“Lost Silent Movie Found in Barn!”
Silent movie fans live for these headlines. Eccentric collectors’ estate sales, disorganized archives, old movie theaters and even abandoned swimming pools, lost silent movies can crop up in the strangest locations.
For me, though, the most interesting silent film recovery stories are the ones that are the result of years of patience, combing through archives and collections for one more fragment of film. Napoleon, Michael Strogoff and The Sea Hawk are all in existence because somebody made it their business to look for more.
As I prepare for my Latin American Silent Film theme month, I am constantly impressed by the historians and archivists who recovered, preserved and even reconstructed films that would otherwise have decayed years ago.
The Brazilian film Limite was rescued primarily due to the efforts of Saulo Pereira de Mello, who saw the film as a student by chance. He had a crush on a young lady who was attending the screening and while he cared nothing for Brazilian silent film, he wanted to make time with the object of his affection.
By the time the film ended, he was in love. Not with the young woman but with Limite. He preserved the only nitrate copy and oversaw the restoration process that saved the film for future generations. (The film has just been released on DVD/Bluray in the United States by the Criterion Collection as part of Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project Vol. 2.)
What’s your favorite tale of silent film preservation, restoration or survival? Is it a dramatic barn discovery or a painstaking passion project or something else altogether? Do share!
Like what you’re reading? Please consider sponsoring me on Patreon. All patrons will get early previews of upcoming features, exclusive polls and other goodies.