You’ll have to read me over at the Smithsonian today…

I am very excited to say that I wrote an article that was published online by the Smithsonian Magazine’s website. It’s all about the importance of lost silent films and I am pretty thrilled about it.

There has been an unfortunate uptick in “Hey, maybe all the important films have been found” and “All media decays, so why bother?” recently so I hope that I made a case for these neglected treasures. Lost films are important, archivists and collectors are doing their best but there is so much work and so many bills and very little time and money.

I tip my hat to these fine people saving our motion picture heritage!

Our regular and not-so-regular programming will resume tomorrow. In the meantime, enjoy the article!

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38 Replies to “You’ll have to read me over at the Smithsonian today…”

  1. Read your Smithsonian article earlier today, and it’s great! Truly an article that needed to be written- so glad it was you who did the writing of it. Congratulations on its publishing! 😀

  2. Fantastic! It’s great that you were able to get your message to this broader audience, at the same time entertaining and interesting them.

    I think also that it was smart that your Smithsonian piece only mentions the why-bother-with-preservation crowd in the briefest possible way. Their arguments are too diverse (and too incoherent?) to summarize fairly without having it take over your piece.

  3. Congratulations! Nice article. And with so few silent films that have survived, how can anyone argue against preserving whatever we can locate?

  4. Congratulations! My favoritej website..so eclectic. And you are an equal favorite. I indoctrinated my children and now grandkids into the magic of the silent era. I started them off with CITY LIGHTS, and then, THE CROWD. And while they are not as interested as I, they will watch a silent, whenever the opportunity presents itself. I hope articles and blogs like yours will make new fans of the uninitiated.

  5. Great article. Never heard the story about the Unknown before. Renews my hope that there is some more out there in unlabeled/mislabeled cans.

  6. Yes, a great article and we in the MS community are so proud of you! It’s odd that so few other voices are heard from those involved in film preservation – people like the TCM hosts or the programmers at Eastman House, Packard Campus, etc, could help spread the word, but don’t seem to be doing so.

    Frustrating to see how much publicity is given to modern films (aka shlock) in publications like USA Today and on TV news programs.

    1. Thank you! In many cases, people inside the industry are not as free to speak due to employment contracts but, for example, Jill Blake has done work for TCM and has been quite passionate in cheerleading preservation efforts and making films more accessible to viewers.

  7. First-rate article, really well articulated and organized and exactly right for the venue — well done!

  8. Found this site by reading the fine print of your background at the end of the piece, Great article – congratulations! And this is a fascinating website. Can’t wait to explore …

  9. I’ll point out again that unless some serious protections are developed and enforced for the people who do the hard work of recovering, restoring, and presenting these films – I am talking Copyright – there won’t be much incentive for preserving to happen. The taxpayer funded Library of Congress cannot and should not be doing all preservation. I found it interesting that the Something Good Negro Kiss clip has a Copyright on it circa 2018. That’s what needs to happen with any movie that is made available for viewing, especially one in a digital format. Big internet portals such as YouTube and the Internet Archive should be held accountable if they allow their sites to be used to display copyrighted work without permission.

    1. It’s a nice theory but in practice, copyrights on obscure films merely lead to abuse and a lack of access. We have only to look at the horrendous way major media conglomerates have treated copyrighted silent films; they restore a select few and hoard the rest without allowing others access to release or restore themselves. I’ll take the Wild West to Big Brother any day of the week.

  10. Following your Wild West theme….
    (SFX: Crickets)
    Me: (nervously cradling my Winchester) It’s quiet out there Mitzi. Too quiet.
    You: I’ll still trust the Wild West to pull us through…

    Either I don’t understand something about movie preservation (likely) or you are putting entirely too much faith in people to be altruistic. Preserving a movie from Nitrate takes work and money. Since your source for Kidnapped 1917 was the Library of Congress, I’ll assume that part of the preservation – getting it to a stable format – had already been done. But even then you had a considerable amount of effort expended into making it a real program that people would kickstart for, and which people will spend money for. Was there a reason nobody had stepped forward before now to put it out for general consumption? The 1917 film had long been in the public domain. You had to get the orchestration and color correction done yourself (among other things, I am sure). Was that the only thing holding Kino, Flicker et al back?

