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A Report from Mostly Lost 7: Help Us Identify These Films!

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The following is a guest post from Rachel Parker, a Processing Technician in the Moving Image Section. 

We’re in the second full day of screenings at the seventh edition of the Mostly Lost Film Identification Workshop, our annual gathering of film archivists, scholars, students, and anyone else with even a passing interest in film and/or cultural history who literally crowdsource the identification of films that are unknown, misidentified, or under-identified. You can read more about what we do in a previous blog post, and even help us identify some films from Mostly Lost 3 that remain unknown. This year we have attendees from seven different countries and 21 different states and hope you will consider registering for Mostly Lost 8, planned for June 2019.

In addition to titles from our collection and from individual collectors, this year we’re showing films contributed by the George Eastman Museum, the UCLA Film and Television Archive, the Packard Humanities Institute, plus international contributors EYE Filmmuseum (Amsterdam), Fondazione Cineteca Italiana (Milan), Centre National du Cinéma (Paris), Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique (Brussels), and Lobster Film (Paris).

In one of this morning’s sessions we showed several films from the Library’s collection and two of them remain unidentified. Here’s the first one.

Did you miss that flash title? It reads “Genevieve de Bray, the jury has found you guilty of murder in the first degree.” Not that there is much to go on, but the two women in this scene both have very long hair that has been pulled up on top of their heads. This is a far cry from the flapper bob hair style that became popular in the 1920. The aesthetic of the film looks too modern to be from the 1900s so I would date this to be from the 1910s. We suspect the lack of wig-wearing judges and lawyers means that this is not a British film. These are slender clues but these kinds of small tidbits are sometimes what get the conversation started. An off-the-cuff comment from attendee leads to a location identification which then leads to a production company and then potential actors that someone else researches as the film plays and then next thing you know, a matching synopsis is being read as the corresponding action plays out on screen. It can be rather thrilling sometimes.

The thrill may have passed this one though as it still remains unidentified, but did get a clue when someone tentatively identified two of the actors as Leo Maloney and James Gerard. Still, we’re not sure this identification is correct, nor have we locked down a title. Have any suggestions as to what the title of this film may be? We would love to hear from you.

This clip is a good illustration of the difficulties that go into identifying unknown films. Not only is it a very short clip, but it also features two very prolific actors, Chester Conklin and Mack Swain. My cohort in organizing this annual gathering, Rob Stone, knows silent comedy and was able to identify these two comedians before it was even programmed. For most genres knowing two actors names would lead to an identification. But a quick Google search (which I already know will not produce their complete filmography) shows that these two actors worked together in dozens of films. The vast number of films that each actor made makes the task even more daunting: Swain racked up over 150 acting credits and Conklin has an impressive 309 to his name. When we screened this clip, the always extraordinary attendees leapt into action and one of them called out the title of the movie as easily as if I had asked a child to identify Big Bird—Pullman Bride from 1917, directed by Mack Sennett. This gathered knowledge is what Mostly Lost is all about. I may not know the film but perhaps someone else in the room does. We were lucky this time but there are always more to identify!



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