I was speaking one day to an elderly man who used the phrase, “You can’t miss something you never had.” With all due respect to him, I beg to differ. I miss plenty of things in life I’ve never had. In particular I miss lots of films I’ve never seen. I was combing through an inventory of missing silents and pondering the losses. I wish a miracle would happen and ALL of them could be found and preserved. I zeroed in on the following films that I dearly miss and would give anything to have experienced:
THE ETERNAL CITY (1923)
This WWI silent drama starred Barbara La Marr was filmed on location in Rome and New York City. According to reports, King Victor Emmanuel III and Benito Mussolini appeared in the film leading their troops. Even if this film wasn’t a masterpiece, it would still be interesting to watch for the sake of historical value. Based on the limited footage I have seen, Barbara La Marr was a stunning vamp. She began as a screenwriter until Mary Pickford saw her and encouraged her to pursue acting. La Marr won co-star status with Douglas Fairbanks in THE NUT and THE THREE MUSKETEERS before going on to headline numerous romantic dramas. Sadly, many of her films are either lost, incomplete or very hard to find. Fortunately the film SOULS FOR SALE (1923) was feared lost but has turned up and is now being offered for purchase by the Warner Archive. I wish I could see more of her films. It is very hard to analyze and appreciate the career of an actor when so many of their films are unavailable. With La Marr, there is so much mystery surrounding her life, career and untimely death that I just wish I had more pieces of the puzzle. Actress Sherri Snyder has developed a one woman show about La Marr and is heavily steeped in researching her life. I’m hopeful that as time goes on, this forgotten star will finally be rediscovered.
THE GREAT GATSBY (1926)
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s definitive chronicle of “The Jazz Age” got the big screen treatment for the first time in 1926. Subsequent adaptations in 1949 and 1974 have been disappointing at best. It would have been amazing to see this put on film in the exact same era in which it was set. It was the best possible time to have captured that energy, vivacity, longing and spirit of what the era was all about. A few years back the Valentino and Swanson film BEYOND THE ROCKS (1922) was discovered after being thought lost for almost 80 years. It was news that film lovers live for. When the restoration was complete, the Academy held a screening. Before the film began they showed a trailer for THE GREAT GATSBY and AMERICAN VENUS (with Louise Brooks) both of which remain lost. I was fascinated by the GATSBY trailer, but it was painful to only see so little. I wanted to stand up and shout, “MORE MORE MORE!” The trailer is one of the 50 films in the 3-disk boxed DVD set called More Treasures from American Film Archives, 1894-1931 (2004), compiled by the National Film Preservation Foundation. It was preserved by the Library of Congress and has a running time of one minute.
Below is a video I found on YouTube in which Netherlands Filmmuseum curator Giovanna Fossati explains the process of restoring BEYOND THE ROCKS.
FOUR DEVILS (1928)
Directed by the German great F.W. Murnau, FOUR DEVILS was only his second American film after SUNRISE. Set in the world of the circus, this film reunited him with SUNRISE star Janet Gaynor. In 2003 Janet Bergstrom directed a documentary called “Murnau’s 4 Devils: Traces of a Lost Film” that comes as a bonus feature on the SUNRISE Special Edition DVD. There is also a coffee table book about this film in the “Murnau, Borzage & Fox” DVD box set. I’ve heard rumors that the studio cut the film considerably and inserted sound sequences as this film was coming out during the transition to talkies. Regardless of the quality, I would still be curious to see this. The loss of this film is all the more tragic considering Murnau only made two more films before his life was cut short by a car accident. He only lived to direct 21 films and only 4 of them in America. There should have been many more. He was such an incredible artist.
WAGES OF SIN (1928)
When I was in film school, it seemed the only directors we ever studied were white males. I always found it frustrating that there wasn’t a more diverse pool of filmmaking talent to study. A few years back I attended the San Francisco Silent Film Festival and learned all about Oscar Micheaux. He was a groundbreaking African American filmmaker whose work often tackled social issues. He worked outside the studio system and became a pioneer in the independent film world. While he excelled at drama, he also directed films in a variety of genres including musicals, comedy, westerns and gangster films. His film are so significant because they defy the racist stereotypes of the time and present a unique, more fully developed portrait of African American talent. Numerous Micheaux films have been considered lost.
I can only hope that these films will be found. They are all significant for a variety of reasons and would add so much to the film legacy of their creators.
