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A lost film is a feature or short film that is no longer known to exist in any studio archives, private collections, or public archives, such as the U.S. Library of Congress.
During most of the 20th century, U.S. copyright law required at least one copy of every American film to be deposited at the Library of Congress at the time of copyright registration, but the Librarian of Congress was not required to retain those copies: "Under the provisions of the act of March 4, 1909, authority is granted for the return to the claimant of copyright of such copyright deposits as are not required by the Library."Of American silent films, far more have been lost than have survived, and of American sound films made from 1927 to 1950, an estimated half have been lost.
The phrase "lost film" can also be used in a literal sense for instances where footage of deleted scenes, unedited, and alternative versions of feature films are known to have been created, but can no longer be accounted for. Sometimes, a copy of a lost film is rediscovered. A film that has not been recovered in its entirety is called a partially lost film. For example, the 1922 film Sherlock Holmes was eventually discovered, but some of the footage is still missing.
Most film studios routinely had a still photographer with a large-format camera working on the set during production, taking pictures for potential publicity use.The high-quality photographic paper prints that resulted—some produced in quantity for display use by theaters, others in smaller numbers for distribution to newspapers and magazines—have preserved imagery from many otherwise lost films. In some cases, such as London After Midnight , the surviving coverage is so extensive that an entire lost film can be reconstructed scene by scene from still photographs. Stills have been used to stand in for missing footage when making new preservation prints of partially lost films, for example the Gloria Swanson picture Sadie Thompson (1928).
Most lost films are from the silent film and early talkie era, from about 1894 to 1930.Martin Scorsese's Film Foundation estimates that more than 90% of American films made before 1929 are lost, and the Library of Congress estimates that 75% of all silent films are lost forever.
The largest cause of silent film loss was intentional destruction. Before the era of television (and home video) films were viewed as having little future value when their theatrical runs ended. Similarly, silent films were perceived as worthless after the end of the silent era. Film preservationist Robert A. Harris has said, "Most of the early films did not survive because of wholesale junking by the studios. There was no thought of ever saving these films. They simply needed vault space and the materials were expensive to house." mm movie projectors, which were sold as a toy for showing brief excerpts from Hollywood movies at home.Meanwhile, the studios could earn money by recycling the film for their silver content. Many Technicolor two-color negatives from the 1920s and 1930s were thrown out when studios simply refused to reclaim their films, still being held by Technicolor in its vaults. Some used prints were sold to scrap dealers and ultimately cut up into short segments for use with small, hand-cranked 35
In some cases the destruction was proactive. Following a series of trials (which ultimately acquitted him) for the alleged rape and killing of actress Virginia Rappe in 1921, silent film star Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle's name had become so toxic that studios engaged in a program of determined destruction of films in which he had starred.
Many other early motion pictures are lost because the nitrate film used for nearly all 35 mm negatives and prints made before 1952 is highly flammable. When in very badly deteriorated condition and improperly stored (e.g. in a sun-baked shed), nitrate film can spontaneously combust. Fires have destroyed entire archives of films. For example, a storage vault fire in 1937 destroyed all the original negatives of pre-1935 films made by Fox Pictures.The 1965 MGM vault fire resulted in the loss of hundreds more silent films and early talkies.
Nitrate film is chemically unstable and over time can decay into a sticky mass or a powder akin to gunpowder. This process can be very unpredictable: some nitrate film from the 1890s is still in good condition today, while some much later nitrate had to be scrapped as unsalvageable when it was barely 20 years old. Much depends on the environment in which it is stored. Ideal conditions of low temperature, low humidity, and adequate ventilation can preserve nitrate film for centuries, but in practice, the storage conditions were usually far from ideal. When a film on nitrate base is said to have been "preserved", this almost always means simply that it has been copied onto safety film or, more recently, digitized; both methods result in some loss of quality.[ citation needed ]
Eastman Kodak introduced a nonflammable 35 mm film stock in spring 1909. However, the plasticizers used to make the film flexible evaporated too quickly, making the film dry and brittle, causing splices to part and perforations to tear. By 1911, the major American film studios were back to using nitrate stock. "Safety film" was relegated to sub-35 mm formats such as 16 mm and 8 mm until improvements were made in the late 1940s.
