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Still Lost, Mostly

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The following is a guest post by Rachel Parker, a Moving Image Processing Technician at the Packard Campus.

Last July I was frantically typing away at a laptop in the back of the beautiful Packard Campus theater, transcribing the helpful and solicited comments from Mostly Lost 3 Silent Film Archeology Identification Workshop attendees who were calling out names of actors, locations and sometimes titles of the films they saw on the screen. And now we’re gearing up for Mostly Lost 4, which will held June 11-13. Although we never completely close the books on any edition of Mostly Lost–we keep trying to identify films long after everyone has gone home–I thought it would be instructive to have a follow up report on ML3, especially for those people who might be joining us for the first time this June.

Taking notes at the back of the theater with Steve Massa and Serge Bromberg.

We showed 111 titles (or, rather, potential titles) during ML3. That’s a lot of film, but sometimes we’re only screening fragments (because that’s all that exists) and the rest are typically one or two reelers lasting 6-18 minutes. If you attend Mostly Lost expecting to see complete films like you do at a typical festival, you are bound to be sorely disappointed! Of those 111 films, 35 were identified at the screening, another 7 in the next two weeks, and as of this writing a total of 62–56% of the films screened–have been rescued from history’s shadows. This is an impressive number especially when you consider how little information was available about some of the films shown.

As I mentioned in my previous post, there are many ways by which a film may be identified. In addition to the expertise in the room, invaluable reference books and online databases undoubtedly aided in searches once even the smallest amount of information was gathered about the film. The Media History Digital Library was extensively used as were the AFI online catalog and IMDb. One of my favorite examples from ML3 was when historian/author Steve Massa identified actor Henry Bergman by his rear end. A more typical identification was when a film submitted from the George Eastman House arrived with only a synopsis. During its screening, six actors were identified by attendees that led to its identification as Only a Farmer’s Daughter (1915) starring Charley Chase, Vivian Edwards and Slim Summerville. Likewise, a comedy triggered information that was bounced around the room, making the workshop a literal instance of crowdsourcing. “That looks like Billie Rhodes!” shouted one attendee from the back. Someone in the audience looked up possible titles that Billie and other identified cast members starred in together. “What about Waltzing Around?,” another suggested. After mutterings of possible agreement, a synopsis was found and the film was indeed confirmed to be Waltzing Around, a Billy Bevan and Billie Rhodes comedy from 1918.

With all of the newly gathered information, what began as 35 pages of notes before the event has expanded to 72 pages of confirmed identifications, all thanks to the collective knowledge and detective skills of the 148 attendees (and, yes, Steve’s heretofore unexpected derriere expertise).

Group photo of the Mostly Lost 3 attendees

Mostly Lost 3 also grew significantly with the addition of several presentations, which provided a lively and entertaining break from the film screenings. Dino Everett opened with an overview of non-traditional film formats, including 9.5mm, 28mm, and a Vitaphone sound-on-disc demonstration. James Layton and David Pierce previewed their newly-published book, The Dawn of Technicolor, 1915-1935; my colleague Alexis Ainsworth presented a history of the Library of Congress Paper Print Collection; our three piano accompanists (Philip Carli, Ben Model, and Andrew Simpson) talked about their craft; and Serge Bromberg enchanted with his “Retour de Flamme” program. Serge not only screened interesting films from his collection (such as an alternate, more risqué version of Buster Keaton’s The Blacksmith), he also accompanied the films on piano!

We also got some excellent press this year, including a great story on NPR and a featured role in a CBS Sunday Morning story about the Packard Campus. Attendee Steve Zalsuky also covered each day on his own blog. Photos taken during the event can be seen here.

Of course, many films from all three editions of Mostly Lost remain mostly lost. A Flickr site that is dedicated to identifying unknown films contains the remaining unidentified films from every Mostly Lost as well as others that are a mystery. You can help by leaving comments there. And here are five films shown at ML3 that remain unidentified, along with the unedited notes I gathered before, during, and after the screening. Thanks to Ben Model for scoring the four silent titles, and if you would like to be kept in the loop about future editions of Mostly Lost, please let us know at [email protected]. See you at Mostly Lost 4!


[Unidentified Edwards No. 4]

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Synopsis: This is a reel of outtakes

Clip 1: A woman gives a man a handwritten letter after he watches her write it. He is reading a magazine upside down because he is distracted by her. This and various insert shots repeat several times. Still images from this segment can be seen here

Clip 2: A Native American woman. A still from this segment can be seen here

Clip 3: A man smoking a cigarette. A still from this segment can be seen here

Notes: Info on slate: “EDWARDS John W. Boyle”

Clip 1: Near 1917 – maybe a Fox – J. Gordon Edwards probably; Is the same guy as before? Gordon Edwards and John W. Boyle made 22 films together as per IMDb. Of these, the most likely candidate would be The Joyous Troublemaker that shares the upscale setting of the scenes. Most of Edwards’ Westerns starred William Farnum. The Joyous Troublemaker starred Farnum too, but he is not in the section with the slates, a scene featuring subsidiary players, though he may be the gent smoking the cigarette in the home movie-like last shot


[Unidentified OHS/Prather. Western, Cowboys Spying on Girls] – Still images from this film can be seen here

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Year: circa 1924

Synopsis: Four men in cowboy outfits are watching from a distance (through a telescope) a group of girls changing into their bathing suits. Another man comes along and the four hit the road running. The newcomer picks up the telescope and starts spying on the girls. The girls wave to a cowboy and run to meet him.­

Intertitle:“One at a time, four bits a look”

UPDATE: This film has been identified as $50,000 Reward (1925). It was directed by Clifford S. Elfelt and stars Ken Maynard.

