One Opinion on Lost Films

Open, general discussion of silent films, personalities and history.
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drednm
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One Opinion on Lost Films

Unread post by drednm » Sat Mar 23, 2019 8:15 pm

This posting certainly got some strong reactions on Facebook.

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Re: One Opinion on Lost Films

Unread post by TinaC » Sat Mar 23, 2019 9:02 pm

I disagree with the point that the writer thinks that we aren't missing much on "revolutionary" pieces, but that is my personal opinion. I was reading Kevin Brownlow's "The Parade's Gone By...," and I think he mentioned that there are some Directors that were notable in their time but we will most likely not be able to see their work, because their films are lost to time. As most people here know, with nitrate being flammable, a lot of movies have been lost like the Fox vault fire that destroyed most of Theda Bara's films. There was also a great documentary, called Fragments, on TCM that showed fragments of films that are mostly lost. We currently do not have The Way of All Flesh, which Emil Jannings won the first Academy Award for Best Actor in that film. I think that is the only film that was Academy winner that has not survived.

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Re: One Opinion on Lost Films

Unread post by oldposterho » Sun Mar 24, 2019 7:52 am

Yes, I imagine that would cause quite a kerfuffle.

Personally, I think his point is idiotic and would argue that a film by the Albuquerque Film Manufacturing Company is just as important as an Academy Award winner. Rarity is rarity, and I imagine the folks in New Mexico might deem the former film far more important than one of the latter.

Still, to each their own and click-bait is click-bait.

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Re: One Opinion on Lost Films

Unread post by earlytalkiebuffRob » Sun Mar 24, 2019 2:56 pm

The other thing is a definition of 'lost'. If a film 'exists', but that known copy is so atrocious as to be virtually unwatchable, is this a lost film? Also, what about films which are known to exist only as 'cut-downs'?

Obviously it is impossible to evaluate a film one has not seen, and even when a film DOES turn up, it can be hard to assess fairly because of its condition, as well as the fact that they were made for different audiences as well as presented differently. For a lot of people [such as myself] a good deal of film viewing is done via DVDs or online viewing. This is often due to financial reasons as well as the fact that not all of us live within reasonable distance of a rep cinema, not to mention that when some of us get home there are meals to prepare and cats to feed...

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Re: One Opinion on Lost Films

Unread post by boblipton » Sun Mar 24, 2019 3:19 pm

Ridiculous.

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Re: One Opinion on Lost Films

Unread post by boblipton » Sun Mar 24, 2019 5:54 pm

One of my nieces is a ceramics artist; a "potter", we would have called her, once upon a time. Here's a link to her site on Etsy:

https://www.etsy.com/shop/HandsOnCeramics

I talk to her about the business end of the work, make suggestions and so forth. Some of her pieces I like, and have purchased. Sometimes I say "I don't get it." To me, they're tchotkes. Dust gatherers. But that's my aesthetics and taste. She makes her living at it, and I make suggestions based on the proposition that it's a viable, artisanal craft, based on my experience. Some she accepts. Some she rejects....sometimes for good reasons, sometimes out of fear of the unknown. Her sister the lawyer tries to translate my words, but she understands the statement "I don't get it" is not a denial of the value of her work. While I like to believe that sometimes I don't get it because some of the pieces are the equivalent of Pet Rocks or Flavored Water For Pets (fish-flavored for cats, liver-flavored for dogs.... I saw the IPO paperwork), sometimes I don't get it because times change, people's tastes change, and there is a real use or demand for these items.

When most people say "I don't get it", there's a subtext and the subtext is: "There is nothing to be gotten. It's stupid, it's cr*p, why are you wasting your time and mine even discussing it? I've got more important things to do. You're old and stupid." and so forth for what could be hours, except the unimportance of what interests me has already been summed up: "I don't get it."

That's what we have here. My (and our) interest in these subjects is, let us admit, important to no one but ourselves. I spend ten hours a week looking at 1930s B movies not because I believe there are a lot of major masterpieces that I will uncover. I do it because it interests me and helps me fill in the story I am writing in my head about the movie industry, from ancient Sumerian pottery, to flip books, to Magic Lanterns, to....well, whatever comes next.

What's the purpose of my watching these things? Mostly because they amuse me. If you want a more practical reason, it's because while history, as Mark Twain noted, doesn't repeat itself, it does rhyme, and sometimes in the doggerel of B westerns, I see a pattern that will apply to current or future trends. But that's not why I watch them.