Some pre-1931 sound films made by Warner Bros. and First National have been lost because they used a sound-on-disc system with a separate soundtrack on special phonograph records. If some of a film's soundtrack discs could not be found in the 1950s when 16 mm sound-on-film reduction prints of early "talkies" were being made for inclusion in television syndication packages, that film's chances of survival plummeted: many sound-on-disc films have survived only by way of those 16 mm prints.
As a consequence of this widespread lack of care, the work of many early filmmakers and performers has made its way to the present only in fragmentary form. A high-profile example is the case of Theda Bara: one of the best-known actresses of the early silent era, she made 40 films, but only six are now known to exist. Clara Bow was equally celebrated in her heyday, but 20 of her 57 films are completely lost, and another five are incomplete.Once-popular stage actresses who made the jump to silent films, such as Pauline Frederick and Elsie Ferguson, are now largely forgotten with little left of their film performances; fewer than 10 movies exist from Frederick's work from 1915–28, and Ferguson has just two surviving films: one from 1919 and her only talkie from 1930.
All of the film performances of the stage actress and Bara rival Valeska Suratt have been lost. William Farnum, a Fox player like Bara and Suratt, was one of the early screen's big Western actors, rivalling the likes of William S. Hart, Tom Mix, and Harry Carey. However, today only three of his Fox films are extant. Others, such as Francis X. Bushman and William Desmond, had numerous film credits, but films made in their heyday are missing due to junking, neglect, or studios becoming defunct. Nevertheless, unlike Suratt and Bara, these men continued working into the sound era and even on television, so their later performances can be viewed.
Almost all of the films made by Charlie Chaplin have survived, as well as extensive amounts of unused footage dating back to 1916. The exceptions are A Woman of the Sea (which he destroyed himself as a tax write-off) and one of his early Keystone films, Her Friend the Bandit (see Unknown Chaplin ). The filmography of D. W. Griffith is nearly complete, as many of his early Biograph films were deposited by the company in paper print form at the Library of Congress. Many of Griffith's feature-film works of the 1910s and 1920s found their way to the film collection at the Museum of Modern Art in the 1930s, and were preserved under the auspices of curator Iris Barry. Mary Pickford's filmography is nearly complete; her early years were spent with Griffith, and she gained control of her own productions in the late 1910s and early 1920s. She also backtracked[ clarification needed ] to as many of her Zukor-controlled early Famous Players films as were salvageable. Stars such as Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks enjoyed stupendous popularity, and their films were reissued over and over throughout the silent era, meaning prints of their films were likely to surface decades later. Pickford, Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, and Cecil B. DeMille were early champions of film preservation, although Lloyd lost a good number of his silent works in a vault fire in the early 1940s.
In March 2019, the National Film Archive of India reported that 31,000 of its film reels had been lost or destroyed.
An improved 35 mm safety film was introduced in 1949. Since safety film is much more stable than nitrate film, comparatively few films were lost after about 1950. However, color fading of certain color stocks and vinegar syndrome threaten the preservation of films made since about this time.
Most mainstream movies from the 1950s onwards survive today, but several early pornographic films and some B movies are lost. In most cases, these obscure films go unnoticed and unknown, but some films by noted cult directors have been lost, as well:
Some films produced from 1926–31 using the Vitaphone sound-on-disc system, in which the soundtrack is separate from the film, are now considered lost because the soundtrack discs were lost or destroyed, while the picture elements survive. Conversely, and more commonly, some early sound films survive only as sets of soundtrack discs, with the picture elements completely missing (e.g. The Man from Blankley's (1930), starring John Barrymore) or surviving only in fragmentary form (e.g. Gold Diggers of Broadway (1929) and The Rogue Song (1930), two highly popular and profitable early musicals in two-color Technicolor).
Many stereophonic soundtracks from the early to mid-1950s that were either played in interlock on a 35 mm fullcoat magnetic reel or single-strip magnetic film (such as Fox's four-track magnetic, which became the standard of mag stereophonic sound) are now lost. Films such as House of Wax , The Caddy , The War of the Worlds , The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T , and From Here to Eternity that were originally available with 3-track, magnetic sound are now available only with a monophonic optical soundtrack. The chemistry behind adhering magnetic particles to the tri-acetate film base eventually caused the autocatalytic breakdown of the film (vinegar syndrome). As long as studios had a monaural optical negative that could be printed, studio executives felt no need to preserve the stereophonic versions of the soundtracks.
