Much of American silent film heritage
lost, Library of Congress says
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[December 05, 2013]
By Patricia Reaney
NEW YORK (Reuters)
— Nearly three-quarters of America's feature-length
silent films have been lost, and the legacy that put Hollywood at
the forefront of the movie industry from 1912 to 1929 is endangered,
the Library of Congress said Wednesday.
The first comprehensive study of American feature-length films of
the silent era unveiled by the Library of Congress paints a
distressing picture. Seventy percent of silent feature-length films
have been lost.
Classics films such as 1926's "The Great Gatsby," the 1917 version
of "Cleopatra" and actor Lon Chaney's 1927 "London After Midnight"
are among movies considered lost in their complete form.
"The Library of Congress can now authoritatively report that the
loss of American silent-era feature films constitutes an alarming
and irretrievable loss to our nation's cultural record," said
Librarian of Congress James H. Billington.
About 11,000 silent feature films of American origin were released
from 1912 through 1929. Only 14 percent, or about 1,575 titles,
exist in their original 35 mm format.
Five percent of the films that did survive are incomplete and 11
percent of those that are complete are in lower-quality 28 mm or 16
mm format or in foreign versions, according to the study.
"We have lost most of the creative record from the era that brought
American movies to the pinnacle of world cinematic achievement in
the 20th century," Billington said in a statement.
Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese, an advocate of film
preservation, said the findings are invaluable. His film "Hugo" was
inspired by pioneering film-maker Georges Melies who directed
hundreds of movies in the late 1890s and early 1900s.
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"The research presented in this report serves as a
road map to finding silent films we once thought were gone forever
and encourages creative partnerships between the archives and the
film industry to save silent cinema," he said in a statement.
In 1990 Scorsese established The Film Foundation, a
non-profit organization dedicated to protecting and preserving
motion picture history. It has helped to save more than 560 films,
according to its website.
The study, "The Survival of American Silent Feature
Films: 1912-1929" commissioned by the National Film Preservation
Board, also showed that of the more than 3,300 films that survived
in any format 26 percent were found in other countries, and 24
percent have already been repatriated.
The Czech Republic has the most American silent films found outside
the United States. The report credits overseas archivists with
preserving many U.S. silent films.
The author of the study, historian-archivist David Pierce, also
compiled an inventory to help bring American silent films back to
The report recommended that a nationally coordinated program be
developed to repatriate silent films from foreign archives, as well
as a campaign to document unidentified titles.
It also encourages studios and rights-holders to acquire archival
master film elements on unique titles.
(Editing by Mary Milliken and Cynthia Osterman)