The U.S. Library of Congress this week revealed the troubling statistic that 70% of silent-era films made in the U.S. have been lost forever.
In a report titled “The Survival of American Silent Feature Films: 1912-1929,” the library has compiled information on all of the surviving films of that era. Though earlier reports have found that 10,919 different feature-length silent films, only a fraction of those movies have been cared for enough to survive in some form today. The report was commissioned by the National Film Presentation Board, and can be found on its website.
“The Library of Congress can now authoritatively report that the loss of American silent-era feature films constitutes an alarming and irretrievable loss to our nation’s cultural record,” said James Billington, Librarian of Congress. “We have lost most of the creative record from the era that brought American movies to the pinnacle of world cinematic achievement in the 20th century.”
The report found that only 14% of movies from the silent era have survived in their original format. Another 5% have survived in their original format, but are incomplete and 11% can only be found in lower quality or foreign formats.
In addition to these survival estimates the report has compiled a database of existing silent films and their whereabouts. The report’s authors hope the list will help bring silent films found in other countries back to U.S. soil for preservation.
“This report is invaluable because the artistry of silent film is essential to our culture,” said Martin Scorsese, film director and founder of The Film Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to film preservation. “Any time a silent picture by some miracle turns up, it reminds us of the treasures we’ve already lost. It also gives us hope that others may be discovered. The research presented in this report serves as a road map to finding silent films we once thought were gone forever and encourages creative partnerships between archives and the film industry to save silent cinema.”