Monday, June 7, 2010

Treasure trove of silent films found

The New Zealand Film Archive and the National Film Preservation Foundation (which has its home here in San Francisco) has announced a partnership to preserve and make available an astonishing collection of 75 American motion pictures which no longer survive in the United States.

According to the NFPF press release, issued today, "The 'lost' films will be preserved over the next three years and accessed through the five major American silent film archives: the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, George Eastman House, the Library of Congress, the Museum of Modern Art, and the UCLA Film & Television Archive, which are collaborating with the NFPF on this project. Copies of the complete films will also be publicly available in New Zealand and viewable on the NFPF Web site."

 Image: National Film Preservation Foundation

This major story in the silent film world has already received substantial coverage in Variety and the New York Times. Among the films which have come to light are those directed by or starring John Ford, Mabel Normand, Pearl White, Clara Bow, and others. Highlights of this remarkable find include:

The Active Life of Dolly of the Dailies—Episode 5, The Chinese Fan (Edison Manufacturing Co., 1914). In this episode of the famous serial (previously entirely lost in the United States), ace woman reporter Dolly Desmond, played by Mary Fuller, rescues the editor’s daughter from kidnappers and gets the scoop. In the early 1910s, on-going serial narratives starring intrepid heroines lured female moviegoers back to the theater week after week.

Billy and his Pal (George Méliès / American Wild West Film Company, 1911), a Western filmed in San Antonio, Texas, and the earliest surviving film featuring Francis Ford. The actor-director introduced the movie business to his younger brother, John, who soon blossomed as director. Released in New Zealand as Bobby and his Pal.

Idle Wives (Universal Moving Pictures, 1916), the first reel of a Lois Weber feature in which a film inspires three sets of moviegoers to remake their lives. More of the film exists at the Library of Congress.

Mary of the Movies (Columbia Pictures, 1923), Hollywood comedy about a young woman seeking stardom in the movies. This first surviving film from Columbia Pictures exists in an incomplete copy.

Maytime (B.P. Schulberg Productions, 1923), a feature with Clara Bow in an early role. Nitrate deterioration has reached the point where “blooms” are starting to eat away at the emulsion.

Upstream (Fox Film Corporaton, 1927), a feature directed by four-time Academy Award winner John Ford. Only 15% of the silent-era films by the celebrated director are known to survive. This tale of backstage romance stars Nancy Nash and Earle Foxe.

The Woman Hater (Power Picture Plays, 1910), a one-reel comedy starring serial queen Pearl White.

Won in a Closet (Keystone Film Company, 1914), the first surviving movie directed by and starring Mabel Normand. Released in New Zealand as Won in a Cupboard.

Be sure and visit the National Film Preservation Foundation website, where clips and images from these newly found films can be viewed. And what's more, Annette Melville of the National Film Preservation Foundation will give a presentation on the subject of this extraordinary find at the free program, "Amazing Tales from the Archive: First the Bad News... then the Good!" at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival on July 18 at 10am.


  1. A write-up by Leonard Maltin via IndieWire

  2. Yay for New Zealand. Thank goodness we never throw anything away...

  3. This is amazing! So exciting!! Thanks for informing us! (:

  4. This is wonderful news, hurrah for the New Zealand Film Archive! It seems that various archives have been finding all sorts of wonders these last few years. I'm hoping that some day a complete copy of von Stroheim's 'The Wedding March' will be found. Or maybe 'London After Midnight' with Lon Chaney...

    site b.

  5. Brian Meacham is the Howard Carter of film.