Mostly Lost

Posted by Hilary Hulsey on

This week, an event was brought to my attention regarding lost films. Since I blogged recently about the pangs I feel when tangible evidence of history disappears and the importance of preservation, I thought I would share something proactive and positive taking place on our side of the pond to recover and archive forgotten films.

NPR published an interesting article about the Mostly Lost event hosted by the Library of Congress in Culpeper, VA (you can read it here). While I was a little disturbed by a few descriptions of silent film fans from the author, as though it should be some massive surprise that people interested in silent films could be *insert GASP! intertitle here* “rowdy,” the rest of the article proved to be informative and entertaining. The gist of the event involves a group of people with extensive knowledge and interest in silent film gathering to uncover and identify forgotten films.

Upon hearing about this event, I contacted a former professor and friend, Dr. Liz Clarke,  because I knew she had spent an extended period of time at the Library of Congress and devoted a large portion of her education and research to silent films. Although she has never attended the Mostly Lost event, she directed my attention to another organization called Orphan Films. The Orphan Film Symposium is dedicated to “saving, studying, and screening neglected moving images” and they have a yearly event to build this community and bring awareness to lost films.

Based on the evaluation NPR provided of Mostly Lost and the summary provided by NYU from their last Orphan event, silent film fans are thrilled to attend due to the sense of community and their own private contribution to history. Like many of the attendees at these events, Clarke finds a similar satisfaction in her own research, “My interest is in viewing them as cultural artefacts from another time period,” she explains, “I think they are important because it gives us an opportunity to understand what entertainment forms were like at another time.”

All in all, I am so happy to learn this type of event exists and they appear to be growing as time goes on. Whether or not you believe silent films are interesting or worth your while, I hope you can, at least, see how they are integral to our own histories. Without the identification of these forgotten films and the never ending search for lost films, a part of our culture ceases to exist. For those of you upholding your dislikes and doubts, Dr. Clarke suggests seeing a silent film with a live accompaniment because “it brings together the experience of watching a film in the theatre with a crowd and the experience of listening to live music.” She finds it both gratifying and magical.