Movies

Watch the Great Lost Movie 'Nothing Lasts Forever'

A film preserved by piracy

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Larry

In 1984, MGM had a test screening in Seattle for a film called Nothing Lasts Forever. The story was about a young man who wants to be an artist, but the movie wasn't like any other picture you've seen on that subject: It's a dreamlike tale set in a world where the Port Authority has seized dictatorial powers in Manhattan, a benevolent conspiracy of tramps guides people's destinies from a hidden base beneath New York, and the U.S. government first went to the moon in 1953, where it set up a secret shopping district for elderly American tourists. The film was written and directed by Tom Schiller, the guy who made those "Schiller's Reel" shorts for the original incarnation of Saturday Night Live, and it harkens back to so many different film styles that it seems to take place in the entire 20th century at once. That effect is intensified by the cast, which is filled with half-forgotten former celebrities—Eddie Fisher, Imogene Coca, Mort Sahl—as well as a couple of Schiller's old SNL pals, including Bill Murray as an interplanetary bus conductor.

In short, it's a goddamn great movie, and even if it weren't a great movie it's the sort of picture that would be worth watching just for being so weird. But that test screening didn't go well, and MGM shelved the film. It turns up at festivals and special events every once in a while, and it reportedly airs from time to time on European TV, but it has never had a proper theatrical release and has never been put out on DVD. I have wanted to see this thing for at least two decades.

Thank goodness for YouTube:

Yes, that's the whole thing. Watch it while it's available.

People who talk about online movie "piracy" usually have torrents in mind, but YouTube and Vimeo are filled with old movies and TV shows that never got a legal DVD release. Some of them are easy to find, and some are half-disguised to keep the copyright cops away—the uploader might use a $ in place of a S or a \/ instead of a V, or she might just indicate the picture's presence with its initials instead of its full title. A lot of them seem to have been recorded off television at some point. It's a vast but poorly catalogued library of films that aren't widely available anywhere else: the sort of stuff that cineastes used to swap on VHS tapes, now available to far more people on a far more convenient platform.

As we all know, piracy can cut into sales. But it can also lay the groundwork for sales, creating or expanding a market by letting people know what they could be buying if it were available (a point Henry Jenkins made in this 2006 Reason article about Japanese anime). Schiller has said that he likes the fact that pirated editions of Nothing Lasts Forever are floating around out there, and that he "would also enjoy it if it was available to a lot of people." Well, one day the first might lead to the second. I'd love to own a copy of this movie, but until that's possible YouTube will have to do.