "Never on Video," that listed twenty films unavailable on VHS or DVD. Catch My Soul ranked at #19. Writer Phil Hall explained that the film "has been stuck in a long-running legal problem concerning the music rights," that has resulted in "a complication which is nowhere near being resolved." He concluded that the film "is completely unavailable in any format, and even a search of the well-stocked bootleg channels has yet to turn up a copy." 1
Within a few years, references to the film began appearing with increasing regularity. In February 2009, a few weeks after McGoohan's death, the blog Temple of Schlock featured Catch My Soul as part of their series, "The Endangered List", with this particular entry being "Case File #20." After discussing the film, writers Chris Poggiali and Paul DeCirce said that it "was available for rental from [New Line Cinema's] non-theatrical 16mm catalog for a number of years, [but] it now seems to have fallen off the radar entirely." 2 Their write-up was accompanied by some fantastic images related to the film, including the Gregg Kilday and Barbara Burman articles, the New York Times ad for the 1974 premiere, the Korvettes ad for the soundtrack, and surprisingly, the ad for the 1975 Slaughterhouse Five double-feature in New Mexico!
Also in 2009, Steven Puchalski wrote a column on McGoohan's life for the blog Shock Cinema. He finished with a plea: "[If] anyone can dig up a copy of [Catch My Soul], please, please drop me a line. I've wanted to review it . . . for nearly 20 years, but the film is completely M.I.A. -- and I'm still kicking myself for not renting [the 16mm print] back in my university days . . ." 3
Next, in 2010 on the site Mental Floss, Mark Juddery listed ten lost and missing films. He discussed legendary titles from the silent era such as Cleopatra (1917), the director's cut of Greed (1923) and London After Midnight (1927). However, after nine entries dating from before 1933, his list concluded with a certain film from 1974. After recapping the cast, crew, premise and disappearance, Juddery ended with a call-to-action for his readers: "Come on! McGoohan? Richie Havens? Hippie-style Shakespeare? Unintentional hilarity? Cool soundtrack? Early-70s rock opera? Someone needs to find this!” 4
That same year, the Russian website Music Dawn, which specializes in funk and soul music, included an article on the soundtrack. In their review (in broken English, by way of Google's translation option), the writers included the film as part of the "Blaxploitation" genre, presumably due to Havens' presence, and the word "Soul" in the title. They also liked the music well enough to include an MP3 download of the entire LP. 5
Finally, in late-2012, the Daily Page website included another write-up of the soundtrack in its section "The Vinyl Cave." Reviewer Bob Koch wrote about his surprise in discovering the LP at a record store. "In my years of watching exploitation films," he wondered, "and as a fan of Tony Joe White, how have I never heard of this?" After learning about the film's history, he reasoned "probably because many of those involved with this production would prefer that it disappears into the mists of time." He called the soundtrack "an entertaining listen," and advised "fans of Tony Joe White or funky '70s swamp rock [to] scarf this up if you see it skulking around the used bins." 6
Part of the inspiration for this article was my own acquisition of the film's soundtrack. I had seen copies for sale online over the years, so I knew it was available. I figured if I couldn't watch the film, then listening to the soundtrack would be the next best thing. I located a mint copy through the excellent music site GEMM, where I took the plunge and ordered it, not quite knowing what to expect. After a week, the record arrived and with much anticipation, I placed it on the turntable and set the needle in the groove.
I was stunned by the first few seconds of music. It was astonishing: an exciting, potent mix of rock, folk, funk, soul and gospel -- sometimes all on the same song! Tony Joe White seemed to use "Polk Salad Annie" as the basis for the entire production, and the other artists followed by channeling his groove. The entire record is a seamless combination of otherwise contrasting styles that seem somehow strangely familiar. Acoustic guitar, spooky strings, banjo, horns, scratchy funk guitar and gospel choruses all add to the amazing mix.
The best songs are the multi-part epics "Othello" (Pts. 1-5) by White, and "Catch My Soul" (Pts. 1-4) by LeGault. Both tracks recount the plot through the narration of Cassio and Iago; while the music is the most accessible on the album, featuring straightforward rock/folk arrangements. LeGault's singing is a particular standout. Anyone familiar with his onscreen persona will immediately recognize his voice. Likewise, White's hypnotic "Backwoods Preacherman" and Havens' emotional "Open Our Eyes" are highlights as well. For Eric Clapton fans, the Delaney & Bonnie songs sound amazingly like Clapton's 1970 version of "After Midnight" (which is not surprising, since Delaney played rhythm guitar on the latter). The only misstep is Susan Tyrrell's "Tickle His Fancy," a 1950's Mae West pastiche that jars against the rest of the songs. It's full of goofy charm (and it sounds like she had a great time recording it), but it can become grating if one isn't in the right mood. Mercifully, it only lasts a minute-and-a-half.
