A Response to the
"Alarming Disappearing Silent Movie Era"
Recent articles and news reports appeared in Vanity Fair, the Hollywood Reporter and on the PBS Newshour citing the alarming rate at which our Silent Film era film heritage is disappearing.
Here is the Hollywood Reporter article as it appeared on the Kansas Silent Film Festival (KSFF) facebook page: www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/alarming-study-shows-just-how-661810
This is NOT 'new' news. It was estimated that over 75% of the films from the silent film era were lost several decades ago. During the last 20 years, enough discoveries of 'lost' silent films have been made that the percentage of missing silent movies has actually gone down (in some cases) to 70%.
Several of those 'lost' films have been shown at the Kansas Silent Film Festival in Topeka including Bardelys the Magnificent and the upcoming Mary Pickford short recently found in New Hampshire. We will be showing that film at the Cinema-Dinner this year thanks to Jeff Rapsis. Notice they mention four 'lost' features in this article. We ran 'coming attractions' trailers (the only surviving fragments ever found) for two of those films at the KSFF as a surprise short some years ago. Those trailers were for The Patriot and The Great Gatsby. There were several other trailers for 'lost' films in that collection, too.
Now, whether or not we are losing some great silent films because there isn't enough money to restore them all before they waste away is another story. Film Preservationist David Shepard told me he thinks most of the silent films waiting to be saved can be saved. It just takes time and money. Some of the movie studios did a very poor job of preserving these films, but they're still being found from country to country. How good they are and are they worth saving may be the BIG question? I once heard a studio executive say that the majority of silent films we have now are the 'cream of the crop', the 'best of the best' and a lot of the stuff we don't have anymore was just dreck. I don't think I quite believe him, do you?
Rodney Sauer (of the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra) prints up a Silent Movie Calendar every year and most of the proceeds from the sales of that calendar go to film preservation and restoration. This little 'business' has contributed to the 'saving' of several silent films so far.
Paul Gierucki and Brittany Valente (our KSFF special guests last year) have put together an astounding collection of Mack Sennett comedies from the teens and twenties (including early ones featuring Chaplin, the Keystone Cops and the Sennett Bathing Beauties). Most of these have never been seen in such complete versions or even seen at all. This Collection (which we saw parts of at last year's KSFF) will be released by Flicker Alley Films in February of 2014. I hope to have DVD copies available to sell at our event.
Now, are the number of silent films we can show going down? Not really. We still have a treasure trove of things left to show. I don't think we'll ever be at a big loss for great movies. This year, we'll be showing The Devil Horse from 1926 starring Rex, the Wonder Horse and it's a real jaw-dropper! It has wall-to-wall action with incredible horse and rider stunts. David Shepard loaned us this film from his personal collection. I wasn't even sure a print existed and it's spectacular! Jim Reid from Austin, Texas comes to our event every year and loans us films from his Collection including Crazy to Act, a 1927 Oliver Hardy short which we will also be showing this year. We've made some great friends over the years through the KSFF and these guys like us. They have deep Collections and loan us films for free.
Now, the Library of Congress has a book on the number of silent films available and in what state they are in. In many cases, some of these films are incomplete or on inferior formats which is to say they may exist only on 16mm film (which we run) or DVD (which we also run). Ideally, they would like to see them all preserved on 35mm film and so would I, but that doesn't mean they don't exist at all. At least, we can see them and show them still and we have an audience that truly 'hungers' for this kind of entertainment. I think we may be in a very fortunate position. The KSFF is supplying a need and our audience is growing and spreading the word about what we do and how good we are at it. I'm thinking news like this may actually help us more than hurt us. I hope you’ll agree.