Digitally preserved copies of 10 previously lost American silent films were presented Thursday to the Library of Congress by the Russian film archive Gosfilmofond, where they have been stored since their initial release more than 80 years ago.
They are the first of what was described as a “mother lode” of some 200 silent films believed to be missing that ultimately will be repatriated by the Russian archive.
The initial cache includes 1923’s “The Call of the Canyon,” directed by Victor Fleming; 1924’s “The Arab,” helmed by Rex Ingram; and two pics from 1919, starring Wallace Reid, “You’re Fired” and “Valley of the Giants.”
The Russian archive is thought to contain the largest number of lost U.S. silent films outside the country, according to Patrick Loughney, chief of the Library of Congress’ Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation.
“This is the mother lode of lost U.S. silent films and is an important archeological discovery for American cinema,” he said.
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In a ceremony at the library, the digital copies were formally presented to Librarian of Congress James H. Billington by Vladimir I. Kozhin, head of Russia’s Presidential Management and Administration Dept. Also attending were Alexander Vershinin, director general of the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Library, and Nikolai Borodachev, director general of Gosfilmofond.
Billington praised the spirit of cooperation demonstrated by the Russian team during brief remarks at the ceremony.
A noted Russian scholar, Billington has worked quietly for years to win repatriation of the missing silent films and to strengthen cultural relations between the two countries.
Under his leadership, the Library of Congress has provided assistance to Russian libraries and cultural institutions, while also pursuing digital exchange.
Unlike the U.S., where the vast majority of silent film reels and negatives were destroyed or lost through neglect and mishaps, films distributed to Russia for the most part were carefully maintained and stored.
They were initially shown in Russian theaters and were given Russian language intertitles. In some cases, the names of the films were changed — a practice that complicates U.S. research efforts.During the past 20 years, the Library of Congress and others have sought to locate and repatriate missing U.S.-produced movies from a variety of foreign archives. For example, the library played a role in a recent repatriation agreement involving some 75 early U.S. films uncovered in the New Zealand Film Archive.
Loughney said the library is also working with film archives in France, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands to uncover lost American pics believed to be housed in those countries. He said the Russian archive presumably includes films stretching into the sound era.
“Preliminary research indicates that as many as 200 films are contained in the Gosfilmofond archive, according to a list compiled by the Intl. Federation of Film Archives based on data submitted from Russia,” he said.
The other pics presented to the Library were: “Kick In” (1922), “The Conquest of Canaan” (1921), “The Eternal Struggle” (1923), “Keep Smiling” (1925), “Canyon of the Fools” (1923) and “Circus Days” (1923).
The digital copies received Thursday will become available for viewing at the library’s Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation.