The National Film Preservation Foundation has found a rich source of silent pics through a pact with the EYE Filmmuseum in Amsterdam.
The partnership between the San Francisco-based foundation and the Dutch museum calls for the restoration and preservation of dozens of silent pics that haven’t been seen in decades. The worldwide hunt for collections of lost silent pics is part of the ongoing NFPF and Library of Congress effort to raise awareness of how many early films have been lost to history. By the Library of Congress’ estimate, only about one-third of American silent films survive with complete prints.
Among the first 26 titles slated for preservation are are “Fifty Million Years Ago” (1925), an animated introduction to the theory of evolution; “Flaming Canyons” (1929), a tour of national parks in the Southwest; short comedies featuring Mickey Rooney (pictured), Oliver Hardy, and Chester Conklin; Happy Hooligan and Koko the Clown cartoons; the only known work from the Esperanto Film Manufacturing Company of Detroit; “The Reckless Age” (1924), a flapper feature starring Reginald Denny; and the crime melodrama “For the Defense” (1922) starring ZaSu Pitts.
The pics were discovered in the EYE collection thanks to NFPF research funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The pics are on highly flammable nitrate stock that were distributed to Dutch theaters in the 1910s and ’20s. Many of the prints are tinted. The pics selected for preservation through the NFPF initiative represent the best prints known to be available.
Once preserved the pics will be made available for screenings and web streaming via the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Library of Congress. The NFPF is the non-profit charitable arm of the National Film Preservation Board of the Library of Congress.
NFPF supporters said it was particularly rare to find so many documentary and informational titles in the EYE collection. The list includes “The Crystal Ascension,” a 1920s doc on the largest glacier in the state of Oregon. The Oregon Historical Society is taking part in the preservation of that title.
“It is thrilling to see nonfiction taking center stage in this groundbreaking collaboration,” said Professor Rick Prelinger of UC Santa Cruz and author of “The Field Guide to Sponsored Films.” “Movies like ‘The Last Word in Chickens’ and ‘From Ore to Finished Product’ were usually thrown out after serving their purpose. Through this international effort, they will live on as a tantalizing trace of American industries as they were decades ago.”
The NFPF has preserved more than 2,000 pics since its launch in 1997.