Tag Archives: National Film Preservation Foundation

Trove of Long-Lost Silent Films Discovered

YOU wait for one, then 75 come along at once…

A trove of 75 ‘lost’ silent American films – including an early movie from acclaimed director John Ford – has been discovered in New Zealand.

The New Zealand Film Archive and the National Film Preservation Foundation announced today (June 7) a partnership to preserve and make available the astonishing collection –  that have been unseen anywhere in decades.

Heading the list is John Ford’s full-length feature Upstream (1927), a backstage romance involving an aspiring Shakespearian actor and the daring target girl from a knife-throwing act.

Strong Boy

Silence Is Golden: A still from the recovered trailer for John Ford's "Strong Boy".

Only about 15% of silent-era films by the four-time Academy Award-winning director are thought to survive. The collection also includes another important Ford find—a trailer for the director’s lost feature Strong Boy (1929), starring Victor McLaglen.

“Upstream is a major discovery that illuminates a previously lost page of John Ford’s early years at Fox,” said Matthew Bernstein, Chairman of the Emory University’s Film Studies Department and co-editor of John Ford Made Westerns.

“Who would believe that it would be found complete, in good condition, and with original color tints? And that is only the tip of the iceberg of this amazing New Zealand collection.”

Among the other important finds are Maytime (1923), an early feature with Clara Bow; the first surviving film directed by and starring Mabel Normand; an episode of the popular serial The Active Life of Dolly of the Dailies, starring Mary Fuller as the unstoppable woman reporter; Westerns made in Tucson, San Antonio, and Yosemite; the only known narrative feature showcasing the Miller Brothers Wild West Show; comic shorts starring Charles Puffy, Snub Pollard, and Joe Murphy; an industrial film about the making of Stetson hats; and a number of documentaries and newsreels.

The films date from as early as 1898. About 70% of the nitrate prints are virtually complete, and more than two-thirds have color tinting. Taken together, the films are a time capsule of American film production from the 1910s and 1920s.

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 (filmpreservation.org).

Only a fraction of the American films created during the first four decades of the motion picture still survive in the United States—probably fewer than 20%.

American silent films, however, had a worldwide popularity, and many works discarded in the United States survive abroad as distribution prints that were salvaged decades ago at the end of theatrical runs.

The Library of Congress has estimated that roughly one-third of American silent-era features that survive in complete form exist only in archives in other countries.

“We are delighted to collaborate with the NFPF to preserve and make available these notable films,” said Jamie Lean, Division Director, the New Zealand Film Archive.

“Hundreds of American motion pictures from the silent era exist in archives outside the United States. We hope that our example will encourage other international partners who have safeguarded “lost” American films for decades to share their long-unseen treasures with the world community.”

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Long-Lost Lincoln Film Gets Premiere

A LONG-LOST silent movie about President Lincoln is to get its first screening in over 90 years after being discovered in a clear out.

When Lincoln Paid was among seven fragile reels of nitrate film found by a contractor cleaning out an old barn in Nelson, New Hampshire, destined for demolition.

The 30-minute movie is particularly notable for starring and being directed by Francis Ford – older brother of celebrated film director John Ford.

Movie buff Peter Massie, who discovered the reels alongside a 35mm Monarch projector, said:

“I was up in the attic space, and shoved away over in a corner was the film and a silent movie projector, as well. I thought it was really cool.”

Massie found the film canisters in summer 2006 and temporarily stored them in his basement, before contacting a film society at nearby Keene State College.

The George Eastman House film preservation museum in Rochester, N.Y., became involved after Keene State Film professor Larry Benaquist recognised the historical and cultural significance of the material.

The college determined that the film did not exist in film archives and furthermore was the only one of eight silent films starring Ford as Lincoln to survive.

“The vast majority of silent films, particularly from the early period — the first decade of the 20th century — are gone,” said Caroline Frick Page, curator of motion pictures at George Eastman House.

“That’s what makes these stories so incredibly special.”

With a grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation, the college was able to restore the two-reel film in a Colorado lab – a delicate process which took a year to complete.

The images themselves were well-preserved, likely due to cold New Hampshire winters and the sheltered location of the barn, said Benaquist.

But the 35mm nitrate film, phased out of Hollywood during the 1950s due to its volatile, flammable nature, was shrunken, brittle and damaged, with the sprocket holes (used on projectors) shredded.

“What the laboratory had to do was remanufacture the sprocket holes to a new dimension, make it in strips, adhere it to the image, and then run it through a printing process where they would print it, frame by frame,” Benaquist said.

When Lincoln Paid – about the mother of a dead Union soldier asking President Lincoln to pardon a Confederate soldier she had turned in — stars the brother of John Ford, the legendary director of classics such as The Searchers, The Grapes of Wrath and The Quiet Man.

Benaquist thinks the film was discovered in Nelson because the town is on Granite Lake, the site of many past summer camps. He explained that a boys’ camp was in the area of the barn and that he believes the films were once shown to entertain the children before being shelved and forgotten.

Helping the restoration was Mark Reinhart, author of Abraham Lincoln on Screen. He had a poor video copy of the film made from an 8mm copy that included a few scenes missing from the 35mm print.

The college combined a DVD of the restored film with another of Reinhart’s film to make its final version, to be screened on April 20th.

Released in 1913, the film was praised by Moving Picture World – a weekly trade publication for film distributors – as “a great war drama” with vivid battle scenes.

Director and main star Francis Ford, who died in 1953, aged 72, is better known for minor, mostly comic roles in at least 30 of his younger brother’s films, “often playing a coonskin drunk who can spit across the room,” said Tag Gallagher, author of the book John Ford.

“If you’re into these things, you quickly recognize him and it becomes a kind of cult thing to finding him, and he’s quite delightful,” said Gallagher.

“But if you go back to the teens, he was a very big and important director.”

According to Gallagher, Francis Ford had an important influence on John, whose fame soon overshadowed his.

During the silent-era, Francis Ford was one of many actors who portrayed Lincoln on film.

“He’s not a particularly good Lincoln, he’s kind of short and stocky,” said Reinhart, who prefers the portrayals of Ford’s contemporaries, Frank McGlynn and Benjamin Chapin.

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