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Inside TDV - The Data Vault Blog

Pressing Mute on America’s Silent Films

Silent films were a cultural artform that had it’s heyday in the era from 1912 – 1929, featuring legendary actors such as Charlie Chaplin and Gloria Swanson that continue to be revered even in modern times. Prior to the advent of sound technology, audiences enjoyed big budget films without musical accompaniment; creating an intense focus on the acting ability and expressions of the performers without external audio aids. However, the ability of future generations to appreciate and study this unique type of film appears to be in jeopardy according to some recent alarming statistics.

In a study conducted by the Library of Congress, findings indicated that over 70% of America’s nearly 11,000 silent movies had been lost with the passing of the decades. Additionally, of the 3,300 films still in existence, an additional 26% of those were found overseas in foreign countries with no domestic copies. Thankfully as part of the study a database was created to catalog the existing films and elements and prevent further losses, but the damage is still done.

As records professionals, situations like these obviously concern us since it could have been easily avoided with proper cataloging and storage of these priceless pieces of American culture. Unfortunately some of the losses were unavoidable owing to the low quality, easily damageable film on which they were shot, but others were due to negligence in preservation on the part of the film studios themselves. Early film studio executives commonly either destroyed or neglected film negatives, not understanding their potential value in the future. Though it wasn’t an option in previous generations, today films can either be stored digitally for indefinite preservation or kept in climate controlled vaults, preserving a record that can benefit future studies and analysis.

Hopefully with the advent of modern records management techniques, situations like this will no longer occur on a regular basis. If you have sensitive documents or information that you would like to store in a digital format or securely preserve in a fully climate controlled environment, contact us and we can help find a solution to fit your needs!

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