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1929 Lost movies

Over 90% of American Movies Made Before 1929 are Lost and Have No Copies.

It’s easy to forget how much of film history has been lost forever in the digital age when it seems like every movie, show, web short, or live performance is just a click away. The physical reels of the film had to be protected from age, decay, or being misplaced or thrown away in the days of analog media. Unfortunately, many were not in the first few decades of film history. Did you know what happened to copies of movies made before 1929? 

Over 90% of American films made before 1929 are lost, with no known copies.

What Happened to Those Forever Lost Films?

More than three-quarters of silent films, including more than 90% from before 1929, are thought to be lost forever. Silent films were rarely rescreened after the invention of sound, and studios had no financial incentive to keep them. 

The nascent medium of the film did not place a high value on its history, and studios destroyed old prints to make room for newer releases. Big stars like Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford and directors like D.W. Griffith had the clout to keep their filmographies intact. Cecil B. DeMille and D.W. Griffith Silent film star Harold Lloyd was also a supporter of film preservation, but a studio fire in the 1940s destroyed much of his work.

Many films that were thought to be lost forever were rediscovered years, if not decades, later. In the 1970s, a collector discovered a print of the long-lost Frankenstein from 1910. In 1996, a print of Richard III from 1912 was found and restored.

When Gloria Swanson wrote her memoirs, she said of her lost films, “I do not believe these films are gone forever,” and she was proven correct in the case of Beyond The Rocks, in which she co-starred with Rudolph Valentino in 1922. In 2003, a copy was discovered in the Netherlands. When the Museo Del Cine in Buenos Aires found all but one of the missing scenes in its archive, the film was restored to nearly its original state. Fritz Lang’s 1927 landmark Metropolis had been cut and re-cut numerous times to cover for damaged and missing footage, a quarter of the film’s running time was considered unrecoverable. (Source: The AV Club

What Happened to the Silent Films Between 1912 and 1930?

There’s a reason why rediscovered lost films frequently appear in personal collections. When early movie studios realized that their films had little or no value after their theatrical runs ended, they would sell prints of the films, either whole or in parts, to individuals who owned home movie projectors. 

People could watch their favorite movies at home, and those who did so were often the only ones who kept intact copies of older films. (Source: The AV Club

What Happened to the Silent Films Between 1912 and 1930?

The Library of Congress conducted the first comprehensive survey of silent films, discovering that 70% are thought to be lost. According to the survey, only 14% of the nearly 11,000 silent feature films made in America between 1912 and 1930 still exist in their original format. 

Approximately 11% of the surviving films are only available in foreign versions or in lower-quality formats. (Source: USA Today

Image from PaleOfFuture

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