By SHERYL CANNADY and DONNA URSCHEL
The Library of Congress has received a major gift from Russia—digitally preserved copies of 10 American silent films previously considered lost—that will help the United States reclaim its heritage from the early era of movies.
Vladimir I. Kozhin, head of Management and Administration of the President of the Russian Federation, officially presented the films to Librarian of Congress James H. Billington in a special ceremony on Oct. 21 in the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building.
The 10 films constitute the first installment of an ongoing series of “lost” films produced by U.S. movie studios that will be given to the Library of Congress. The films were digitally preserved by Gosfilmofond, the Russian state film archive, and donated via the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Library.
“The Library is committed to reclaiming America’s cinematic patrimony,” Billington said. “I am grateful to the dedicated staff of Gosfilmofond, the state film archive of Russia, for their efforts to save these important artifacts of U.S. film history. I am also thankful for the commitment of professor Alexander Vershinin and the staff of the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Library for their collaboration and cooperation in making this cultural recovery effort possible.”
Also in attendance at the presentation of the gift were Alexander Vershinin, director general of the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Library; Nikolai Borodachev, director general of Gosfilmofond; and additional members of the Presidential Administration of the Russian Federation and the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Library.
The films, created for an American public, were distributed in other countries, including Russia, during the silent era of moviemaking that stretched from 1893 to 1930. The films, shown in Russian movie houses, had been given Russian-language intertitles.
“When you read the titles of these films and see what they are about, you get the impression they were created not in the last century—100 years ago—but only yesterday in Hollywood,” said Kozhin, speaking in Russian. “The films are all about general human values. The films are about that which is eternal.”
Because of neglect and deterioration over time, more than 80 percent of American movies from the silent era no longer exist in the United States. In the past 20 years, the Library of Congress and others have made great efforts to locate and repatriate missing U.S.-produced movies from foreign archives.
This new gift to the Library is in the form of digital copies of the preserved films. Preliminary research conducted by the staff of the Library’s Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation indicates that up to 200 movies produced by U.S. movie studios of the silent and sound eras may survive only in the Gosfilmofond archive. Copies of these films will eventually be sent to the Library of Congress.
The 10 films range in date from 1919 to 1925 and include the early work of director Victor Fleming, who later directed “Gone with the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz”; actor Harry Carey, who went on to appear in such classic movies as “Red River” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”; and Wallace Beery, who later starred with Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford and John Barrymore in “Grand Hotel” and won an Oscar for his performance in “The Champ.”
The gift is the result of the Library of Congress’ work with Russian libraries and archives on digital exchange. Since 2007, when the Presidential Administration of the Russian Federation decided to create an all-digital presidential library, the Library of Congress has been regularly consulted on the project, and Dr. Billington and Kozhin co-chair the committe. The new library, named the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Library, opened in 2009 in St. Petersburg. The Library of Congress signed a Memorandum of Cooperation last year with the new library.
Gosfilmofond, located outside Moscow, is the Russian Federation’s primary film archive of artistic and feature films, as well as some documentary and animated films. Established in 1948, its growing collections now include more than 55,000 motion pictures, and it is the largest such archive in the world.
In addition, Gosfilmofond holds related materials such as scenarios, film posters, photographs, press clippings, set designs, and the personal papers of directors, actors and film critics, and thus serves as an important center for film research.
The 10 films donated in digital form to the Library of Congress:
“Valley of the Giants” (1919). Star Wallace Reid was injured in the filming of a scene on a runaway logging train. He died of a drug overdose in 1923, the result of an addiction that began when studio doctors gave him morphine to treat the injury he suffered making this film.
“You’re Fired” (1919). This comedy has several winning elements, among them a screenplay based on O. Henry’s story “The Halberdier.”
“The Conquest of Canaan” (1921). “Conquest” starred Thomas Meighan, a popular leading man in silent films who also appeared in several Cecil B. DeMille productions.
“Kick In” (1922). George Fitzmaurice directed two versions of this film, which was based on a Broadway play that starred John Barrymore.
“The Call of the Canyon” (1923). Victor Fleming directed action silents such as “Call of the Canyon” before later directing sound-era classics such as “The Wizard of Oz” and “Gone with the Wind.”
“Canyon of the Fools” (1923). “Canyon” leading man Harry Carey was a big star of silent-era Westerns and later made a successful transition to sound pictures.
“Circus Days” (1923). “Circus” star Jackie Coogan was discovered by Charlie Chaplin, who put him in “The Kid.” Decades later, Coogan found a new audience as Uncle Fester on television’s original “The Addams Family.”
“The Eternal Struggle” (1923). One of the last films made by Louis B. Mayer’s Metro Pictures Corporation before he helped establish MGM in 1924.
“The Arab” (1924). This film was shot on location in Algiers, using native Bedouins as extras. Director Rex Ingram had earlier made a star of Rudolph Valentino.
“Keep Smiling” (1925). Star Monty Banks became one of the top screen comedians of the silent era, starring in a series of shorts for Warner Bros.
Sheryl Cannady and Donna Urschel are public affairs specialists in the Library’s Office of Communications.