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.)
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.
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.
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.