Saul Bass' Lost Original Ending For 'Phase IV' Discovered In Los Angeles

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by Charlie Schmidlin
June 26, 2012 9:43 AM
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Since its inception in 2007, Los Angeles' revival house Cinefamily has slowly become one of the city's most diverse and exciting places, hosting screenings of cult classics and current releases alike with special events galore. They've made a habit of digging up gems and developing a themed week around them (such as the stand-up comedy “A Thousand Clowns” with Jason Robards), but recently, during a week devoted to artist/designer Saul Bass' storied career, they managed to change film history.

According to Cinefamily's executive director, Hadrian Belove, archivists working at the Academy of Arts and Sciences stumbled upon an excised reel of Bass' 1974 directorial debut, “Phase IV” -- simply an item of speculation up to today -- while compiling footage for his retrospective. A science-fiction film about two scientists' relationship to an homicidal ant colony and its behavior, the project came in Bass' career after his iconic main title contributions to “The Man With The Golden Arm” and “Vertigo,” as well as his design of the “Psycho” shower scene. In addition to working within a surreal narrative, Bass also hired nature DP Ken Middleham to shoot footage of real ants, lending the film a naturalistic air as well.

From the story and visual style, it was obvious the film never stood out as a blockbuster, but Paramount, who handled distribution, still found ways to essentially bury Bass' work, leading to the final reel, a depiction of the titular process on the scientists, being cut. The sequence, where [SPOILERS] the scientists realize the ants “want to join - or merge - with humanity, prompting a new evolutionary development in both species,” eventually leads to a montage of exactly that, as a radical new species is born. In the end, “emerging from their transformation, the pair gazes out onto a sunset-stained landscape, realizing that humanity has reached a new level in its evolution: 'Phase IV.' "

The final reel was placed back into the film and shown at Cinefamily this past Sunday in 35mm, allowing audiences to finally see the film as it was originally intended. The discovered ending was actually in better condition than the theatrical one currently available, which could lead to a packed Blu-ray release, but especially with cult titles like “Phase IV,” the demand needs to be there before such an endeavor begins. Still, with Bass' legacy and following, it shouldn't be too long before his restored sci-fi film finds the opportunity it deserves. [THR]


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4 Comments

  • Michael Prestage | February 9, 2014 10:44 AMReply

    Saul Bass' narrative works are few and far between, and yet his output stands as some of the most inventive of the 20th century. Bass' short film "Quest" is hands down the most astonishing foray into purely visual science fiction this side of Kubrick's 2001, and yet it is virtually unheard of.

    A proper Blu-ray release of Phase IV, including both the theatrical and Bass' original ending, along with supplemental footage behind Ken Middleham's amazing macro and timelapse work, would prove a sizable step towards validating that Saul Bass' considerable talents extended far beyond his ability to merely craft intriguing title sequences.

  • Neville Ross | January 18, 2013 10:58 AMReply

    Good to hear that this movie's original ending is back-maybe Paramount can put it out on DVD themselves after all.

  • Robert Gemmell | July 18, 2012 12:25 PMReply

    This is great news. I was hoping that one day the original ending would be unearthed, which leads to this posting.

    Sometime ago I set up a petition to Anchor Bay Entertainment to release an uncut, special edition of Phase IV on DVD/Bluray. It was intended in my petition to have the uncut (93 minutes) and cut (84 minutes) prints released, but first and foremost the uncut version; the cut version merely for completion sake.

    In light of this discovery, this film will surely get the reputation it deserves. I urge those who are interested, whether it be fans of the film, the management at Cinefamily etc. to sign the petition on this link: http://www.petitiononline.com/klkptx71/petition.html

    I'm not sure if other companies are planning to release a SE of Phase IV in the long run, but someone had to get the ball rolling.

  • Gabe Toro | June 26, 2012 2:43 PMReply

    This movie was ALREADY fucking incredible. Can't wait to see more.

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