When I heard about the blogathon, “For the Love of Film: The Film Preservation Blogathon,’’ I had to join in. This is my first post. This blogathon runs now through Sunday and is hosted by Farran Smith Nehme (The Self-Styled Siren) and Marilyn Ferdinand (Ferdy on Film). Their aim is to raise awareness and donations for the The National Film Preservation Foundation. This non-profit organization gives money to film archives who are struggling to preserve films before it is too late. The saying “Nitrate won’t wait” certainly applies here. For complete lists of other participating bloggers, log on to The Self-Styled Siren or Ferdy on Film for more information.
Donate $ to the National Film Preservation Foundation!
I was once discussing film with someone when they told me that a certain B-movie was “not worth saving”. In my mind ALL films are worth saving. They are the modern day equivalent of broken pieces of pottery or hieroglyphics. They chronicle our culture, emotions and are snapshots of eras that are now frozen in time. Films are important to our artistic and historic knowledge as well as our education.
One night many years ago at the UCLA Film & TV Archive I was watching a Clara Bow silent film called EMPTY HEARTS (1924). It contained a small yet powerful performance by Bow early in her career. At the climax of the story, the film began to bubble up on screen and become distorted. It wasn’t the result of faulty projection, but rather a sign of a film that had been rotting before it could be fully saved. A man in the audience screamed, “NOOOOOOOOOO” at the top of his lungs. While others in the audience laughed, I felt like doing the exact same thing.
Clara Bow is one of my favorite stars of the silent era and it saddens me to think how many of her films are no longer with us today. Here is a list of her missing films that I got from www.clarabow.net. What pains me the most is that 4 films from the very peak of her career in 1928 are missing including:
RED HAIR -This film featured a Technicolor segment of her famed red bob! Fortunately a fragment was discovered so we can at least get a tantalizing glimpse of what audiences saw in 1928. RED HAIR was directed by Clarence G. Badger, who directed Bow’s signature film IT.
LADIES OF THE MOB (1928) - This crime drama was directed by William A. Wellman who also directed Bow in WINGS, the first Best Picture Academy Award winner.
THREE WEEKENDS (1928) - This film was based on a story by Elinor Glyn who proclaimed Clara as the “IT” girl. Also directed by Clarence G. Badger
ROUGH HOUSE ROSIE (1928) - This film is about a poor working girl who tries to crash into high society. It also features Clara Bow in a boxing scene. A trailer was recently discovered giving us a glimpse of what we have now lost. A few years ago the San Francisco Silent Film Festival showed the trailer and it was met with screams and cheers from the audience. The collective attitude was that ANY Clara is better than no Clara at all. I agree, but I still hold out hope that the complete film will turn up someday. So far the only bits of information we have on these films has come from posters, stills, fragments, scripts and various documents. Historians have a puzzle with the main piece missing.
Fortunately there have been some gains where Clara Bow films are concerned.
Her early talkie KICK IN (1931) has been newly restored. A saw it at Cinecon a few years ago and it was pristine!!!! The website Clarabow.net reports that several of her films have been newly restored.
You may be wondering what you can do to further the cause of film preservation. Start by making a donation in any amount to the National Film Preservation Foundation. Your donation is tax-deductible. Your money will help libraries, museums and archives to preserve films. This will also allow the films to be made available for screening and research. Click HERE to see a list of films that have been preserved by the NFPF.
Another way you can help is by simply supporting rare or newly restored films when they are screened. Here in Los Angeles we are fortunate to have the UCLA Film & TV Archive, The Academy, LACMA, The American Cinematheque, Cinecon, The Silent Movie Theatre, The New Beverly and many others. In San Francisco the have the Silent Film Festival, The Pacific Film Archive, the Niles Film Museum and the Castro Theatre just to name a few.
Make sure to frequent these places and do what you can to support your local film community.
I had a few people send me emails about some additional movie star museums that I should check out:
Walt Disney Family Museum
This one is located in the Prisidio area of San Francisco. I have several friends up there and have visisted the city a million times. I have no idea how this placed managed to escape my attention for so long! I must pay this museum a visit on my next trip! I love the fact that they even have a screening and lecture series.
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz Museum
This museum is located in Jamestown, New York. I hear that Lucy’s ashes were originally interred here in Los Angeles, but moved to Jamestown in 2002 by a relative. On their website they mention that they will be having a 99th Anniversary birthday party for Lucy this summer. Looks like fun!
John Wayne Museum
I can’t imagine when my travels would ever take me to Winterset, Iowa but you never know. Based on the website, the John Wayne Museum looks great and the area is also the famed location behind the book and movie THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. Plus I bet they have great little historic hotels and antiques stores there.
Jimmy Stewart Museum
Given Jimmy Stewart’s small town American appeal, this museum in Indiana, Pennsylvania (Jimmy’s hometown) looks like a loving tribute to him.