Occasionally, prints of films considered lost have been rediscovered. An example is the 1910 version of Frankenstein which was believed lost for decades until the existence of a print (which had been in the hands of an unwitting collector for years) was discovered in the 1970s. A print of Richard III (1912) was found in 1996 and restored by the American Film Institute. In 2013, an early Mary Pickford film, Their First Misunderstanding , notable for being the first film in which she was credited by name, was found in a New Hampshire barn and donated to Keene State College.
Beyond the Rocks (1922), with Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino, was considered a lost film for several decades. Swanson lamented the loss of this and other films in her 1980 memoirs, but optimistically concluded: ‘I do not believe these films are gone forever.’ In 2000, a print was found in the Netherlands and restored by the Nederlands Filmmuseum and the Haghefilm Conservation. It turned up among about two thousand rusty film canisters donated by an eccentric Dutch collector, Joop van Liempd, of Haarlem. It was given its first modern screening in 2005, and has since been aired on Turner Classic Movies.
In the early 2000s, the German film Metropolis —which had been distributed in many different edits over the years—was restored to as close to the original version as possible, by reinstating edited footage and using computer technology to repair damaged footage. However, at that point, approximately a quarter of the original film footage was considered lost, according to the Kino Video DVD release of the restored film. On July 1, 2008, Berlin film experts announced that a copy of the film had been discovered in the archives of the film museum Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which contained almost all of the scenes still missing from the 2002 restoration.The film now has been restored very close to its premiere version. The restoration process is featured in the documentary Metropolis refundada.
In 2010, digital copies of ten early American films were presented to the Library of Congress by the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Library, the first film installment from the Russian state archives to be repatriated.
Television material existing on film has sometimes been recovered. The 1951 pilot of I Love Lucy was long believed lost; but in 1990, the widow of one of the actors, Pepito Pérez (who played Pepito the Clown), found a copy. It has since been shown on television. Sometimes, a film believed lost in its original state has been restored, either through the process of colorization, or other restoration methods. "The Cage", the original 1964 pilot film for Star Trek , survived only in a black-and-white print until 1987, when a film archivist found an unmarked (mute) 35 mm reel in a Hollywood film laboratory with the negative trims of the unused scenes.
Similarly, a number of videotaped television programmes, previously thought lost (see wiping) have been recovered as overseas Kinescope film prints from private collectors and various other sources over the years. For example, nine lost episodes of Doctor Who were discovered in storage at a television broadcasting station in Nigeria in 2013.
Several films that would otherwise be entirely lost survive in the form of stock footage used for later films.
The Universal Pictures feature film The Cat Creeps (1930) is a lost film, and its only remaining footage was included in the Universal short film Boo! (1932). However, UCLA still has a copy of the soundtrack. The James Cagney film Winner Take All (1932) used scenes from the early talkie Queen of the Night Clubs (1929) starring Texas Guinan. While Queen of the Night Clubs was not a lost film in 1932, no prints of the film have survived through the decades, and the footage included in Winner Take All is all that remains.
Actress-turned-gossip columnist Hedda Hopper made her screen debut in the Fox Film The Battle of Hearts (1916). The star was William Farnum, then at the beginning of his long Fox contract. Twenty-six years later, in 1942, Hopper produced her short series Hedda Hopper's Hollywood #2. In the short, Hopper, Farnum, her son William Hopper, and William's wife Jane Gilbert viewed portions of The Battle of Hearts. These brief portions of that movie survive within the Hopper documentary. More than likely, Hopper had an entire print of the movie in 1942. However, like many early Fox films, The Battle of Hearts is now lost or missing.
One of the best-known Charlie Chaplin's works, silent film The Gold Rush (1925), was re-released in 1942 to include a musical track and narration by Chaplin himself. The reissue would end up having the unintentional result of preserving the film, as the original 1925 film (though generally not considered a lost film) shows noticeable degradation of image and missing frames, damage not evident in the 1942 version.
The Polish film O czym się nie mówi(1939) contains three short fragments of Arabella (1917), one of the early films of Pola Negri which later became lost.
