Si­lents, please!

Study finds vast ma­jor­ity of early clas­sics have been lost for­ever.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - MOVIES -

MOST of the fea­ture-length films made by Hol­ly­wood dur­ing the golden age of silent movies have been lost for­ever, ac­cord­ing to a new study by the US Li­brary of Congress.

Only 14% of a to­tal of around 11,000 movies made be­tween 1912 and 1930 ex­ist in their orig­i­nal for­mat, with a fur­ther 11% avail­able to view in for­eign lan­guage ver­sions, or in a lower qual­ity for­mat. Around 70% are com­pletely lost. The fail­ure of the early stu­dios, in most cases, to main­tain silent era archives has been de­scribed as an “alarm­ing and ir­re­triev­able loss” to Amer­ica’s cul­tural record by of­fi­cials.

Dur­ing the rise of silent films be­tween 1912 and 1929 – be­fore net­work ra­dio or tele­vi­sion – go­ing to the movies be­came the most pop­u­lar form of en­ter­tain­ment. Movie the­atre at­ten­dance in the United States av­er­aged 46 mil­lion ad­mis­sions per week in the 1920s in a coun­try of 116 mil­lion peo­ple, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

His­to­rian and ar­chiv­ist David Pierce, who con­ducted the ex­ten­sive two-year study, said the silent art form re­tained a rare res­o­nance. “It’s a lost style of sto­ry­telling, and the best of the films are as ef­fec­tive with au­di­ences today as they were when they were ini­tially re­leased,” he told ABC News.

“When you take away di­a­logue from a nar­ra­tive story, it ac­tu­ally puts quite a chal­lenge upon the cre­ative peo­ple in­volved to tell the story en­tirely in a vis­ual fash­ion. And it’s that lim­i­ta­tion, I think, which makes the films so ef­fec­tive.”

Many of the lost film prints fell vic­tim to fire or de­te­ri­o­ra­tion. Oth­ers were ne­glected or de­stroyed, ac­cord­ing to the com­mon prac­tices of the time. Of the ma­jor stu­dios of the era, only MGM kept a de­cent li­brary of silent fare, with early 20th cen­tury giant Para­mount con­sid­ered one of the most ne­glect­ful.

The lat­ter did not be­gin pre­serv­ing ti­tles un­til the 1980s and has re­port­edly lost more than two-thirds of its once huge li­brary of more than 1,000 silent films. Fa­mous ti­tles now con­sid­ered lost for­ever in­clude the 1917 ver­sion of Cleopa­tra, a 1926 take on F Scott Fitzger­ald’s much-adapted The Great Gatsby, Lon Chaney’s 1927 film Lon­don Af­ter Mid­night and 1928’s The Pa­triot.

Films fea­tur­ing early stars, in­clud­ing Buster Keaton, Char­lie Chap­lin and Mary Pick­ford still ex­ist. The Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art in New York City, the Li­brary of Congress and other archives have been pre­serv­ing early films for decades. But the study notes that for ev­ery clas­sic that sur­vives, a half dozen have been lost.

Ni­trate film stock’s vul­ner­a­bil­ity to fire and de­te­ri­o­ra­tion contributed to the losses, along with the movie in­dus­try’s prac­tice of ne­glect­ing or de­stroy­ing prints and neg­a­tives, Pierce wrote.

The li­brary’s next aim is to con­tact for­eign preser­va­tion groups and pri­vate col­lec­tors in the hope that some of the miss­ing ex­am­ples can be tracked down. – Agen­cies

El­iz­a­beth who? The 1917 cleopa­tra, star­ring Theda bara, is one of the silent film clas­sics thought to be lost.

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