Much of American silent film heritage lost, Library of Congress says

Wed Dec 4, 2013 2:20pm EST
 
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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.   Continued...