The Preservation and Restoration of Silent Films
The Loss of Silent Films
Unfortunately, many films of the silent era have
been lost. Many of those which haven't been lost are badly damaged.
The importance of archiving the silent films wasn't realized until it
was too late and many classic films were lost for good.
There are many reasons for this. Due to the high cost of film and
the fact that one print can be shown to thousands of people, films prints
are produced in small quantities.
- films produced in small quantities
- after initial success, prints were destroyed to save on storage costs
- prints were often worn out
- with the talkie era, silent films were considered worthless
- silent film companies go out of business
- cost of archiving films is too high
- chemical decomposition
During the silent era, cellulose nitrate film
was used for the majority of films. It is a highly flammable and
unstable compound, with a life of between thirty and eighty years. The
decomposition of nitrate film cannot be halted, although in the right
conditions, it can be slowed.
Silent Film Preservation
Preservation at the
The American Film Institute
Work is currently underway to preserve the original version of
The Lost World.
The Dinosaur Interplanetary Gazette contains information about
An effort is underway by the United States Library of Congress,
Motion Picture Preservation Laboratory to preserve the Paper Print
Collection of 1894 to 1915(?) motion pictures. Frank Wylie, who is
involved in the project, has details available on his
Polishing the Stone Face is an article on
the Video Restorations of Buster Keaton's Films, part of
Kino On-Line's features.
The Thanhouser Company Film
Preservation, Inc. home page has information about the efforts to
preserve and distribute material related to the Thanhouser Company, and
its successor company, Thanhouser Film Corporation.
The National Film Preservation Board in the
Motion Picture, Broadcasting & Recorded Sound Reading Room
has very limited information available.
The Film Preservation
Festival, from American Movie Classics,
is about raising awareness of this important issue in our heritage.
Glen Pringle /
Copyright © 1995,1996 by Glen Pringle