While the LP works amazingly well as a whole, it's difficult to imagine any of the songs becoming hit singles. Some run too short, while others have overtly religious lyrics -- characteristics that would have made it difficult to secure mainstream Top 40 airplay at the time.
While the film may have "failed", Jack Good knew exactly what he was doing when it came to the music. He, along with White, Havens and Bramlett, deserve every bit of praise for the writing and performing of the soundtrack. Anyone with a love and appreciation for late-60s and early-70s rock and pop will immediately take to this record.
Having been impressed with the soundtrack, I began to research the film’s history, while also attempting to find a copy. (Who knows -- if the music hadn't been as good, maybe I wouldn't have bothered.) The first stop I made was to meet with Bradley Reeves, a film archivist and longtime friend. After impressing him with a few songs from the soundtrack, I asked him how one begins a search for a lost or rare film. He suggested I try the online forum for the Association of Moving Image Archivists, where those involved with film preservation post requests about where to find copies of various media.
I created an account, and was about to post a listing for Catch My Soul when to my surprise, I found out that someone had beaten me to it! Four years earlier, Samuel B. Prime, then a student at Northwestern University, had also been looking for information on the whereabouts of Catch My Soul. He became intrigued with the movie, having been a longtime admirer of Richie Havens. The film's unavailability was the subject of his undergraduate research: how to "watch" a lost film using only the ephemera related to it (soundtrack, reviews, photos, memorabilia, etc.). He gave his presentation at Northwestern's Eighth Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium in May 2010.
The project was titled, "On The Absence of Celluloid in the Digital Age: Liveness, Lost Cinema and the Case for Catch My Soul (1974)." Prime began with the question, "Is it possible to engage with something that is already gone? If so, how? [Catch My Soul] is a film that, thirty years ago, disappeared. Since 1979, neither a 35mm nor 16mm print has been said to exist, [but] its memory lives on in the form of memorabilia . . . and through the writings of amateur authors on cult cinema weblogs . . ." He also discussed the philosophical implications of an absent motion picture. "[If] we can preserve the memory of the film's experience," he pondered, "does it still not exist to us? Or, must we see the celluloid itself in order to truly experience the film?" 7
As fascinating as Prime's analysis was, it was something that he mentioned in his forum postings which I found almost unbelievable -- that a copy of the film had actually been located! This, I thought, was too good to be true. The person who supposedly had the print was David Spencer, Senior Film Curator at the University Of North Carolina School Of The Arts.
Not quite knowing what to expect, I emailed Spencer, informing him of my project and asking him if he truly had what the rumor suggested. Two days later he responded, and confirmed that his archive did indeed have a copy of the film -- a 35mm print of the Santa Fe Satan re-release.
I was stunned. The excitement
I felt was beyond description.
Over several emails and phone calls during the next few months, Spencer kindly filled me in on the facts surrounding the archive's acquisition, preservation, and plans for the print of Catch My Soul. Even more astounding was the story of its discovery in the unlikeliest of places.
It happened in 2003, when
Spencer wanted to unload some duplicate film prints that his archive no longer
needed. He could have thrown them away, but instead he met with a private collector
he knew to see if they could trade some titles. This collector in particular
specialized in buying up film prints that had recently been discovered after
many years -- what in archivist lingo are known as "farm collections."
These consist of forgotten stashes of film found in barns, attics, basements
and other out-of-the-way places. He would then offer his findings for sale or
trade to anyone interested.
This fellow had recently acquired a collection discovered in, of all places, an 18-wheeler trailer sitting on a farm near Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. Combing through the titles, he found a few that he thought were rare, but did not want for himself. He asked Spencer during their meeting if he was interested in trading for them. One print, in particular, caught Spencer's eye. It was called Santa Fe Satan. He was curious, having never heard of it before. Upon learning the details, the idea of Richie Havens as Othello caught his interest.