In the 1960s the radicals cried out "Power to the People" and "It's irrelevant." I didn't understand. Weren't the well-to-do (among whom I was raised) people? Irrelevant to what? With age has come understanding. "The people" consist solely of the person crying out for power and his (or her) friends and allies. Looked at in that light, the sense is "Give me what you have!" and irrelevance is what does not interest the person declaring it irrelevant.

Towards the end of my college years, women's studies came into the English department. Courses were offered, and they included writers like Mary Wollstonecraft and Jane Austen, along with some writers who were G*dawful -- the Bronte sisters had long been part of the high-school curriculum. I hope in the years since then, they've uncovered some writers who, like Austen and Wollstonecraft, are worth reading. But if they had been lost utterly, the last copy thrown out to molder like the lost works of the Library of Alexandria, we would know nothing of them. Imagine the howling at the unfair neglect!


Now, if you will excuse me, it's back to a Kinoshita movie that I didn't know existed until a couple of weeks ago. I suppose that means, according to the writer we are discussing, it isn't good.

Bob
Last edited by boblipton on Sun Mar 24, 2019 6:08 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: One Opinion on Lost Films

Unread post by silentfilm » Sun Mar 24, 2019 6:03 pm

A few years ago, most people had never heard of "Musty Suffer", Marcel Perez, or Alice Howell, yet now they seem to be fairly important comedians from the silent era. If we don't keep looking for lost films, and re-evaluating the ones that are still around, we won't have that accurate picture of movie history. In the 1950s, D.W. Griffith and Cecil B. DeMille were the only great directors of the silent era, and Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd were the only important comedians. These assumptions were based on existing criticism and viewing the films that were available at the time.

And just to refute Mr. Epling's thesis, how are we supposed to judge Theda Bara's career since we only have her first and last features, plus one more and a Hal Roach comedy short? Pauline Frederick made a ton of features in the teens, but I think that they are all missing. And by focusing on Academy Award nominees and acknowledged classics, you miss other genre's like cartoons, newsreels, serials, and novelty films. And as Frank Thompson has illustrated with his research on Melies films in San Antonio and North Carolina films, there are a lot of films produced outside of Hollywood that are quite interesting, but most of them are lost.

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Re: One Opinion on Lost Films

Unread post by boblipton » Sun Mar 24, 2019 6:13 pm

silentfilm wrote:
Sun Mar 24, 2019 6:03 pm
A few years ago, most people had never heard of "Musty Suffer", Marcel Perez, or Alice Howell, yet now they seem to be fairly important comedians from the silent era. If we don't keep looking for lost films, and re-evaluating the ones that are still around, we won't have that accurate picture of movie history. In the 1950s, D.W. Griffith and Cecil B. DeMille were the only great directors of the silent era, and Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd were the only important comedians. These assumptions were based on existing criticism and viewing the films that were available at the time.

And just to refute Mr. Epling's thesis, how are we supposed to judge Theda Bara's career since we only have her first and last features, plus one more and a Hal Roach comedy short? Pauline Frederick made a ton of features in the teens, but I think that they are all missing. And by focusing on Academy Award nominees and acknowledged classics, you miss other genre's like cartoons, newsreels, serials, and novelty films. And as Frank Thompson has illustrated with his research on Melies films in San Antonio and North Carolina films, there are a lot of films produced outside of Hollywood that are quite interesting, but most of them are lost.

Among those who once were lost but now are being found is John H. Collins.

Bob
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Re: One Opinion on Lost Films

Unread post by greta de groat » Sun Mar 24, 2019 10:04 pm

silentfilm wrote:
Sun Mar 24, 2019 6:03 pm
... Pauline Frederick made a ton of features in the teens, but I think that they are all missing.
Apparently there are 4 survivors, 3 of which are still unpreserved nitrate from the last i heard. I have seen the one that has been preserved, The Love That Lives (1917, at GEH), and i thought it was excellent. It's shown a couple of times at PFA but i don't know that it's been shown anywhere else. But yes, there are lots of tasty-sounding titles that she made that appear to be lost.

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Re: One Opinion on Lost Films

Unread post by Mark Zimmer » Wed Mar 27, 2019 4:02 pm

I'm not sure one should take seriously anyone who confuses "box office success" or Academy Award nominations with "artistic merit."

London after Midnight is notorious and sought after mostly thanks to Famous Monsters of Filmland going on about it at length with plenty of stills. I mean, just LOOK at that makeup. Don't you want to see that? Seems pretty obvious to me.

I'd also still like to see the lost original preview version of the 1925 Phantom of the Opera, that was deemed too scary to release, before it was watered down with more silly romance.

