The really frustrating thing to people like me, and I assume you, aren't films like London After Midnight that been been destroyed, wiped off the face of the Earth by fire and other forms of bad luck, or films that sound fantastic but never got made for one reason or another, like Charles Laughton's The Naked and the Dead. To me, "frustration" implies that a certain amount of hope exists, and in those cases the film is simply gone forever, or was never made in the first place. Whatever longing you might feel to see them comes closer, I think, to nostalgia than actual frustration. No, what's frustrating are movies that were made, are out there, can be seen, have been seen, but not by you because of some legal mess, or indifference, or ignorance. I'm talking about films that aren't lost, but rather hiding.
Recently, I was very fortunate to be able to see one such film, Peter Lorre's sole credit as a director, Der Verlorene, or The Lost One. Filmed in Germany in 1951, it features Lorre first as a kindly, efficient doctor in a refugee camp and then, in a flashback to 1943 as a quiet Nazi scientists who is slowly revealed to be a psychopath. Der Verlorene is a strange film, its story occasionally oblique, but in such a way that doesn't leave the viewer lost, but rather uncertain. It somehow manages to be a story of post-war Germany, a film noir, a spy film, and a serial killer film without ever inducing whiplash, and it boasts a final image for the ages. If you wanted to program a triple feature of The Serpent's Egg, The Great Dictator and Der Verlorene, then you could probably go ahead and do that. Why Der Verlorene is missing, or hiding, I don't know. Apparently there's a German DVD -- there must be, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to see it -- and it has been screened in America, for instance at the Film Forum in 1984 (a screening that led Vincent Canby to call the film "a curiosity". Okay, well, thanks), but otherwise the English-speaking world (or the Spanish, or the French, I'd guess) can't be bothered, apparently.
Sometimes these films aren't even hiding. For many years, I imagined that Frederick Wiseman's Titicut Follies would simply be unavailable, due to its controversial nature. For at least some of those years, this was no doubt the case, but for I-don't-know-how-long, Titicut Follies has in fact been available on DVD, mainly through Wiseman's own website. I got my own copy not through the site, but in the lobby of the IFC Center in New York, when I was up there a few weeks ago. So "hiding in plain sight" might be a better description of the status of Titicut Follies.
But what of Michael Reeves' The Sorcerers (once released on DVD in England, now out of print)? Joseph Losey's remake of M? Fassbinder's adaptation of Nabokov's Despair? Or Der Verlorene again, which I only saw because of this network of blogs I'm a part of, and comments left at one that I'd almost forgotten about until I received a surprising e-mail? This stuff has a tendency to go in cycles, of course -- Salo was one of these for many years, but Criterion "corrected" that (I'm glad it's available, but I have a hard time sounding too positive about it). The major films of Alejandro Jodorowsky, too -- I remember reading about those on an old, early internet film discussion board, and first seeing El Topo when I rented a bootleg of the Japanese laserdisc from a video store in Norfolk, VA, but all those movies are available in handsome DVDs now. It must be a pisser for those sorts of video stores when being able to provide even a shitty copy of El Topo no longer makes them special, but frankly I'm ready for all that specialness to be wiped away. I know there's a certain element who mourns the day when you really had to dig for this stuff, far more than you do now, so the people who found it were the ones who really cared. Well, I really care. I can care my ass off all day long and still not be able to see Losey's M, though. That's the frustration. You can care and care and care, and you can read about people who have seen one of these movies you've been tracking forever, and they'll say "Yeah, I saw that" like it's fucking nothing, and you won't be any closer to seeing it for yourself because it's simply out of your hands.
Der Verlorene was dropped into my hands, though, and for that I'm grateful. It's an elegant, weird, and bleak little struggle with one country's recent history by a man who'd fled that country, his home, long ago, and I'm very glad I got to see it. I hope this experience has set some sort of precedent.