Entertainment News

  • 5 December 2013, 12:50

Movie Buffs Mourn The Loss Of Silent Films

Most of America's feature-length silent films have been lost because of decay and neglect over the past 100 years, according to a study.

Of the nearly 11,000 silent films made between 1912 and 1930, only 14% still exist in their original format, the Library of Congress research found.

And 11% of those that survive only exist as foreign versions or on lower-quality formats, meaning an original 20th century art form has all but disappeared.

Silent films were at their peak in the early part of the 20th century when - before network radio or television - going to the cinema was the most popular form of entertainment.

Around 46 million people - out of a population of 116 million people - went to the cinema in the US during the 1920s, according to the report.

Historian and archivist David Pierce, who carried out the study for the library, said few defunct art forms have the resonance of silent films.

"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 said.

"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."

Famous films now considered lost include Cleopatra from 1917, The Great Gatsby from 1926, Lon Chaney'sLondon After Midnight from 1927 and The Patriot from 1928.

Films featuring early stars such as Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford still exist thanks to organisations such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Library of Congress and other archives preserving early films for decades.

But, the study reveals, for every classic that survives, half a dozen have been lost.

Librarian of Congress James Billington wrote in the report that the nation has already lost much of the creative record from an era that brought American movies to the heights of cinematic achievement.

"The loss of American silent-era feature films constitutes an alarming and irretrievable loss to our nation's cultural record," he wrote.

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