A Salute to David Shepard

The silent film community lost a great champion with the death of David Shepard on January 31, 2017. I wish to extend my sincere condolences to his friends and loved ones.

As news of his passing spread, classic movie fans shared stories about him and one word cropped up again and again: generous. Mr. Shepard gave of his time, enthusiasm and expertise. He helped large media companies and national archives. He helped small bloggers and eager, non-professional fans. This generosity, this support for a new generation of silent movie fans will be his greatest legacy.

(By the way, all the GIFs in this post are from films Mr. Shepard helped bring to home video.)

Conrad Veidt in “The Indian Tomb”

If you have seen any silent films on home video, you owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Shepard. He worked tirelessly to make silent cinema, both famous and obscure, available to the general public once again. From the works of Chaplin and Keaton to the silent films of Cecil B. DeMille to the masterpieces of the Russian emigres, Mr. Shepard preserved, restored and produced an astonishing collection of silent films on VHS, Laserdisc, DVD and Bluray over his long career.

The color sequence in “The Phantom of the Opera”

I had the privilege of being acquainted slightly with Mr. Shepard thanks to his emails and blog comments. He patiently answered my naive questions, shared anecdotes about his work in film preservation and offered words of encouragement that meant more than he probably realized. He arranged to send an early screener of a film I was quite keen to see, shared titles he thought would be of interest and gave a heads up when something good was in the pipeline. Again, generosity.

Moody photography in “The Cheat”

While he was nothing but kind to people with honest questions, Mr. Shepard also knew when to stand up for the facts. His smart comebacks in response to ill-informed complaints (found on a famous retail website with customer reviews) are an example for anyone hoping to get into the silent movie mythbusting game.

While he can never be replaced, we can honor David Shepard’s memory by continuing to enjoy silent films and spreading that love to the next generation. I can think of no better salute to his remarkable life and career.

20 Replies to “A Salute to David Shepard”

  1. As a neophyte to the world of film history I’m only now realising the enormity of his contribution. His name just keeps appearing on so many BR & DVDs that I watch for the first time. A world saved for posterity.

      1. My experience, indirectly, goes back to the early 1970s when I joined Eastin-Phelan(Blackhawk Films, Davenport/Iowa) and was Australian agent for their films and color slides and did very well with them, little did we know that VHS was around the corner changing the course of collecting. I never met David as he was not at Davenport when I visited but did meet Laurel & Hardy writer, Richard Bann who worked there then. David, of course, took the whole shooting match over later, much to his credit. Of Blackhawk’s 16mm masters they redid them when they changed film labs for that gauge. Not sure of the real reason for that. The Blackhawk offices and warehouse was an old brewery building. There are so many stories going back to those Blackhawk days.

  2. Thanks for writing a nice salute to this amazing guy. I didn’t know David well but I’m so glad to have had the honor of getting his help on research matters over the years. He was so generous with his time and knowledge. And always a friendly smile when I saw him at the (now defunct) Syracuse Cinefest every year. His contributions to the world of preservation will be cherished by so many. Godspeed David !

  3. I have to admit i did not know him but I read about him via your link and it is sad because he obviously loved silent film and found ways to preserve them so we can enjoy them. I send my heartfelt condolences to his family, friends and the silent world…that was never silent.

  4. I was fortunate enough to cross one item off of my bucket list when I got to meet and talk with him at the Broncho Billy Film Festival a couple of years ago. He will be missed.

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