Fairmount Historical Museum (James Dean)
I heard that there used to be a separate museum dedicated entirely to James Dean, but it recently closed its doors. Now his life is featured as part of the Fairmount Indiana Historical Museum along with local hometown hero Jim Davis, the creator of Garfield.
Three Stooges Museum
Located in Ambler, PA, this appears to be the first and only museum of Three Stooges memorabilia with a collection of 100,000 pieces. Wow! Alas they only seem to be opened one day a month, so a trip here would take advance planning.
Bruce Lee Museum
This website appears a bit confusing as it show pictures of a museum, but doesn’t seem to have information about the locations, hours, etc. I found a story about another museum in the NY Times, so hopefully there will be more on this soon.
There more stars from small town America who don’t have museums, but should:
Louise Brooks and Vivian Vance (I Love Lucy) were both born in Cherryvale, Kansas.
Lana Turner was born in Wallace, Idaho.
Carole Lombard was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana. While she doesn’t have a museum, she apparently does have a Bed and Breakfast.
I just received the below email about the challenges of keeping silents going at the Silent Movie Theatre aka CineFamily. I am going to put my money where my mouth is and make sure to attend ALL of their upcoming silent screenings. I hope you can join me in this effort. They are showing some really rare films, which is exciting to see!
There’s been a lot of wondering and concern about the state of silent films in the Cinefamily program, so I wanted to send a missive both clarifying our past approach, and informing you about the future—a future that does include the continued tradition of showing silent films here. The Cinefamily is a non-profit whose goals are to explore *every* corner of cinema, and perhaps even a little beyond those corners, seeking to discover and share all kinds of film. We really do like it all, and want our program to be a big “tent” with great films from every genre, every place, and every decade. So it was not a conflict for us to continue the tradition of silent films here, a landscape rich with masterpieces and curios. The fact that we were welcomed into the Silent Movie Theatre, a wonderful home with such a rich history, was exciting—but we also knew might lead to confusion.
Though we do many things here, we are keeping the tradition of showing silents at The Silent Movie Theatre alive with its own special time slot. For the past three years (two years since we opened, and one year previous while we were planning everything), we’ve dedicated one day a week to silents. The theatre had been exisiting for some time previously as a private rental house for weddings, parties, and private screenings, so this was actually an increase in silent screenings. Since last October, we did take some time off to assess the best course of action, but have no fear: the plan was to return stronger than ever.
We now have a guest programmer the first Wednesday of every month—The Silent Treatment—who will be showing rare archival prints, most of which are unavailable on DVD. While we may not show silents each and every Wednesday, we will show at least two or three a month, and we also plan on starting a matinee program in the spring, with more family-friendly classics by the big names in silent comedy—Chaplin, Keaton, etc. Our investment is real—we even bought new 18-frames-per-second motors (instead of the usual 24) for our projectors, so that we could show true 35mm restorations like The Flapper this Wednesday.
Keep in min: we don’t show silent films to make money, and in order to show as many as possible, we do need your support. The shows are more, not less, expensive than regular screenings, because we also have a live musician and a short program each time, both of which are above and beyond normal costs. Unlike previous owners, we inherited virtually no in-house library of films; while previous Silent Movie Theatre programmers could keep silents shows affordable by showing only public domain films they owned in-house prints of over and over again, every short and feature we show now costs us both rental and shipping fees. In addition, showing rare archival prints requires higher separate print loan fees (aside from rights clearances), insurance, and other sundry expenses.
If you want to help, in addition to attending the silents shows, you can also make tax-deductible donations to the Cinefamily—and if you want to leave a little note “earmarking” your support for silent films, that does send a message. You can paypal us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or mail a donation (with your name and address, so we can get you your receipt) to:
611 N. Fairfax Avenue
Los Angeles, CA, 90036
Oh, and lest I forget! We’re re-opening our silents program with a film I’ve been dying to show. The Flapper is the best flapper movie this side of It, and undeservedly forgotten actress Olive Thomas was the first Hollywood starlet to earn the appellation. Sexy, fun, and a classic example of the kind of rare screening we hope to show more of (a 35mm print from The Eastman House is a really big deal, guys!), you should all come out to the show. To make it more fun, it’s half-off the ticket price if you come in 1920s period costume, and feel free to join us at our “speakeasy” on the back porch (the password is: “swordfish”). So put on the ritz, rope a dope, bring your sugardaddy and come to the Cinefamily petting pantry to catch the latest flick. They’re the cat’s meow!
Best, and thank you for your time,
Hadrian Belove, Executive Director, The Cinefamily