Several films have been made with lost film fragments incorporated into the work. Decasia (2002) used nothing but decaying film footage as an abstract tone poem of light and darkness, much like the more historical Lyrical Nitrate (Peter Delpeut, 1991) which contained only footage from canisters found stored in an Amsterdam cinema. In 1993, Delpeut released The Forbidden Quest , combining early film footage and archival photographs with new material to tell the fictional story of an ill-fated Antarctic expedition.
The 2016 documentary Dawson City: Frozen Time , about the history of Dawson City, Canada, and the 1978 discovery of previously lost silent films there, incorporates parts of many of those films.
The mockumentary Forgotten Silver , made by Peter Jackson, purports to show recovered footage of early films. Instead, the filmmakers used newly shot film sequences treated to look like lost film.
In the double feature Grindhouse (2006), both segments— Planet Terror (directed by Robert Rodriguez) and Death Proof (directed by Quentin Tarantino)—have references to missing reels, used as plot devices.
"Cigarette Burns", an episode of the horror anthology series Masters of Horror directed by John Carpenter, deals with the search for a fictional lost film, La Fin Absolue Du Monde (The Absolute End of The World).
A silent film is a film with no synchronized recorded sound. In silent films for entertainment, the plot may be conveyed by the use of title cards, written indications of the plot and key dialogue lines. The idea of combining motion pictures with recorded sound is nearly as old as film itself, but because of the technical challenges involved, the introduction of synchronized dialogue became practical only in the late 1920s with the perfection of the Audion amplifier tube and the advent of the Vitaphone system.
The Phantom of the Opera is a 1925 American silent horror film adaptation of Gaston Leroux's 1910 novel Le Fantôme de l'Opéra, directed by Rupert Julian and starring Lon Chaney in the title role of the deformed Phantom who haunts the Paris Opera House, causing murder and mayhem in an attempt to make the woman he loves a star. The film remains most famous for Chaney's ghastly, self-devised make-up, which was kept a studio secret until the film's premiere. The film was released on November 15, 1925.
Film preservation, or film restoration, describes a series of ongoing efforts among film historians, archivists, museums, cinematheques, and non-profit organizations to rescue decaying film stock and preserve the images they contain. In the widest sense, preservation assures that a movie will continue to exist in as close to its original form as possible.
Vitaphone was a sound film system used for feature films and nearly 1,000 short subjects made by Warner Bros. and its sister studio First National from 1926 to 1931. Vitaphone was the last major analog sound-on-disc system and the only one which was widely used and commercially successful. The soundtrack was not printed on the film itself, but issued separately on phonograph records. The discs, recorded at 33 1⁄3 rpm and typically 16 inches (41 cm) in diameter, would be played on a turntable physically coupled to the projector motor while the film was being projected. It had a frequency response of 4300 Hz. Many early talkies, such as The Jazz Singer (1927), used the Vitaphone system. The name "Vitaphone" derived from the Latin and Greek words, respectively, for "living" and "sound".
The Movietone sound system is an optical sound-on-film method of recording sound for motion pictures that guarantees synchronization between sound and picture. It achieves this by recording the sound as a variable-density optical track on the same strip of film that records the pictures. The initial version was capable of a frequency response of 8500 Hz. Although sound films today use variable-area tracks, any modern motion picture theater can play a Movietone film without modification to the projector. Movietone was one of four motion picture sound systems under development in the U.S. during the 1920s, the others being DeForest Phonofilm, Warner Brothers' Vitaphone, and RCA Photophone, though Phonofilm was primarily an early version of Movietone.
The Lost World is a 1925 American silent fantasy giant monster adventure film adapted from Arthur Conan Doyle's 1912 novel of the same name. The film was produced and distributed by First National Pictures, a major Hollywood studio at the time, and stars Wallace Beery as Professor Challenger. It was directed by Harry O. Hoyt and featured pioneering stop motion special effects by Willis O'Brien, a forerunner of his work on the original King Kong. Doyle appears in a frontispiece to the film, absent from some extant prints.
