A study in black and white and sepia.


Lillian Gish


I recall sitting curled up in my armchair with blankets in the dark watching TV into the wee hours when I was a kid/teenager.

It wasn't like today's TV......
CBC used to show films after 11PM. Many other channels had late night horror/schlock films late late at night. The films were all far older than I was of course.
We didn't even have cable then, just an antenna on the roof.

Channel 2 and 12 were the best and clearest. 4-9 were medium fuzzy. 13 was horrifically bad without the "tin foil trick", which surprisingly did not include making hats.

(Anyone under 25 is going to think I am nuts saying that. )

I loved 1930's and 40's films......Film Noir, comedy, adventure. 1950's and 60's B movies. Oh man. The occasional showing of a silent masterpiece....Heavenly. Delicious. *sigh*

They do not show many of these oldies often anymore, they say people prefer newer films; films that reflect their own life and times and frames of reference. 

Their loss, I say.

Turner classics just became part of the basics at my cable company and my daughter and I find ourselves watching it. The scary thing is that I can identify most of the actors simply at a glance. "Oh. Yes. saw this about 25 years ago" I tell her.....

I have also been rummaging around at archive.org for public domain movies to hack up into my small works for youtube. I apologize to the creators of these films, I do hope my sloppy attempts also reflect the love and devotion of a life long fan. 

In looking for films that may contain clips that I can recall and am trying to locate, I get off onto one (or two or 500) of my webtangents.

Webtangent: To follow one link, onto another link, onto another and to end up on a completely different track far from where you started and on a completely different topic.

Sorry, I was distracted by Shiny things.....(my pixies do not help with this BTW. heh.)

So one day I got onto a thread, about silent films.

The Library of Congress in the US says that 90% of all films made before 1929 are considered permanently lost.

Films do still turn up, but because of the medium that they were stored on, most of them have practically rotted away.

In other cases, they were simply duplicated every few years, which, while it ensured their survival, did nothing to remove dirt, scratches, damage, fading and colour changes etc etc.

Even films as recent as ET have been victim to decomposition and are being restored digitally.

Then there are the incomplete masterpieces. A couple examples....

Considered one of the greatest "lost" films of all time, Greed (1924). There are copies (sort of) of this film still around. However, when you realize that the film you may have seen is one and a half hours, and that the original vision of the filmaker spanned ten hours!

A victim of the film studio and their cutting shears. The theatres did not want to show long films, they wanted shorter movies. Many many films were hacked into bits, the storylines completely mucked up, disjointed and hopeless. The parts of the film that were cut out were reportedly incinerated by a janitor, so no one will ever see the entire film. Still.......

In 1991, this film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

Turner Classics made a version of Greed which incorporated the original continuity outline written by Eric Von Stronheim, and used production stills to fill in the gaps. See it here. 

Metropolis (1927) Originally over three hours, it almost ruined the German movie studio that produced it. It was a bomb basically. When it was brought to the US it was considered... too long. The story was not acceptable according to the studios. A new storyline was written and the film was brutally hacked to bits. Substories were taken out, key scenes. It looked ridiculously fast as it was also shown at the wrong frame rate. 


Disaster all around.

Fritz Lang the filmmaker, said later in life that he was disappointed in this work. Some say that was because the Nazi's liked it. (He had fled Nazi Germany to the US) Maybe it was because of what was done to it? Maybe it was just artistic angst?

Metropolis is iconic, from the set designs to the costumes. The manner in which it was filmed, the storyline. It survived in our collective memory, more as a pop culture icon.

In 1984 a "restored" version was released by Giorgio Moroder with a rock sound track. Now, in all kindness this was a good thing. Some purists pan it, some hold their noses in the air......But Metropolis is alive and well today and many (including me) think it was because of this unconventional treatment. (The soundtrack features Freddie Mercury...!!) Trailer here.

In 2002 another restored version was released. (turn yer speakers down if you click...OY) Many lost scenes still gone and replaced and bridged with stills, but it is clean, fresh and crisp. With the original orchestral score. Cool points. Original storyline! Bonus cool points.

This gets better though......An original, intact copy was found in Argentina in 2008. It has suffered some decomposition, but they say it will still allow the original film to be finally shown, minus one scene.

That is the best that it gets. Over 80 years later, we may actually get to see the whole movie as it was conceived, written and filmed. That gives me chills. Good ones!

The slasher treatment was given to The Magnificent Ambersons, an Orson Welles work also recently restored by Turner Classics. 

Some films are just lost lost, and then the most bizarre finds happen. 

Dawson City, Yukon.  1978. An excavation of a parking lot was going on, and what used to be a swimming pool that had been filled in in 1929 was currently being dug up. 500 silent films had been entombed as filler. The Dawson City collection:

At the end of the distribution chain, some 500 reels had accumulated there, and in 1929 were dumped as fill in a swimming pool that had come to the end of its usefulness. The region's deep and abiding cold (still today the only known retardant of nitrate deterioration) contributed to a high survival rate of the buried treasure, although water damage took its toll, especially from the top layer. Quick, improvised action on the part of the Public Archives of Canada (now National Archives of Canada, Moving Image and Sound Archives), with the cooperation of the Library of Congress and the American Film Institute, was necessary in order to salvage the survivors.

A partial list that I have managed to find:

Collection consists of various actuality subjects, produced by British Pathé, Gaumont, Universal and Hearst-Selig, dating back to the early Twentieth Century and the years following World War I. Pictured are sports and transport, military events, social functions, political events, industrial progress, and aviation firsts in the United States, Canada, Great Britain and France. Many personalities of the era, from Thomas A. Edison to Kaiser Wilhelm, appear now and again. Included are numerous excerpts from feature films and serials and the odd complete work. Titles include: The little orphan; The mystery of the glass coffin; Hello central; Give me heaven; The folly of desire; For her father's sins; Love aflame; and Her soul's inspiration. Prominent series in the collection include: Kinograms; Lucille love, the girl of mystery; The neglected wife; Pathe Gazette; Pearl of the army; and Universal animated weekly.

A very early Harold Lloyd short film, Bliss (1917) once beleived lost.

Bliss is one of the earliest of Lloyd's shorts with the peppy "glasses character" he created after abandoning his Chaplin imitation, Lonesome Luke. This incomplete print was made from the only surviving copy, which was found in 1978 after being buried for half a century in Dawson City, Alaska.

(yes, not Alaska. We noticed that too.)

The odds of any great caches like that ever being found again are slim to none. But it's always a faint hope that somehow, somewhere, there will be some lost masterpeice. A gal can dream eh?

Good lesson here for anyone that has a box in the back of the closet full of old home movies that haven't been saved digitally yet. Just sayin.

We are going to be watching some fun movies this weekend, the original 13 Ghosts by William Castle.....sans the funny glasses.  Ill see if I can rig summin up to scare the bejeezus out of my teens just like Mr Castle would have done. Hehehhee.