"I was a fan of Havens, and that's what intrigued me the most," Spencer explained. "We had a lot of horror and exploitation titles that were easy trades for the collector's market, but I just wanted to acquire some rare stuff. I had no idea how rare THIS film was. I just thought, 'Richie Havens as Othello? This is mine -- I want it!' The other guy was like, 'Sure, take it.'" With that simple transaction, the film was saved.
Spencer and I both expressed
amazement over how the print ended up in such a bizarre place, since the film
apparently never played anywhere near North Carolina. "I have no idea how
it got in that trailer," Spencer said. "That's the big question."
He also acknowledged how fortunate it was for the print itself. "If we
hadn't been interested at that point, who knows what would have happened to
it from there? It could have ended up in a dump, or it could have sat in that
truck and completely rotted away."
My next (and obvious) question to Spencer was if it would be possible for me to actually see the film. He graciously said "yes," and we proceeded to arrange a screening. This meeting would benefit us both, since seeing the film would be invaluable for my research, while the attention the finished article would get online would help with Spencer's intriguing plans for the print.
I remain astonished at how fortunate I was in the space of a few short months. Within that time, I had uncovered a wealth of information on the film, made several important connections, and actually located a print! This was a remarkable turn of events regarding a film that, honestly, I hadn't thought much about prior to all of this happening.
On Friday, May 31, 2013, I met with David Spencer at his film archive in Winston-Salem, NC. He showed me into a comfortable theater, where I was introduced to members of his staff and two of his students, all of whom were interested in seeing the film. There were about seven of us altogether, and our small gathering was to be the first documented screening of Santa Fe Satan since probably Modesto, California, 1977. The lights dimmed, and I prepared myself for just about anything.
Up to this point, I had conducted over four months of research and written over 10,000 words of analysis on the film. I knew the entire history of the production, the motivations of the people involved, and every note of the soundtrack. Yet, I still had never seen a frame of the film. Prior to this, Catch My Soul existed only through the soundtrack, still photos, and what I could imagine of it. It was quite an unreal feeling to finally see it. In my years of enjoying and studying movies and television, it was indeed a unique way to experience a film for the first time. It was amazing to finally see the characters come to life, to hear their voices, and to learn exactly where and how the songs fit into the film.
The New Line Cinema logo came up first, confirming that they released the film not only in 16mm, but 35mm as well. The first images consisted of a sunrise and various establishing shots of desert mesas and landscapes. As the title came up, I was surprised to see that the film was officially called "Jack Good's Santa Fe Satan."
The action cut to a sequence at a riverside, where Othello was baptizing members of a commune. The confidence in McGoohan's direction was evident from the start. There was a perfect balance of wide shots of the locations and artistically framed close-ups of the characters' faces. Also impressive was how the editing complimented the music. Whenever Iago mentioned a certain character in a song, the film would cut on cue to that person, thus doing a fine job of establishing the cast and their roles within the story.
Most of the Othello narrative was intact, save for two variations. In addition to the previously-mentioned change of Iago into Satan, the other departure was that Othello is not just driven mad through psychological coercion -- he becomes demonically possessed. The soundtrack booklet even refers to him as a "zombie."
After the baptism scene, the members of the commune help Othello build a new church. That night, there is a large and rowdy party, during which Iago burns down the new structure, making sure that Othello blames a drunken Cassio. The next day, a depressed Othello takes Desdemona to an abandoned mission in the desert. They proceed to repair the building, and paint religious imagery around the altar inside. Iago's plan then intensifies, as he works to convince Othello of Cassio and Desdemona's presumed affair.
A final lengthy sequence
at night involves Othello's complete transformation into a raving killer, thanks
to Iago's "possession" of him. After murdering Desdemona, Othello
finally realizes that it was Iago's plan all along. The two stab each other,
but Iago is not affected. He speeds away in his black bus as Othello dies next
to Desdemona at the foot of the altar. The final scene features Emilia and Cassio
lighting candles, and kneeling in front of the bodies of the doomed couple.
For a film that was stored in the back of a truck for who knows how many years, the picture quality was surprisingly good. The print is rough in many sections, with extremely dirty footage or slight color-loss, but there does not seem to be any major damage to the film itself. Thankfully, there are just as many segments where the print is almost perfect, thus doing justice to Conrad Hall's excellent photography. Without a doubt, the film will clean up beautifully in a restoration. The desert landscape and splashes of color in the sets and costumes will especially benefit from this.
