Safety last: 70% of Hollywood's silent era films lost forever
While film is a joyous medium that brings us together and grants us a platform to express new (and old) ideas, its lasting success has recently been brought into question.
Two unfortunate news items broke within days of each other: One was a study that revealed that in 613 British films tracked from 2003-2010, only 7% were profitable (with independent films performing much worse); the other bit of news was that the vast majority of Hollywood's silent films have been lost forever.
Fires and a lack of archiving by studios has caused massive losses to our film heritage according to a study by the US Library of Congress.
They pulled back the red curtain to show that around 70% of movies made between 1912 and 1930 have been lost forever while 11% are avaulable in inferior duplicated/foreign release prints. Only 14% exist in their original format.
“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,” Librarian of Congress James Billington said in a statement. “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.”
David Pierce, a historian and archivist, spearheaded the important two-year long study. He told ABC News about why these films are so revered: "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.
"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."
Oscar winning director Martin Scorsese is an extremely active advocate of film preservation. The 'Raging Bull' auteur said: “This report is invaluable because the artistry of silent film is essential to our culture.
“Any time a silent picture by some miracle turns up, it reminds us of the treasures we’ve already lost. It also gives us hope that others may be discovered.
“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 archives and the film industry to save silent cinema."
With our filmic history vanishing and our present output failing to hit economic targets (and therefore receiving less support from arts councils and the public), the time has come to make a stand before the screen fades to black forever.
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