Adam Beckett (Zach Galligan) is playing a piano concert in front of an adoring crowd who see him as the greatest pianist of his generation, but as he draws the piece to a close he rushes off stage and into the wings, practically collapsing with his head in his hands. The audience wish him to perform an encore, but he cannot face it in spite of his manager and the staff of the theatre imploring him to do so, and when he returns to the stage he sits down at the piano, begins to play - it is revealed to shock and anger of everyone that it is a mechanical player piano! He has not been performing at all!
When Alex Cox introduced Nothing Lasts Forever on Moviedrome, a series on British television which presented cult movies the BBC had access to broadcast on a Sunday night, he told the viewers this was a rare movie from the thirties and span a yarn about its troubled history which was completely invented - it was that sort of film that you could come up with that kind of fiction around it, for it seemed when you were watching to be some kind of urban myth of a film rather than something real that had been actually made. Of course, part of that was down to the fact that when it was finished, the studio were so aghast that they never released it.
So this movie not only did not last forever, it barely lasted at all, and it was only in the rare showings on television or even rarer releases elsewhere - it appears to have been put out on British home videocassette - that any kind of rumours that it might be worth a look began to emerge, and even then only in the most muted, minority fashion possible. It had been the brainchild of Tom Schiller, who had made his name in comedy television, most notably in Saturday Night Live where he made short films for them, and the SNL brand was all over this, with Lorne Michaels producing and Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray taking roles.
But the sense of humour here was so weird, so remote, that you can understand why MGM didn't see any potential for it in the more raucous humour landscape of America of the nineteen-eighties, yet even so it's not as if it would have appealed to nobody whatsoever - it wasn't quite the obscure art project that they treated it as. Presenting itself as a vintage movie from the beginning, the plot sees Adam waking up from his concert nightmare on a train in Europe where he gets to chatting with a Swedish architect who persuades him to follow his dreams, as in ambitions, to become an artist back in New York City. So off he goes, returning to his home and discovering the place is held in the iron grip of the Port Authority.
But it gets stranger, and part of the curious spell Schiller weaves is that you're never quite sure where he is going with this, so alien does it appear. Pursuing the artist angle, Adam fails a three-minute life drawing test of a nude model (which is more like thirty seconds, only giving him enough time to draw a dark triangle), and is forced to get a job at the Lincoln Tunnel where he meets fellow aspiring artist Apollonia van Ravenstein who he starts an affair with. This is actually leading to a trip to the Moon to meet the love of Adam's life (Lauren Tom, voice of Amy on Futurama), although you could be forgiven for not predicting this direction, and there's also a journey underground, beneath the city to a whole society run by Sam Jaffe, and musical interludes too. It may not be absolutely hilarious, one of those works which appeared to mean the most to its creator and if anyone else liked it that was a bonus, but if you were attracted to the genuinely outré Nothing Lasts Forever had plenty to offer. Music by Howard Shore.