Associated Artists Productions, Inc. (a.a.p.) was a distributor of theatrical feature films and short subjects for television. Through acquisitions, Associated Artists Productions' assets were purchased by United Artists, with its library eventually passing to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1981, following its purchase of United Artists, and then to Turner Entertainment Co., following its purchase of the pre-1986 assets of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and select United Artists assets. Turner Entertainment is now part of WarnerMedia. Though a short lived company, Associated Artists Productions lived a legacy of being best known as the copyright owner of the Popeye, and the color pre-1948 Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series of shorts by Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros. respectively, as their logos and trademarks were present at the beginning of each short's 16mm Eastmancolor prints syndicated for television in the 1960s.
A film base is a transparent substrate which acts as a support medium for the photosensitive emulsion that lies atop it. Despite the numerous layers and coatings associated with the emulsion layer, the base generally accounts for the vast majority of the thickness of any given film stock. Since the late 19th century, there have been three major types of film base in use: nitrate, acetate, and polyester.
Doctor Who – Lost in Time is a BBC three-disc boxset DVD released in 2004. It is a collection of restored Doctor Who episodes and clips from stories that are incomplete or missing from the Corporation's archives. There were, at the time of release, 108 missing episodes, all from the black-and-white 1960s era. Although the search goes on many or all of these episodes may be lost forever – hence this collection's title.
Gold Diggers of Broadway is a 1929 American Pre-Code musical comedy film directed by Roy Del Ruth and starring Winnie Lightner and Nick Lucas. Distributed by Warner Bros., the film is the second two-color Technicolor all-talking feature-length film.
Song of the West (1930) is an American Pre-Code musical operetta film produced by Warner Bros., and photographed entirely in Technicolor. It was based on the 1928 Broadway musical Rainbow by Vincent Youmans (music), Oscar Hammerstein II (lyrics) and Laurence Stallings (book). It starred John Boles, Joe E. Brown and Vivienne Segal, and was the first all-color all-talking feature to be filmed entirely outdoors.
The Curse of Quon Gwon: When the Far East Mingles with the West is a black-and-white silent film. Filmed circa 1916 or 1917, it was never released and long thought lost. Two reels of an estimated total of seven or eight survived and were restored, rendering the film incomplete.
The King of the Kongo (1929) is a Mascot film serial, and was the first serial to have sound, although only partial sound rather than the later "All-Talking" productions with complete sound. The first episode was a "three reeler" with the remaining nine episodes being "two reelers".
Charlie Chaplin (1889–1977) was an English actor, comedian, and filmmaker whose work in motion pictures spanned from 1914 until 1967. During his early years in film, he became established as a worldwide cinematic idol renowned for his tramp persona. In the 1910s and 1920s, he was considered the most famous person on the planet.
The 1965 MGM vault fire was a fire that erupted in Vault 7, a storage facility, at the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio (MGM) backlot in Culver City, California, in 1965. It was caused by an electrical short explosively igniting stored nitrate film. The initial explosion reportedly killed at least one person, and the resulting fire destroyed the entire contents of the vault, archived prints of silent and early sound films produced by MGM and its predecessors. The only known copies of hundreds of films were destroyed.
The Terror is a 1928 early American, pre-Code, horror film written by Harvey Gates and directed by Roy Del Ruth, based on the 1927 play of the same name by Edgar Wallace. It was the second "all-talking" motion picture released by Warner Bros.. The film was also the first all-talking horror film, made using the Vitaphone sound-on-disc system.
A major fire broke out in a 20th Century-Fox film-storage facility in Little Ferry, New Jersey, United States, on July 9, 1937. Flammable nitrate film had previously contributed to several fires in film-industry laboratories, studios, and vaults, although the precise causes were often unknown. In Little Ferry, gases produced by decaying film, combined with high temperatures and inadequate ventilation, resulted in spontaneous combustion.
The West~Bound Limited is a 1923 American silent drama film directed by Emory Johnson and starring Ralph Lewis.
A Sound Sleeper is a 1909 American comedy film directed by D. W. Griffith and produced by the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company. The short was filmed in one day in the Coytesville borough of Fort Lee, New Jersey, which at the time was a popular filming location for many early motion-picture studios in the northeastern United States. Due to the brief running time of this comedy, it was originally distributed in April 1909 on a split reel with another Biograph release, a longer dramatic film titled The Winning Coat.
It’s bad enough, to cite a common estimate, that 90 percent of all American silent films and 50 percent of American sound films made before 1950 appear to have vanished forever.