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Fragments: Surviving Pieces of Lost Films (2011)

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Herself (as Diana Serra Cary)
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Heather Linville ...
Herself - Film Preservationist: Academy Film Archive
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Mike Mashon ...
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3 April 2011 (USA)  »

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Michael Pogorzelski: Contrary to popular belief, film is not forever. The fundamental nature of film and new digital technologies used to capture movies requires constant care and vigilance.
Mike Mashon: Up until 1951, movies were shot on nitrate film stock. Nitrate is dangerous and flammable and deteriorates into a sticky goo and eventually fine powder. This is the primary reason almost 90 per cent of films from the silent era are lost forever.
Michael Pogorzelski: The films themselves were viewed as a safety hazard and nitrate fires resulted in a...
[...]
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A true treasure for fans of silent films ...
16 April 2011 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

... but it comes up a bit short for fans of early sound film. If the title had been Fragments of Lost Slient Films I'd give this one a ten, because it is very good at giving the viewer a sense of what has been lost from our silent film heritage - 90% of these are gone largely due to two factors. One is the fact that all silent films were placed on volatile nitrate and either decomposed or worse burst into flames causing the loss of many other silent films. Safety stock did not come into use until 1950, and even then only MGM made an organized attempt to transfer their films to the newer more durable media. The other factor is that after sound came in people considered silent films to be useless and simply discarded or neglected them en masse.

Specific stars are mentioned who have had their film histories largely erased. These include Theda Bara who made over 40 films for Fox but only two of her films survive. The narrators mention that her appeal in the 1910's is impossible to evaluate since so little of her work survives. Then there is child star Baby Peggy. The final reel of one her few surviving films - Darling of New York - recently resurfaced and the exciting conclusion is shown. That's a real fire they're showing there folks and the piece is made even better with Baby Peggy - now 93

  • talking about her actual memories of making the film and her fear of


the real fire that was part of the set. The surviving fragment of "Flaming Youth" starring Colleen Moore was shown as well as surviving footage of "Red Hair" starring Clara Bow - the only footage of her in color that survives. Even Douglas Fairbanks and Lon Chaney, whose silent films have a pretty good survival rate, have some among the lost and fragments were shown here. The surviving portion of Emil Jannings performance in "The Way of All Flesh" is shown. It is particularly shocking that Paramount just let this one decay since it was one of the films that won Emil Jannings his Best Actor Oscar.

The only place this documentary comes up short is in lost sound films. Only two fragments are shown and both are well known to early sound enthusiasts and are even on DVD - the two reels of the lost "Gold Diggers of Broadway" from 1929 and a very short surviving color fragment from "The Rogue Song" that shows only enough Laurel and Hardy to prove that they were actually in that film. The narrators do mention one reason why many of these early sound films were lost - the very early systems used sound on disc so the films were separate from the disc. Thus today we have complete soundtracks for films available from the late 20's and early 30's but no film. In fact, all that survives of many of the earliest sound films are their silent trailers, which were also shown in this program.

Interesting fragments for sound films that could have been added to the presentation - 1929's "He Married In Hollywood" - the final reel of this musical survives in two strip Technicolor. Another good choice might have been the title musical number for 1929's "Red Hot Rhythm". That is all that survives of that film because it was accidentally edited into Vivian Duncan's personal copy of 1929's "It's a Great Life". Probably an interesting clip and definitely an interesting story of accidental preservation.


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