Silents are golden

U.S. donates $1 mil to restore screen gems

The National Film Preservation Foundation is to restore disintegrating gems from the silent era starring Harold Lloyd, John Barrymore and Clara Bow thanks to a $1 million federal grant.

The money will be shared by UCLA’s Film & Television Archive, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and and the George Eastman House in Rochester, N.Y.

The announcement was made at the White House by Hillary Rodham Clinton as part of Save America’s Treasures, a national initiative to preserve culturally significant collections and historic sites.

Silent films laid the foundation of American cinema, Mrs. Clinton said.

Under the film preservation project, titled Saving the Silents, the archives will produce new masters and exhibition prints of 67 shorts, serials and feature films from the first four decades of American cinema.

Included are works by D.W. Griffith, Cecil B. DeMille, Thomas Ince, Maurice Tourneur, Erich von Stroheim, Ernst Lubitsch and Douglas Fairbanks. Many of the films have not been seen in complete form for more than 70 years.

“Time is running out to save the treasures created by America’s first filmmakers,” said Roger L. Mayer, chairman of the Preservation Foundation and president of Turner Entertainment Co.

Silent-era films were printed on highly flammable nitrate film stock. Many were discarded after the advent of “talkies” in 1928, so that fewer than 20% survive. Officials at George Eastman House, MOMA and UCLA estimate that roughly up to half the silent titles in their collections require preservation work in order to be seen by modern audiences.

The films to be restored include 20 short fiction films by Thomas Edison, one of the inventors of the motion picture camera; “War on the Plains” (1912), the first Western made by Thomas Ince and a cast of American Indians; “Manhattan Madness” (1916) and “Wild and Woolly” (1917), two satires starring Douglas Fairbanks; three one-reelers by comedian Lloyd, which survive at UCLA as rare original camera negatives; “Sherlock Holmes” (1922) starring screen idol Barrymore; and the features “The Roaring Road” (1919) and “Lorna Doone” (1922).

The grant will allow UCLA to preserve two serials that thrilled early filmgoers — “Plunder” (1922) and “Who Pays?” (1915) — as well as the surviving chapters of “Ruth of the Rockies” (1920).

UCLA will preserve four feature films starring “It Girl” Bow — “Capital Punishment” (1925), “My Lady of Whims” (1925), “My Lady’s Lips” (1924) and “Poisoned Paradise” (1924).

Last week, the George Eastman House received an additional $10,000, from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. Anthony Bannon, the Eastman’s director, and curator Paolo Cherchi Usai received the check from Academy president Robert Rehme prior to a screening of Mary Pickford’s “The Hoodlum” (1919), newly restored at the Eastman facility.