Yeltsin Library Returning Cache of Silent Films to US

Wednesday, 09 Feb 2011 05:39 PM

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The Russian government has returned to the United States the first of a cache of 194 American films dating to the silent era that were thought to be lost to history. The 10 films delivered to the Library of Congress from the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Library had been preserved in old Soviet archives, The Washington Post said.

More than 80 percent of American movies made between 1894 and 1929 were lost because there was little interest in storing the silver nitrate film properly to prevent decomposition. The only record of some films is their titles, which were copyrighted, the Post said.

The Soviets, however, stored some 1,300 American films distributed to Russia between 1913 and 1941 in a state film archive. The Library of Congress’ Patrick Loughney said, "We knew going back to the '60s and '70s that [the Russians] had American films, but no action was taken. These are important films by significant directors and actors. They are great discoveries," the Post said.

Movies included in this installment are 1919’s “Valley of the Giants,” 1923’s “The Call of the Canyon,” and a 1919 film called, “You’re Fired,” described as a tale of a wealthy man who must show he can hold a job to win the hand of his girlfriend. Russia’s Vladimir Kozhin said that “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," the Post said.

The Russians are retaining the originals but technicians have described the copies as “amazingly clean.” Nonetheless, work needs to be done. Story boards that appear in the silent films are in Russian and the search is on for the original text. If it can’t be found, the boards will be replaced with English translations, the Post said.

The United States is also returning the favor. The Library of Congress has already turned over a list of Russian films that it has. The list includes rare documentary films from the 1920s and 1930s, the Post said.

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