An unexpected development came about three-quarters of the way through, when the film ceased to be a musical. There are fewer songs toward the end, and when one does appear, it is not sung by the characters. The music functions as in a traditional drama, where it plays in the background of a scene while the lyrics describe or comment upon the action. For example, when Othello slowly enters the mission to kill Desdemona, the song "Put Out the Light" plays throughout the sequence, but Havens does not sing it.
Havens’ lack of acting experience shows in the early scenes, where he seems timid and unable to assert himself. However, his performance improves dramatically once the downfall of Othello begins to occur. By the time he works his way up to a possessed killer, the viewer believes it. Likewise, it's obvious that Tony Joe White isn't an actor -- his role was wisely kept to a minimum. In his few scenes, though, he carries himself well, portraying Cassio's innocence of the evil scheme taking place around him. His singing is some of the best in the film.
Without a doubt, LeGault and Tyrrell steal the movie with their villainous roles. LeGault especially shows much confidence in his singing and performing. He's smooth, devious and sarcastic, with a wicked sense of humor. Even when he's being kind to someone's face, he still radiates evil. His plan is well thought-out, and the viewer doesn't doubt it for a second. A nice example is when he's planning for Cassio to be blamed for burning down the church. In the midst of the partying and loud music, Iago nonchalantly strolls over to a table, picks up a lantern unobserved, carries it back to the church and casually tosses it through the door. As the flames ignite inside, he just as casually turns around and walks back to the party.
Many times throughout these sequences, he breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience directly. The gimmick is played for laughs at one point during the party scene. When the hippies are drinking and carousing around a large campfire, Iago casually sits in a chair with his legs crossed, enjoying the proceedings. Several times he turns back to the camera, raising his glass with a knowing smile, repeating "Chug-a-lug!"
McGoohan's direction is some of his best. His handling of the film is an expert balancing of styles, ranging from artistic in the introduction, to rowdy and uncontrolled during the party scenes, to straightforward and subtle during the murder in the church. He knows exactly when to let the story tell itself, without artistic distractions. Compared to his other directing, the best examples would be The Prisoner's "Free For All" and Secret Agent's "The Paper Chase," both of which feature his controlled slippage between the real and surreal.
Two memorable sequences involve Susan Tyrrell. The first is when Havens performs "Open Our Eyes" during a calm moment of the party. A wonderful shot begins with Tyrrell sitting in a chair, facing away from the camera. As the song catches her attention, she slowly turns back toward us, looking off screen. The camera holds on her close-up for several seconds until it slowly begins tracking to the right, following her gaze past several other partygoers looking in the same direction. It finally stops on a nice two-shot of Havens and Hubley, as he sings the last verse of the song, with her savoring the performance.
The other impressive shot occurs at night, when Tyrrell delivers an aside about preventing Desdemona's death. She is standing in the darkness behind Iago's black bus with her face lit by a solitary red taillight. Upon finishing her speech, she steps out of the eerie red darkness, where natural light finally illuminates her.
Speaking of which, Iago's bus is one of the most memorable aspects of the film. The soundtrack booklet neatly describes it as a "dirigible hell." The entire vehicle is painted dull black, with the windows blacked out as well. This makes an arresting image during the first half of the film, when we see it either driving through the desert or parked on a hill with the Tribe of Hell surrounding it. However, the pay-off comes when we finally see inside. The first time the side-door opens, a bright light spills out, accompanied by a strange buzzing noise, not unlike like a swarm of insects. Before we have time to ponder this, the screen cuts to black, and fades in a moment later, revealing the interior. It is a harsh, blinding white, with no furnishings (apart from the rear emergency-exit door), and a few oriental throw-rugs on the floor. Additionally, all dialogue in the bus is accompanied by a strange, reverberating echo. These scenes are startling to say the least, and are a remarkable contrast to the gritty, desert environment that the viewer has grown accustomed to throughout the film.
Another fascinating surreal scene is when Othello, slowly succumbing to Iago's coercion, runs into the desert and frenziedly begins digging a pit (a "building-in-reverse," the soundtrack booklet calls it). When he finally looks up, Iago and his minions have surrounded the hole. Iago begins to taunt Othello, while the Tribe of Hell beats out a hypnotic, voodoo-like drone on various instruments.
