This is a guest post by Amy Jo Stanfill, Processing Technician in the Moving Image Section and coordinator of the Silent Film Project.
As we have mentioned in a post or two, the survival rate of films released in the silent era is abysmally low. This statement has long been an article of faith in the preservation community, but the 2013 publication of The Survival of American Silent Feature Films: 1912-1929 replaced anecdotes with solid research conducted by David Pierce with funding from the National Film Preservation Board. Pierce determined that of the 11,000 feature length movies made in America during the silent era, 70% no longer exist in any form. Seventy percent! What a cultural loss that represents.
While a significant number of the silent features that do survive are held by archives like the Library of Congress, Pierce reported that many others exist on smaller gauge formats like 16mm prints owned by film collectors. Among the report’s helpful recommendations was that an organized effort be made to engage private collectors to borrow their prints for scanning at 2K resolution. And that’s how I got my job as coordinator of what we call the Silent Film Project (SFP). The goal of the SFP is to borrow, catalog, digitally preserve, and ensure the availability of silent (and selected sound era) films for public viewing and research. Holdings information for silent features can be found at The American Silent Feature Film Database.
The universe of film collectors is fairly small and, fortunately for me, everyone seems to know each other. I work with many collectors and once I have received a print, I create a catalog record, perform any needed repairs, deliver the film to the Library’s Packard Campus Film Laboratory for scanning, QC the scan once completed, then ship the print back to the donor along with a digital copy. All of the titles scanned as part of the Silent Film Project are available for researcher access in the Moving Image Research Center, but it’s our goal to make all the public domain and rights-free titles available online.
For example, the only known complete copy of the silent feature East Side-West Side (1923) is a Kodascope print originally intended for home viewing; in fact, many of the prints we borrow were made for the home market (Universal’s Show-at-Home library is another good source). We borrowed East Side-West Side from Jon C. Mirsalis, who when he’s not directing a large toxicology lab and discovering the missing reel of the biggest pie fight ever captured on film, both collects and provides musical accompaniment for silent films.
At the center of East Side-West Side is Lory James (Eileen Percy), her poor east side roommates Kit (Maxine Elliott Hicks) and Eunice (Lucille Hutton), her wealthy west side boss Duncan Van Norman (Kenneth Harlan), with money as the central divide. Principal Pictures released this six reel melodrama, which was adapted from a Broadway play, in 1923. The film was later released on the 16mm home market in a five reel Kodascope version and that’s what we present here with a terrific score by none other than Jon Mirsalis.
If you have any silent films and are interested in participating, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about the Silent Film Project.
East Side-West Side (Principal Pictures, 1923)