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Re: One Opinion on Lost Films

Unread post by MaryGH » Thu Mar 28, 2019 11:20 am

Maybe someone here knows the answer to this question:

When it comes to lost silent films, what is the rate of survival per genre?

I know that studio has been talked a lot about (like MGM), but what about the film genre itself?

With regards to significance - you know, even if a particular silent film was not critically acclaimed or won awards of any kind there could still be a special significance to it.
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Re: One Opinion on Lost Films

Unread post by CoffeeDan » Sun Mar 31, 2019 9:47 pm

Mark Zimmer wrote:
Wed Mar 27, 2019 4:02 pm
I'm not sure one should take seriously anyone who confuses "box office success" or Academy Award nominations with "artistic merit."
In the words of Damon Runyon, "The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong -- but that's the way to bet." In other words, do you have any better barometers of "artistic merit" than Academy Awards (actually, awards of any kind) or box office performance? Go ahead, trot them out -- I'll wait . . .

And while I'm waiting, let me say that I find Charles Epting's perspective on "lost" films more refreshing than anything else I've recently read on the subject. He is not saying we should stop looking for lost films. Rather, he is saying we should spend less time mourning the "lost masterpieces" we DON'T have, and spend more time preserving, restoring, and ENJOYING the films we DO have.

One thing is certain: As the title of a recent book on the subject proclaims, "Nitrate won't wait." The more time that passes, the less likely we can save what might be lost. Obviously, we can't save every film in every archive. So how do we determine which films are saved first? Box office hits, or the historically important? Short subjects or features? Comedies or dramas? Fiction or reality? And who gets to make these decisions, anyway? Without a practical list of survival criteria, many films might rot away because of indecision.

But enough of that. We have to consider the other half of Epting's thesis -- that the silent films that have survived are most likely the best of their kind. Martin Scorsese's guess that 90 percent of silent films are lost seems to dovetail quite nicely with Sturgeon's Revelation that "90 percent of everything is crap." Natural catastrophes aside, the main reason a lot of these films are lost may be that they just didn't do that well at the box office. Case in point: Ernst Lubitsch's film THE PATRIOT was one of the best-reviewed films of 1928, but it was also one of the biggest box office flops of that year. All that remains of THE PATRIOT are a trailer and an additional fragment, mute testimony of both those distinctions. Which is truer? We may never know.

What is most important is creating and maintaining an audience for surviving classic films, especially silents. Without that, future discoveries don't mean a thing.

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Re: One Opinion on Lost Films

Unread post by boblipton » Mon Apr 01, 2019 3:42 am

As you might expect, Coffeedan, I disagree -- otherwise I would likely not speak publicly, and if I did, it wouldn't be to disagree.

To allow the opinion of one moment to be the first and last word on a subject is to assume no one ever changes his or her mind. Times change. Tastes change. Bodies of art are worn down and usually the best remains, but sometimes it's a good idea to go back and take a look and see if our opinions are worth changing. We can't do that if what we're examining is not there.

i agree that almost all of what is lost is crud. That, however, is likewise true of what survives. It is not in my nature, however, to write off an entire corpus on the say-so of someone who else, and particularly of someone who has had a chance see it.

Bob
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Re: One Opinion on Lost Films

Unread post by Jim Roots » Mon Apr 01, 2019 5:20 am

Psst ... Coffeedan ... Nitrate Won't Wait is nearly 20 years old. Hardly a "recent" book.

Jim

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Re: One Opinion on Lost Films

Unread post by silentmovies742 » Mon Apr 01, 2019 7:46 am

MaryGH wrote:
Thu Mar 28, 2019 11:20 am
Maybe someone here knows the answer to this question:

When it comes to lost silent films, what is the rate of survival per genre?

I know that studio has been talked a lot about (like MGM), but what about the film genre itself?

With regards to significance - you know, even if a particular silent film was not critically acclaimed or won awards of any kind there could still be a special significance to it.
This isn't easy to answer because the genres of the silent period aren't the genres we think of now. We think of Lon Chaney as a horror star thanks to a number of his most famous roles, but the "horror film" wasn't really recognised as a genre until the late 1920s - some state 1931, but there is discussion of it before then. But remember that Dracula was released on Valentines Day in 1931, and described on posters as "the story of the strangest passion the world has ever known." (coincidentally, this year's Happy Death 2 U re-used the gimmick of being a horror film released on Valentines Day). Genres were much more general terms back then - comedy, westerns, crime films, melodramas (which seemed to cover virtually everything not in the other three terms!).

