In 1914, Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa was signed to N.Y.-based Mutual Film Co., agreeing to play himself in a quasi-factual feature, “The Life of Pancho Villa,” long since lost. It’s the fate of the original film itself that obsesses Gregorio Rocha as he chases its elusive trail around the globe. Movie-history enthusiasts, among others, will be intrigued by featurette’s quest for a cinematic “Holy Grail.” But pic is compromised by Rocha’s overbearing insistence on placing himself center-stage as a soul-searching sleuth.
This weird early instance of media driving news — the Battle of Ojinaga was apparently fought by daylight for benefit of cameras — was the subject of a recent Showtime dramatic feature toplining Antonio Banderas as you-know-who. “Lost Reels” starts out consulting film historian Kevin Brownlow in London, then travels to various points in Europe, the States and Mexico hunting for leads. En route, Rocha interviews other notables, muses on colonialism, sketches Villa’s career, and finally does discover a couple stores of rare (if partial and damaged) footage. Some of this content fascinates — but helmer’s endless voiceover natterings and constant on-camera presence strike a very indulgent note. Tech aspects are OK.