Lost Media – 70 Percent Of Silent Films Are Gone Forever (And So Are Most Old Video Games)
December 7, 2013

Lost Media – 70 Percent Of Silent Films Are Gone Forever (And So Are Most Old Video Games)

While Hollywood keeps churning out louder and louder films (as The Transformers series is a testament to), a new study commissioned by the National Film Preservation Board, which was unveiled by the Library of Congress, revealed that as many as 11,000 silent films are likely lost forever. In fact, from 1912-1929, an era generally considered to be the first “Golden Age” of Hollywood and American cinema, just 30 percent of all the films made are still in existence.

What is even more shocking about this is that more than half of the surviving films are actually incomplete, while others exist only in lower-quality formats, such as 28mm or 16mm.

“The Library of Congress can now authoritatively report that the loss of American silent-era feature films constitutes an alarming and irretrievable loss to our nation’s cultural record,” said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington to Entertainment Weekly. “We have lost most of the creative record from the era that brought American movies to the pinnacle of world cinematic achievement in the 20th century.”

Some of the most famous lost films include Lon Chaney’s London After Midnight, the 1917 version of Cleopatra and a 1926 version of The Great Gatsby. Entertainment Weekly also noted that only five of Will Rogers’ 16 silent features are still around.

There are of course other “lost” media from the ages, including possible lost Shakespeare plays, but it is rather interesting that it is the newer technology that often has this archival problem. Consider that many early radio broadcasts are lost, as are many early TV shows. The reasons in these cases are obvious; in the early days of radio and TV, it was difficult at best to “record” a copy. Hence many live broadcasts weren’t saved.

Today the production world is not only saving everything, but future proofing it as well.

Then there is the world of video games, and while there is a National Film Preservation Board, there is no actual video game preseveration board. In fact, consider that if unless you have an old dusty Commodore 64 computer laying around, you can’t easily play the original version of Raid on Bugling Bay, although some emulators and updates have managed to bring the game online. Old classics that this reporter loves — such as Sid Meier’s Pirates, Colonial Conquest and the original Seven Cities of Gold — are pretty much gone.

But interestingly, so are many early PC games. This is particularly odd because the PC – despite rumors of its death (which are greatly exaggerated) – lives on. Sure we can play Civilization V today and it is a great game, but if you want to play the original game, you might be out of luck unless you have an old DOS-based x486 computer collecting dust in the basement or attic.

This is the great irony. While I would love to see London After Midnight, a film that was lost forever in the 1967 fire at the MGM vault, I too would like to play some of the games from my youth (and not so youthful days). Thankfully, many older games are making their way to services such as Steam, so I can play Cossacks, Age of Empires II and other old favorites.

And hopefully, in the future, many of those old games will be preserved before 80 years from now someone writes the blog post, “80 percent of early PC Games are Gone Forever.”

Image Credit: KiddaiKiddee Studio / Shutterstock

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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer and has covered consumer electronics, technology, electronic entertainment and the fitness sports industry for more than 15 years. In that time his work has appeared in more than three dozen publications including Newsweek, PC Magazine and Wired. His work has also appeared on Forbes.com, Inc.com, Cnet.com, and Fortune.com. Peter is a regular writer for redOrbit.com.

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