Like most people, I believe Mr. Epting is wrong in his analysis - although why this suddenly popped up on Facebook again after a gap of six or seven months, I'm not sure. The wonders of the internet, I guess! I wrote a lengthy response on my blog at the time, and reproduce it below:
The problem with Epting's view is clear from the start, where he writes: "If all we have is 10% of the silent films ever made, what brilliant, ground-breaking, revolutionary pieces of art are we missing out on?"  This would suggest that the only important films are the ones that were brilliant, ground-breaking, revolutionary, or even works of art.  But is this really true?  Are the films that have shaped our cultural history really all brilliant movies?  Of course they're not.

He goes on to try to tell us that everything is actually OK because most of the works of Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd, Griffith, von Stroheim, and DeMille still survive, as do most of the movies nominated at the first Oscar ceremony.  And they do mostly exist, that is true.   But let's take a step away from thinking that film is all about big name stars and directors and Oscar-nominations, and look at it from another point of view.  To do this, I shall take you into a niche area of silent movies.

My PhD and subsequent book (still available if you don't mind remortgaging your house to buy it thanks to the wonders of academic publishing) was about "male-male intimacy" in early film.  In other words, it looked at gay characters, homosocial environments, homoeroticism, sissies, fops, romantic friendships, and the like.  The films give us an insight into how homosexuality and homoeroticism were viewed in the first three decades of the 20th Century.  These primary sources help us to piece together an important part of our cultural history.  Now, you might be thinking that you haven't seen many such characters or narratives in silent film - and that's because they rarely occurred in the films made by the major directors and stars listed by Epting, and in many cases we only know about these movies at all because comments on them exist in old copies of Variety, Film Daily, Motion Picture World, and other such publications, which we are able to access thanks to the wonders of the Media History Digital Library.

Let me take you back to the early 1910s, when there was a whole flurry of films made in Hollywood containing the stock character of the "sissy" - and yet probably the only film anyone will have seen from the period with this stock character is Algie the Miner from 1912.  Why?  Because most of the others have been lost.  But can we actually presume that Algie is representative of all of the films containing the sissy character from the pre-war period?  Of course not.  For that we would need to see the likes of A Cave Man Wooing (presumed lost), Just a Boy (presumed lost), Hilda Wakes (presumed lost), Sissybelle (presumed lost), The Pay-as-You-Enter Man (presumed lost), and He Became a Regular Fellow (presumed lost).  What the trade publications tell us through their reviews is that the character of the sissy changed drastically from Algie in 1912 through to Keep Moving in 1915.  In 1912, he is treated as a sympathetic character, by 1913 he is, according to Moving Picture World, an "abomination," and by 1916, Musty Suffer is so disgusted at the sissy that he puts a lighted firecracker in a package and then gives it to him.

Charles Epting, in his piece this morning, would argue that these films are not important, and that their loss is no big deal.  They would not have been great films, and they would not have had great direction or acting, and so why spill tears over them?  But the reality is far from that, as these four years of short, probably not very good, comedies would demonstrate to us just how Hollywood and the public at large changed its view of gay/effeminate/queer (we don't know which, as we can't see them) men during the years directly prior and during the First World War, and we can only presume that the advent of WWI caused a shift in how masculinity (or lack of) was treated in film.

Let's also think about the issue of genre, as well.  It is well-documented that "horror" was not used as a genre description before 1931 (there is evidence to counter that now, but by-and-large this is true).  So, how were what we now call the horror films of the 1910s and 1920s described or viewed by audiences?  How did their content change in the run up to Dracula in 1931?  Sure, we can view Lon Chaney films, The Cat and the Canary and Caligari and presume that we can judge from those movies if we want, but we would be foolish to do so.

Today the majority of horror films we watch are not big productions and, instead, medium-budget films with lesser (often unknown) actors.  In fact, the majority of horror films made today are straight-to-DVD/streaming affairs.   According to the scenario laid out by Epting's piece, as long as It and The Conjuring survive in a hundred year's time, everything will be fine because the horror genre in the 2010s can be judged from those big productions.  But that clearly isn't true.  There are hundreds of horror films that aren't big productions, but they are as much part of the genre as It and The Conjuring, and tell us just as much about film-viewing in 2018 (not to mention how they might comment on the political situation).

The idea that only films that received positive reviews and praise at the time of release are worth worrying about when it comes to lost films is flawed, and always has been flawed.  What if we applied this idea to classical music?  We would assume that a great deal of music written by Wagner, Brahms, and Beethoven was bloody awful.  "I believe that I could write tomorrow something similar inspired by my cat walking down the keyboard of the piano" wrote a critic - of Tannhauser!  What if THAT was a lost work?According to Epting's premise, it would be no great loss.  In the world of film, we can learn just as much about cinematic and/or cultural history from Ben Model's release of Whispering Shadows on DVD as we can from Phantom of the Opera.  