However, the film does have its flaws occurring mainly in the narrative. As discussed in Part 1, the Othello story can fail when not handled with the right touch. While much attention is given to Iago's plan and Othello's downfall, the latter's relationship with Desdemona is given little opportunity to develop. Havens and Hubley share only a few scenes, and as a result have little screen chemistry. Likewise, the lead-up to Desdemona's murder is slowly paced, causing the narrative to lose momentum during the final minutes. It's one of the few times the viewer can sense tedium creeping into the film.
Another questionable decision is the length of the party scene early in the film. It runs almost twenty minutes, features at least four songs from the soundtrack, and is filled with rowdy crowds and drunken characters. It's long and excessive, and almost derails the plot (thankfully, there are enough scenes involving Iago's plan that keep the story moving). This was probably the point where the original critics gave up and wrote the film off as another mindless, hippie freak-out. These criticisms are few, however -- the rest of the production holds together remarkably well.
Now having seen the film, I must disagree with the original negative reviews, particularly those of Vincent Canby, Kevin Kelly and Craig Butler. While hardly a four-star masterpiece, the film is nonetheless a solid, three-star effort. What could have easily collapsed into a hazy, druggy, mess instead emerges as a confident, artistic effort, with well-executed direction, photography and acting. This is an exceptional film that I found hard to dislike. Yes, it drags in some places, and the bizarre rock-opera premise will be a turn-off to anyone not expecting it, or in the proper frame of mind. But on the other hand, the film will appeal to discerning viewers who appreciate classic cinema, the art of filmmaking, or anything off-beat with a cult following. Catch My Soul is a fascinating example of its era that without a doubt deserves to be restored and rediscovered.
An interesting undertaking
(for a film aficionado, at least) was trying to decipher where McGoohan's direction
ended and Good's began. The entire film flowed together so well, there were
no shots or sequences that varied in picture quality or directorial style. Nothing
jumped out as jarringly different. As a result, it was difficult to tell exactly
what the 15-to-20 minutes of footage might be that upset McGoohan so much to
lead him to disown the film.
The only religious imagery evident was in the mission. It consisted of a black Christ figure, built and painted by Othello, which he places above and behind the altar. After Desdemona is killed, Iago places her body in the arms of this figure, thus forming the image seen on the soundtrack cover. Othello also paints a mural on the front of the altar, which resembles a stained-glass impression of Christ's hands bleeding from the palms. This imagery is present in every scene that takes place in the mission, from about the middle of the film through to Desdemona's and Othello's deaths at the end. McGoohan had to have known about this artwork, since he obviously would have been present to direct such major scenes involving these characters.
What probably happened was that McGoohan shot footage of all the mission sequences before there was any artwork. Good then went back later, painted the new imagery, and refilmed those scenes to feature his handiwork. Still, it makes one wonder why the addition of this imagery annoyed McGoohan so much; especially since the premise of the film and the lyrics of the soundtrack are of such a religious nature to begin with. At least Good was successful in seamlessly integrating the new footage into the original cut.
One scene that was nowhere to be found in the film was the infamous wedding speech by Othello that was documented in the 1972 Los Angeles Times article. If Havens blew his lines at least fourteen times, ruining take after take, McGoohan probably ended up scrapping the entire sequence.
Also worth considering are the number of versions the film has existed in. The first version would be McGoohan's cut, which he completed in early-1973. The film's running time is listed at roughly 100 minutes, and McGoohan said Good added anywhere from 15-to-20 minutes of new footage. This would make McGoohan's cut about 80 to 85 minutes -- a bit short for the average feature. Probably what happened is that McGoohan also shot 100 minutes (sans artwork in the mission), and his version and Good's ran about the same length.
The second version is Jack Good's cut, the Catch My Soul version that premiered in March 1974, featuring the new artwork in the mission. The third version would then be the 1975 Santa Fe Satan re-release. (It's entirely possible that the latter is identical to the Catch My Soul version, save for the title.)
Since having seen the Santa Fe Satan version, I believe I have zeroed in on at least one missing scene from the beginning. First, the title credits piqued my curiosity as soon as I saw them -- they didn't seem to fit the style of the film. The letters were white, italicized block capitals that seemed better-suited to a made-for-TV movie from the 1980's. Next, I remembered an image from the soundtrack album cover that appeared nowhere in the film. It is a scene of Othello riding a mule into the commune, wearing a dark brown robe that I never saw him in throughout the rest of the film. Finally, "Othello (Part 1)" by Tony Joe White, the very first song on the soundtrack, did not appear in the film. "Wash Us Clean," the second selection from the soundtrack, is the first song we hear over the baptism scene in the river.
