Normally a movie’s quality within our system is defined by its ability to make it big at the box office and generate a lot of revenue and buzz. But what happens when a movie flops before it ever gets there? What about if it gets shelved for a larger project? Well a recent movement starting in the late 90’s has started to call attention to these so called “Orphan” movies that have been created throughout history by heralding them as the true indies of history. But what exactly makes a movie an “orphan”?
Orphan’s are typically films that lack either clear copyright holders or commercial potential as defined by its Wikipedia article. But what does this mean exactly and why should we care? It could potentially mean that these movies were not quite satisfying to the palette of the culture they were conceived in, leading to their demise in the market. If we accept this way of thinking than this opens up the opportunity to study how cultures accepted different material through the films and media texts that were neglected.
However, the movie could have also been orphaned simply because of a loss of interest by the director, producer, etc. A wonderful quote from Penelope Spheeris illustrates this: “This is hard to admit: I forgot I made that movie.” This quote was in response to being asked about an unnamed short she made in grad school.
The bottom line is that these orphans are perceived as the height of indie because they have no viability in the market yet they were made anyways, creating the idea that these films are in some way more meaningful/highbrow/high culture/influential/etc. Unsurprisingly this group involves such works as newsreels, actuality footage, silent films, experimental works, home movies, independent fiction and documentary films, political commercials, and amateur footage. Whatever you believe, though, these movies are finally getting their well deserved moment in the spotlight and I personally can’t wait to see what else can be unearthed in the near future.