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Alarming New Report from Library of Congress Says 70 Percent of America's Silent Films Are Lost and Gone Forever

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by Beth Hanna
December 4, 2013 12:46 PM
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Lon Chaney's "After Midnight" (1927), one of the thousands of America's lost silent films

The National Film Preservation Board and Library of Congress have revealed a depressing if perhaps unsurprising new study claiming that 70 percent of America's silent films, dating between 1919 and 1929, are gone forever. Of the 11,000 feature films released in that productive period, only 30 percent still exist, and even half of those are in some incomplete form, or exist only in foreign versions or in lower quality formats (such as 28mm or 16mm).

Reasons for this mass loss of the country's silent films range from chemical decay, fire, perceived lack of value (i.e. not commercial) and high storage costs.

Director, cinephile and Film Foundation head Martin Scorsese, however, was able to pinpoint a bit of hope in these bleak findings, stating:

“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.”

The first step is awareness.

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