Here's what most likely happened: "Othello (Part 1)" originally played over a sequence of Havens riding his mule into the commune. The original Catch My Soul credits were keyed over this sequence, which then segued into the baptism scene. When the title was to be changed for the re-release, the editors found that the original credits could not be separated from the commune footage -- hence, the entire sequence was cut. Thus, the re-release begins right from the baptism scene scored with "Wash Us Clean." The redesigned (and cheaper-looking) Santa Fe Satan credits were then superimposed from this point on.
There could be additional scenes and shots that differ between the 35mm and 16mm versions, but this is impossible to know without having both formats to compare. We can assume that there were definitely two versions, possibly three, that existed. Then again, Good might have cut directly into McGoohan's version and destroyed all of the latter's discarded footage. We must also assume that every frame from the rushes and the first two versions are long gone, and that the only footage left is the copy now held by the UNCSA archive. And what exactly are the plans for this last known print?
After the screening and a tour of his amazing archive, Spencer spoke with me about what he has in store for the print. His plans started almost as soon as he got the film back to his archive. "We screened it as soon as we could," he remembered. "I was fascinated by it. I thought, 'Man, this is crazy!'" He later screened it for one of his classes. When he asked what they thought, their response was overwhelmingly positive. Thanks to this reaction, as well as his own admiration for the film, Spencer put it at the top of his list for restoration.
This will include applying for a grant through the National Film Preservation Foundation. According to the NFPF website, their "top priority is saving American films that would be unlikely to survive without public support. Over the past decade, we have developed grant programs to help archives, historical societies, libraries, museums, and universities preserve films and make them available for study and research." 9 The NFPF states that the films most at risk are "documentaries, silent-era films, newsreels, historically significant home movies, avant-garde works, industrials, and independent films." 10 The last category is what Catch My Soul would fall into, since it was not released by a major studio. After 40 years, this film has sadly never gotten the recognition or care that it deserved. As a result, a restoration will go a long way in rectifying this scenario.
In addition to the usual funding efforts, Spencer foresees two obstacles to overcome. First, his archive must be sure that this is indeed the last print in existence. Throughout our conversations, he's careful to use the phrase, "the last KNOWN copy" when referring to the film. "It's hard to prove a negative," he admits. "Once we apply for the grant, we're going to have to contact all the major archives throughout the world, even though we know the film wasn't distributed there. We have to make sure that it somehow didn't end up in a Russian or Australian archive." He mentions the various discoveries and restorations surrounding Fritz Lang's 1927 classic, Metropolis. "That's been restored ten times, because material has continually popped up in archives all around the world," he said. However, he's quick to point out that Metropolis had a worldwide release -- something that didn't happen with the film we're currently interested in.
"Catch My Soul didn't have much of a worldwide release at all," he explains. "It had a very limited release in the U.S. That lets us know that the print run was very, very small -- no more than one or two dozen prints were maybe released. Now you have to consider how many of those have survived from the seventies. Since the film was a bomb, nobody wanted to keep it or maintain it in any way."
As a result, the film's
extreme rarity may end up being an advantage in the long run. Spencer is optimistic
that this is in fact the last copy, after taking into account his archive's
efforts, Sam Prime's search in 2009, and my research for this article. Quite
simply, nothing has been found. "The most important thing," Spencer
states, "is that nobody else has come out and announced that they have
When applying for funding, he predicts there will be some disbelief, since Catch My Soul is still rather "new" in terms of film history. "A lot of people are going to be skeptical," he says. "They'll say, 'This is a movie from the seventies. Why is this gone? Why did this disappear?' But then they'll really believe that there are no other copies out there." He concedes that it's going to be a hard sell, just proving that his archive has the only print. "But so far," he says with a smile, "it sure seems to be the case!"
Spencer also foresees issues with the film's soundtrack. "Trying to clear the rights for the original music is going to be extremely difficult,” he predicts. “It may be insurmountable." This process includes gaining permission from the copyright holders as well as from the artists (or their estates, if they are deceased). Spencer intends to do the most thorough job possible in retaining the original soundtrack. He alludes to other films and TV shows that have suffered from music replacement upon being released on DVD. "Could you imagine this film with some electronic soundtrack added to it,” he asked, “or even someone else trying to cover the music? It just wouldn't work."
