70% of Silent Films Lost to Decay

Library of Congress conducts depressing study
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 4, 2013 4:20 PM CST
70% of Silent Films Lost to Decay
This undated handout image provided by the Library of Congress shows a motion picture lobby card for D.W. Griffith's "Broken Blossoms" (1919).   ((AP Photo/Library of Congess))

The vast majority of feature-length silent films made in America have been lost because of decay and neglect over the past 100 years, allowing an original 20th-century art form to all but disappear, according to a study released today. The Library of Congress conducted the first comprehensive survey of silent films over the past two years and found that 70% are believed to be lost. Of the nearly 11,000 silent feature films made in America between 1912 and 1930, the survey found that only 14% still exist in their original format. About 11% of the films that survive exist only as foreign versions or on lower-quality formats.

Notable films now considered lost include Cleopatra from 1917, the Great Gatsby from 1926, Lon Chaney's London After Midnight from 1927, and The Patriot from 1928. Films featuring early stars, including Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and Mary Pickford still exist. The Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Library of Congress, and other archives have been preserving early films for decades. But the study notes that for every classic that survives, a half dozen have been lost. (Read more silent movies stories.)

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