Sad fact: America's silent films are disappearing

A study by the Library of Congress says the majority of early cinema is lost--literally

Published December 4, 2013 6:20PM (EST)

This article originally appeared on Popular Science

Popular Science Logo According to a study conducted by the Library of Congress, 70 percent of American silent films are lost--and a good portion of the remaining ones aren't exactly in great shape, either. Of the 11,000 films made before "talkies" came into the picture, only about 3,300 are left. Of those, 17 percent are incomplete, and some, like the only missing Greta Garbo feature, The Divine Woman, are down to a single remaining reel. What happened?

Librarian of Congress James H. Billington explains in the study's foreword that, with the rise of sound, silent movies were seen as having little commercial value. As myopic as it comes across from a 21st-century vantage point, silent films were lost to "chemical decay, fire, lack of commercial value, cost of storage," and most film producers were content with unsentimentally moving on toward the Next Big Thing. From the study, here's the breakdown of what we lost, and what we have left:

American Silent Feature Film Survival
Library of Congress

With a more complete view of what we're missing, we might be able to better prevent losing more. Anticipating that, the Library has also released a searchable database filled with every silent feature still around.

[via The Verge]



By Colin Lecher

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Cinema Film History Library Of Congress Movies Popular Science Silent Film