Once these obstacles are out of the way, Spencer described what the physical restoration will involve. "We're talking full restoration for picture and sound," he said. "This will involve a frame-by-frame clean-up, which as you can imagine is a very time-consuming process. They have programs now that can draw out the original color from any print, no matter how faded or damaged it is. That takes a lot of time and effort, and that's why there's a major expense behind doing a restoration of this caliber."
The movie has a dusty, gritty look to the production design, as a result of the desert setting. While the film and colors will be cleaned up as much as possible, there will be an attempt to preserve some of the grain originally inherent in the images. "There's debate about whether or not to keep that type of grain within the structure of the frame," Spencer explained. "That's how it was originally shot, and what it looked like when it was first projected on a screen, before all the degradation occurred. There are archivists out there that would get upset if you cleaned up the grain too much. We want to preserve some of that."
Spencer has high hopes for how the film will look upon completion. "It's going to look remarkable when it's restored," he predicted. "There are so many color-palettes, especially in the desert scenes, which you barely get a glimpse of. Once they can bring out the original color, the result is really going to blow people's minds."
Once the film is restored, I asked him what the ultimate plans are for it. "Anything to get it out there!" he laughed. "I would love to have a new 35mm print to rent out to theaters, and of course, go the DVD and Blu-Ray route. Beyond that, maybe there could be some type of play."
A play? Sure enough, it's on Spencer's agenda. He foresees going back to the original stage version, that is, if any text still exists from it. If that's not viable, he thinks an entirely new production could be created. "We could come up with a new version that's more contemporary,” he said. “You see how stage productions have advanced these past couple decades, like The Book of Mormon or Spamalot. I see a new version as being like that, but getting the tone right is important." If a production were done, it would bring Catch My Soul full circle back to its origin on the stage. "You can do some really fascinating things with the contents of this film," he added. "The soundtrack is already there, and it's something you can sing along with quite easily. It would just be amazing."
At the end of our interview, I asked Spencer why, out of the thousands of films in his archive's collection, Santa Fe Satan was chosen to be restored. "The rarity and content is what put it at the top for me," he explained. "It's an amazing cultural artifact from that era. The soundtrack is amazing, and the performances are spectacular. It's a fabulous movie that, in my opinion, just HAS to be seen. That's the bottom line."
It is heartening to learn
that such exciting and ambitious plans are in store for this remarkable film.
If we are indeed faced with the last copy in existence, the need for its restoration
When I spoke with Douglas Magnus, who worked on the film in 1972, he responded with a surprised "No kidding!" when I told him about the film’s discovery and restoration plans. He was pleased to hear of the interest and developments surrounding it today. "It is a great lost film and story," he said. "It has mystified me for all these years as to why nobody cared. Since the film was a mess and a failed production, the behind-the-scenes story IS the story." 11 As a remembrance of Richie Havens, Magnus recently posted on his website some of the many black & white photographs he took during the making of the film. The images are beautiful, and worth a look.
The discovery of the print and the recent interest shown in the film has taken us a few steps closer to a proper restoration and re-release. Hopefully, one day the film will be beautifully restored and available on 35mm, DVD and Blu-Ray. Once copies are sitting on shelves in Best Buy in the U.S. and HMV in the U.K., the film's journey will then be complete.
Until that happens, this is hardly the end, since the winding, bizarre story of Catch My Soul (a.k.a. Santa Fe Satan) will no doubt continue. The door to this saga won't be closed completely, but instead left slightly ajar. More information about the film will undoubtedly surface, along with developments about the proposed restoration.
When nine-year-old Jack Good went to his first performance of Othello in 1940, he had no idea he was setting in motion a chain of events that would continue well into 2013 . . . and beyond.
CLICK HERE FOR PART 3 OF "TOTAL IMMERSION", MAY 2014
Many thanks to the following individuals for their assistance during the writing of this article:
Lara Dent for her expert
Caroline Desrosiers and Kevin Mallory for their Interlibrary Loan services.
Douglas Magnus for sharing his memories of the film's production.
Catherine Moirai for providing a wealth of information on Metromedia.
Samuel Prime for sharing his thoughts on the film.
Special thanks to Bradley Reeves of the Tennessee Archive of Moving Image & Sound for his invaluable advice and support; David Spencer of the North Carolina School of The Arts for arranging a screening of the film; and Rick Davy at The Unmutual Website.
8. All comments from David Spencer are from an interview with the author on May 31, 2013.
11. Magnus, Douglas. Email to the author, June 5, 2013.
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