It has been reported that about 80 percent of the silent and early talkie films have been lost forever. This is primarily due to both the use of nitrate film, which is extremely flammable and the wholesale dumping of silent films by the studios in the 1930s and 1940s thinking that they were of no value.
AFI has now declared that the figures are closer to 90% of ALL silent films made in the U.S. - AND 50% of ALL the U.S. films made before 1951 (when they started using safety film) ARE LOST!
In addition, there is great debate in the academic community over the term 'lost'. Is it lost if part of it still exists? or does ALL of it have to be gone? or what if it is just not available? etc.. etc.
Unfortunately, the way our academic community is set up, a list of what films are considered 'lost' will never be accomplished. With the BILLIONS of dollars that has been spent in film restoration, NO ONE had the insight to make a simple list of WHAT (where and when) was being restored. So, basically NO ONE knows ANYTHING!
In Germany, there is a wonderful organization that is trying to match and identify unknown film footage to remove films from the 'lost' category called lostfilms.eu
We are a member of their group and praise their efforts. Since we are building an archive to document as much material as possible and since we get approximately 3 million visitors a year in our archive, we thought that we should do our part, which is why we have started this section.
We have started 'tagging' films that are considered 'lost' and are taking a 2 fold stance:
If the film IS actually 'lost' then all the material that was issued with the film becomes more important for preservation purposes. By 'tagging' those films, we can pay closer attention to those particular films to make sure as much as possible is documented.
2. Since we have a wide variety of patrons going through our archives and articles, if perhaps someone has additional information on the films, we can either help make the connections or we will gladly pass additional information on to establish or remove a film from the 'lost' category. If you have any information on any film tagged as 'lost', please email me and I will gladly help with the information.
By the shear numbers (80% of silent films), we recognize that this will be a massive project and will probably grow to 10s of 1000s of films. Trying to identify which films are actually 'lost' is another job entirely. So we are starting with a couple of thousand films and expanding from there.
Here are the films that we have tagged so far: Lost Films
The 'golden poster' besides the title means that we have accessories or posters on file for that film.