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“The Greatest Movie of All Time” is Lost

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Waterloo chapter.

Back in 1924, Erich Von Stroheim created a 140-minute film called Greed. The plot is about a woman named Trina who wins $5,000 in a lottery, equivalent to $90,738 today. Now, after she wins this money her husband, her ex, and herself all become obsessed with the money which in turn leads all of them to their untimely demise. This movie was a silent one, however, unlike many other silent films, this one stood the test of time and still is available to watch today. This film in the current day, almost 100 years later, has raving reviews from critics and is quite a beloved classic. So, there we have it. Story over. 

Or is it?

Now back in the 1920s, the standard runtime for a film was typically around 75 minutes. 140 minutes is quite normal for us today, but back then it was a lot. What if I told you Greed was even longer than that? Stroheim was an ambitious man who put a lot of careful consideration into every detail of his work. This resulted in Greed becoming eight hours long. Eight hours is the typical length of a school day! Now, MGM was not having it and refused to release an eight-hour-long film. Stroheim in return, had cut Greed down to a gracious four hours. This four-hour cut can still be viewed today. However, four hours is still much too long for a film at the time; remember in the 1920s, typical films were only 75 minutes. The director for the film, under MGM’s guidance, cut the film down even further to the 140 minutes it is today. Unfortunately, at the time, this film was a critical failure. 

So, we can see the 140-minute cut and the four-hour cut, which leaves the eight-hour cut. What about the eight-hour cut? What became of that? 

Stroheim held a small screening for 12 people to view the eight-hour cut and what they saw was life-changing. It was hailed as “the greatest [movie] of all time”. They couldn’t believe their eyes at the cinematic genius of the film. It makes me wonder whether the film would’ve been better received had it been released in the full eight-hour cut at the time. But, what if 12 people is too small of a sample size to gauge if the eight-hour film really is amazing? The film certainly holds up today, as it has glowing reviews today in its 140-minute cut. I wonder what modern reactions would have been to the eight-hour cut, had it still been with us of course.

The eight-hour cut of Greed is completely lost. So Greed actually managed to succumb to the same fate as other silent films. However, we don’t actually know how it was lost — how humorous, even how the film was lost is lost. Some say it was destroyed in order to use the silver nitrate the reels had. Others allege a janitor destroyed it. I guess that’s what almost 100 years later will do to you. With that in mind, I think this cements this film as being lost forever if they don’t even know how it was lost. But, that doesn’t stop people from looking. Due to how critically acclaimed Greed is, the footage from the eight-hour cut is one of the most sought-after pieces of lost media in the film industry. This brings me right back to the small number of people who did view it. Really, what if that number is too small to tell if the film is actually good? How can a 140-minute film that already has good reviews, be hailed as perfection when the runtime becomes quadruple that? 

Now I wanna see that eight-hour cut. I hope they find it. I want to see “The Greatest Movie of All Time”. I need to know if the 12 people were right about the film. 

Mariam Naim

Waterloo '27

Hello! I'm Mariam Naim. I am currently majoring in Honours Arts Economics.