[Unidentified Kleine No. 2. Ambrosio Drama] – Still images from this film can be seen here

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Country: Italy

Company: Ambrosio

Synopsis: A priestly looking man wearing a Byzantine-design pectoral cross over his robe and a large ring on his index finger enters a formal salon and speaks with dramatic gestures, and then sits down and opens a book; no other people are visible in the room. In another room, three men with curled wigs, ruffled shirts, knee breeches, and tricornered hats confer around a table. They exit, and a well-dressed woman enters and is seated and fastidiously cared for by the butler. One of the men from the former group returns and appears to plan an intrigue with the woman. This scene repeats itself immediately. The man then incites a quarrel with another man

Notes: 18th century setting – thought that this may be rushes. In the early ‘teens, after importing Quo Vadis, George Kleine invested in Italian film production with part going to Ambrosio and also in his own company.  There are some details in the George Kleine Collection catalog.  There are supporting documents in the Kleine papers in the Manuscript Division, but we think the staff working on the Kleine catalog dug through that without pinning it down.


[Unidentified Larry Smith No. 1: Western] – Still images from this film can be seen here

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Character names: Sheriff Bade Hawkins of Puente County, Jerry

Cast: Al Ferguson (Sheriff Bade), Cliff Lyons

Notes: Other identifiers are: Western Express Company’s Golden Rob mine, Cold Creek

Possible titles include:

  • Smiling Jim (1922)
  • Shooting Straight (1927)
  • Outlawed (1929)
  • Cheyenne Kid (1933)


[Unidentified Dye No. 6]

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Year: 1932 edge code

Synopsis: This film features an artist who starts by drawing a simple design, i.e.: an egg, a circle, etc. and embellishes it into a complex caricature while a rather condescending narrator expounds upon the work.

Notes: Harry Rose? A Vitaphone short?

Comments (6)

  1. The magazine the man is reading in the [Unidentified Edwards No. 4] clip is the August 2, 1919 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. This might narrow down the filming date. Hope this helps.

    • Thank you! This is exactly the kind of information that’s very helpful.

  2. In the OHS/Prather Western, I believe the older man who comes on and scares the boys off, then looks through the telescope himself is Harry Carey, Sr. Could it be an early John Ford or Francis Ford (his brother) directed film, as they worked together a lot?

  3. Regarding the Edwards clips, I believe it to be from ‘The Joyous Troublemaker’ (1920) due to the Fox production numbering system. During this period, Fox stills were marked with the production number followed by a dash and the serial number. The production number was assigned based on how many movies the director made for Fox. For example, for Edwards, ‘Cleopatra’ stills I have were marked with ’20’ (being his 20th production with Fox) and ‘Salome’ marked with ’25’, ‘She Devil’ with ’28’,’When Men Desire’ with ’31’ and ‘Queen of Sheba’ with ’44’. The slate in the clip is marked ‘Edwards 36’ which is consistent the Fox production number of ‘The Joyous Troublemaker.’ Edwards next production was ‘If I Were King’ which are marked with ’37’. The actress appears to be Louise Lovely, which is also consistent with ‘The Joyous Troublemaker’, but such identifications are dubious and Lovely made a number of films with Edwards and Boyle. I hope this helps.

    • We pulled and read through the detailed shot list of The Joyous Troublemaker (1920) that was submitted as copyright description and these do not appear to be the same film. Joyous Troublemaker is almost entirely set in the West and there were no scenes of the female writing a letter or a man pretending to read a magazine. The main female character actively rejects the male lead and while the two do end up together that happens at in the very last shot. There is no coy flirting as seen in the Edwards Film.

  4. Regarding the Al Ferguson/Cliff Lyons Western, could this be Morris R. Schlank production “Red Gold” (1928)? Looking at the lobby cards online for this film at the IMDB, it struck me that the horse, Cliff Lyons outfit and even the vegetation match the clip closely. One of the lobby cards shows Lyons held at gunpoint by a sheriff looking rather like Al Ferguson. Or maybe this is another Schlank production?

    Lyons and Ferguson around that time both worked in cheap Schlank westerns, for example in “The Saddle King” (1929). Lantern delivered only one 1929 Exhibitor´s Herald article on “Red Gold” – contents of which support that this has been a pretty obscure film. Does it survive?

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