Every lost film and TV programme is a gap in our cultural history.  It doesn't matter whether the item in question was great art or a trashy horror movie - unless we can see what we are missing, we are not in a position to judge its cultural worth. 

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Re: One Opinion on Lost Films

Unread post by boblipton » Mon Apr 01, 2019 8:36 am

A Cave Man Wooing has been on the Eye Institute YouTube site for a couple of years.

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Re: One Opinion on Lost Films

Unread post by silentfilm » Mon Apr 01, 2019 11:52 am

A film's quality, whether award-winning, entertainment-quality, comedic quality, or curiosity-value is only one factor that determines whether a film survives. Silent films from 1927-1929 were unlikely to be re-issued due to becoming obsolete after the sound revolution, so that is why so many are lost. And early talkies from 1929-1920 were too "primitive" to be run on television in the 1950s and 1960s, so there were not a lot of copies floating around. Colleen Moore donated many of her films to the NY Museum of Modern Art, but they accidentally let them decompose. On the other hand, the Weiss Brothers short comedies starring Ben Turpin and others were not box office hits. But pristine prints survive because they were not shown-to-death. Triangle went out of business in the late teens. Among their assets were dozens of Mack Sennett comedy shorts and early Douglas Fairbanks features. These were re-issued by other companies in the 1920s, and thus many survived. If Triangle had survived up to the sound era, those films were likely to have been lost.

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Re: One Opinion on Lost Films

Unread post by sepiatone » Wed Apr 03, 2019 1:21 pm

So the author forms an opinion on what's great because he sees it on various lists. Many silent films were made when there were no Academy Awards. For me I don't use Academy Awards as a litmus test for what's great or best. He goes on to criticize Greed(42 reels) a version for which he's never seen. Karl Brown did see Greed 42 and said it was great though 9hours I agree would exhaust anybody. For me I wished Stroheim (and MGM both) were a little more malleable and released the film in sections like Abel Gance did with the still existing Napoleon(about 7-8hours at correct speed). Thalberg was certainly a producer prone to experimentation with subject matter. Because a director's work is gone doesn't mean he's not great. King Baggot has tons of lost material alas is remembered for directing WS Hart's Tumbleweeds (1925) but Baggot impresses me with The Notorious Lady(1927) with Lewis Stone and Barbara Bedford . What did J. Gordon Edwards "The Shepherd King" look like up against DeMille's "Ten Commandments" besides critic reviews? Other directors of note were Ed. Sloman, Harry Millarde, Walter Edwards, Will Davis and Harry Pollard to name a few. Oscar Micheaux's first film is lost and is missing a few titles. Opinions are just subjective.

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Re: One Opinion on Lost Films

Unread post by silentmovies742 » Fri Apr 05, 2019 6:01 pm

boblipton wrote:
Mon Apr 01, 2019 8:36 am
A Cave Man Wooing has been on the Eye Institute YouTube site for a couple of years.

Bob
Oh, thanks. I shall check that out!

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Re: One Opinion on Lost Films

Unread post by Mike Gebert » Sat Apr 06, 2019 3:10 pm

On the other hand, the Weiss Brothers short comedies starring Ben Turpin and others were not box office hits. But pristine prints survive because they were not shown-to-death.
I saw somewhere a post disputing the claim that the Weiss Brothers films were not box office hits, based on the poster having seen the company's records. Yet the argument shifts the goalposts to demonstrate that the Weiss brothers kept their costs down to where they could make money—in effect, trying to refute that Battle Beyond the Stars wasn't as big a hit as Star Wars by saying that Roger Corman was really good at stretching a budget. Um, not the same thing. (Then it brings in Kroger Babb and his ilk, trying to prove that the Tons of Fun made money because Mom and Dad made a fortune.)

Anyway, seems clear to me that they were clever bottom feeders... which doesn't make them Sam Goldwyn.
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Re: One Opinion on Lost Films

Unread post by Rick Lanham » Thu Apr 11, 2019 10:37 pm

On the general subject of lost media, in this case, books:

"Unlike other book-obsessed collectors from the time period, Colón wasn’t just interested in volumes from classical authors or other well-trodden texts. Fortunately for present-day scholars, he bought everything he could find in print, including political pamphlets, guidebooks and posters from taverns."

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-ne ... 180971943/

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