    In the digital Wild West age, we ought to have all kinds of films available for public consumption. I submit that we don’t because there is no financial incentive to do so, especially with digital piracy rampant. Getting a film found and preserved – an important theme of your article – is one thing. Getting it out to the people to be enjoyed is a whole ‘nother kettle o’ fish. Except for museum showings, how will Diplomatic Henry ever be shown? It is found but still effectively lost.

    It might be an interesting topic for a future Movie Silently posting to describe what WAS involved in getting Kidnapped’s show on the road.

    1. You’re talking about two completely different issues: lack of release due to obscurity and lack of release due to copyright tangles.

      Pretty much every super famous film in the public domain is available IF THERE ARE NO ACCESS RESTRICTIONS ON THE SURVIVING PRINT. Kidnapped was essentially forgotten within weeks of its 1917 release and I put a lot of effort into drumming up enthusiasm for the release, a release that would not have been possible if the film had still been under copyright. There are literally hundreds, thousands of obscure public domain silent films waiting to be released but which have not been due to a lack of interest. They just need the right person to take an interest, as Ben Model’s Musty Suffer and Marcel Perez discs prove. This is not the same thing as a much-desired silent film, THE WIND for example, not being available because the copyright holder won’t bother.

      And since Edward Lorusso just launched a new Kickstarter for a new restoration of the newly-public domain Little Old New York (fuzzy prints have been available as grey market releases for years) I think I can rest my case.

      People can be stinkers but there are altruistic ones out there and I will trust the Undercrank productions of the world before I trust ATT/Warner and Disney.

      1. I, for one, would really like to see an article from you on what you know about copyright and film distribution. According to Silentera THE WIND is available on home video – unfortunately in the European PAL format. However, true to form, it has been uploaded on Vimeo – free for anybody to view (with a very strange soundtrack). THAT’S what I think stops an Undercrank (or France’s Bach Films or Spain’s Llamentol making a deal with a US distributor). I doubt those European DVD companies are simply blowing through a copyright – they did it legally with MGM/UA or whoever owns the rights. Should the free Vimeo upload on a 1928 copyright protected film be regarded as piracy? Their description says it is a “vintage public-domain movie,” which I doubt. If it is piracy, they ought to be slapped with a cease and desist. Enforcement of the law might encourage legitimate operators to make award winning films available (with an appropriate musical accompaniment). The Wild West encourages legitimate operators to sit on their wallet unless it is a sure thing on initial sales of their restoration DVD.

      2. The Wind is not in the public domain. Indie labels do not sell it because we don’t want to be sued. Just because someone in another country is selling it either due to being a scofflaw or because their copyright laws are different (and they do vary from country to country) does not make the film public domain. As for the rest, I don’t notice any of us stopping. Undercrank has a two-disc set in the works and I am prepping for my next release. These legitimate operators are operating just fine and, frankly, I think I have a better grasp on the act of releasing a film on home video than you do. These concerns you put on me were factored in and I decided my release was worth it. If The Wind were PD, I would spearhead a crowdfunded release tomorrow.

        I have a simple rule in online discussions: if we have had a couple of go-rounds and still don’t see eye to eye, the discussion ends. Full stop. Stick a fork in it.

  11. Fritzi: as a former librarian at the Smithsonian (for 26 years before I retired and moved from Maryland to Arizona) and an avid but picky fan of silent movies, I just wanted to say how lovely your smithsonian.com article was. I passed it on to several friends–both of whom worked or work at Smithsonian Libraries. With the recent release of Kino’s PIONEERS: FIRST WOMEN FILMMAKERS, I’m avidly hunting again and running into the unavoidable and always frustrating “Believed Lost” statements. I did find a sealed copy of volume 3 of the Nell Shipman series from Boise State at a little bookstore on Biblio.Com: NELL SHIPMAN COLLECTION VOLUME 3: FROM LIONHEAD LODGE. Very nice to have. I also was inspired to go back and re-watch THE O’KALEM COLLECTION: 1910-1915 from the Irish Film Institute which has great notes and much more info than the new Kino set has room for. I’m even binging again on the both sets of GAUMONT TREASURES also from Kino. Alice Guy’s THE IRRESISTIBLE PIANO is enough to melt the coldest hearts: https://archive.org/details/youtube-YEYjL90_lVk. Keep up the great work.

    David

    p.s. Any guesses as to if and when DIPLOMATIC HENRY might be available on DVD or Blu ray?

    1. Thank you so much! So glad you enjoyed it!

      Regarding Diplomatic Henry, there is something maybe being planned but I have no idea what stage it is in or when it will be available.

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