Austin filmmaker Nick Robinson has reminded me of another option for watching hard-to-find films: Start collecting 16mm prints and get a projector to view them from the comfort of home. Robinson recently posted a short personal documentary, Celluloiphilia, to YouTube (see the embedded video after the jump). In Celluloiphilia, he discusses the first 16mm print he ever bought, the 1973 movie Who? starting Elliot Gould. The clips he shows from the print have that reddish look found in color prints that haven't aged well, but I've seen a lot of movies in theaters that looked like that. When a movie is rare enough, you don't care about a little red or a few splices if it means you're actually getting to see the movie.
In Celluloiphilia, Robinson says he was inspired to collect films after attending QT Fest, the annual-ish festival in Austin where Quentin Tarantino shows a number of films from his private collection of prints -- many of these movies are nearly impossible to see in any other way, like Twisted Nerve. (The short includes a clip with the most quotable line from The Gravy Train, aka The Dion Brothers, one of my favorite movies from Best of QT Fest.) Tarantino, in an audio recording taken from QT Fest, notes that many of these obscure 16mm films present "an alternative history of Hollywood" that we rarely see on DVD shelves or in revival houses.
Beware: Watching Celluloiphilia may inspire you to look into the possibility of collecting 16mm prints yourself. I suppose I'd have to learn how to use a 16mm projector, and I have no idea where we'd have room for this stuff in the house, but imagine finding prints of something you've never heard of, and running a projector in your own home. (I'm now having wild fantasies about finding a lost print of the 1930 film Holiday.) The prints will degrade, but as Austin Film Society associate programmer Jameson West notes in Celluloiphilia, "Even when it dies, it's beautiful."