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October 21, 2010

Russia Presents Library of Congress With Digital Copies of Lost U.S. Silent Films

A major gift from Russia—digitally preserved copies of 10 previously lost U.S. silent films—will help the United States reclaim its silent-film heritage.

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 today 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.

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 Library is committed to reclaiming America’s cinematic patrimony," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. "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 Prof. Alexander Vershinin and the staff of the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Library for their collaboration and cooperation in making this cultural recovery effort possible."

The films, created for an American public, were distributed in other countries—including Russia—during the silent era, 1893-1930. Shown in Russian movie houses, the films had been given Russian-language intertitles.

Because of neglect and deterioration over time, more than 80 percent of U.S. 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 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. 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.

The 10 films presented to Dr. Billington are:

1. The Arab (Metro, 1924)
Director: Rex Ingram
Cast: Ramon Navarro, Alice Terry

Jamil (Ramon Navarro), son of a Bedouin tribe leader, falls in love with the daughter of a Christian missionary. Jamil foils an attempt to massacre the Christians when he calls the Bedouins to his aid. Upon his father’s death, Jamil is made leader of his tribe, while the girl (played by the director’s wife Alice Terry) promises to return to him as she departs for America.

Rex Ingram, a stickler for realism, shot portions of "The Arab" on location in Algiers, using native Bedouins as extras. His big career break came when he directed "The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse" three years earlier and made a star of Rudolf Valentino. Navarro’s collaboration with Ingram on this picture and two earlier silent versions of "The Prisoner of Zenda" and "Scaramouche" helped catapult him to stardom.

2. Kick In (Famous Players, 1922)
Director: George Fitzmaurice
Cast: Betty Compson, Bert Lytell, May McAvoy

On release from prison, thief Chick Hewes (Bert Lytell) resolves to go straight, but is harassed by the police when he refuses to turn stool pigeon. He is further angered when the district attorney’s son Jerry (Robert Agnew) is not prosecuted for killing a child from the slums in a car accident. He decides to undertake one more job—at the district attorney’s home—but discovers that Jerry is already stealing from his father’s safe. Jerry’s sister Molly (Betty Compson) prevents the police from arresting Chick for her brother’s crime, and they go West to begin anew.

Previously, "Kick In" was a successful Broadway play starring John Barrymore. Fitzmaurice also directed an earlier version of the film in 1917. He gained fame as a director of several successful romantic dramas, including "The Cheat" with Pola Negri, which he also produced; "The Son of the Sheik," Rudolph Valentino’s last film; and "The Night of Love" with Ronald Colman.

3. The Conquest of Canaan (Famous Players, 1921)
Director: Roy William Neill
Cast: Thomas Meighan, Doris Kenyon

Defiant of polite society and friendly with corrupt town leaders, Joe Louden (Thomas Meighan) is encouraged by his friend Ariel (Doris Kenyon), a recent heiress, to succeed. He studies law and opens a practice in Beaver Beach, where he defends suspected murderer Happy Farley (Paul Everton). When the trial turns ugly and a mob threatens the presiding judge, Farley defends the judge and is acquitted of murder. Joe wins Ariel and is proclaimed the next mayor of Canaan.

Previously filmed in 1916, "The Conquest of Canaan" was based on a novel by Booth Tarkington, author of a number of novels and plays that were adapted for film, including "Alice Adams," "Monsieur Beaucaire" and "The Magnificent Ambersons." Meighan was a popular leading man in silent films beginning in 1914, often appearing in such Cecil B. DeMille productions as "Male and Female" (1919) and "Why Change Your Wife?" (1919).

4. The Eternal Struggle (Metro Pictures, Louis B. Mayer, 1923)
Director: Reginald Barker
Cast: Reneé Adoreé, Earle Williams, Barbara La Marr, Wallace Beery, Pat O’Malley

Engaged to Canadian Mountie Neil Tempest (Earle Williams), Andree (Reneé Adoreé) falls in love with one of her fiancé’s underlings, Bucky O’Hara (Pat O’Malley). When Andree is suspected of murdering a man who attacked her (Wallace Beery), she flees across Canada, pursued over rapids by both O’Hara and Tempest. Andree’s innocence is established and, realizing she and O'Hara are in love, Tempest gives her up.

This is one of the last feature films produced or released by Louis B. Mayer’s Metro Pictures Corporation before he helped to establish MGM in 1924. "The Eternal Struggle" also features the earliest surviving performance of French-born actress Reneé Adoreé, who two years later played the female lead opposite John Gilbert in MGM’s mega-hit "The Big Parade."

5. You’re Fired (Famous Players, 1919)
Director: James Cruze
Cast: Wallace Reid, Wanda Hawley

In order to win the hand of Helen Rogers, wealthy idler Billy Deering (Wallace Reid) agrees to her father’s wager—if Billy can keep a job for one month, Gordon Rogers will agree to the marriage. After clerking in an office and working as a xylophone player—quitting before he gets fired—Billy eventually takes a job posing as a knight in shining armor in a swanky theme restaurant. All goes well until Helen, who knows nothing of the wager, arrives to dine.

This comedy has several winning elements, among them a screenplay based on O. Henry's story, "The Halberdier," and star power in leading man Wallace Reid. Reid’s boy-next-door good looks and affability made him a popular star of the early teens. His career was cut short by his death from drug addiction, which reportedly resulted from studio doctors giving him morphine to treat an injury on the set.

6. Keep Smiling (Monty Banks, 1925)
Directors: Albert Austin, Gilbert Pratt
Cast: Monty Banks, Glen Cavender

An unnamed boy (Monty Banks), who suffers from a fear of water, invents a special life preserver that inflates when it hits water. Later, attempting to promote his invention, he becomes involved with a wild speedboat race, a crooked mechanic and the charming daughter of a boating magnate.

A prolific and versatile filmmaker, Banks came to the U.S. as a teenager and made his film debut in 1917 under his real name Mario Bianchi. As actor, producer and director, Banks went on to become one of the top screen comedians of the silent era, starring in his own series of shorts for the fledgling Warner Bros. studio as well as appearing alongside the likes of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, Buster Keaton and the young Jean Arthur. After the coming of sound, he moved to England where he continued his career as director of a number of popular musical comedies.

7. The Call of the Canyon (Famous Players, 1923)
Director: Victor Fleming
Cast: Richard Dix, Lois Wilson, Ricardo Cortez, Marjorie Daw

A complicated love triangle is played out when war vet Glenn (Richard Dix) travels from the East to Arizona to regain his health with the assistance of his dedicated nurse Flo (Marjorie Daw), much to the concern of his New York fiancée (Lois Wilson).

Victor Fleming became highly regarded as a director of outdoor action movies in the 1920s. Fleming began in films as a cameraman, then as director of photography before starting his career as a director in 1919. He directed such sound-era classics as "Treasure Island," "Captains Courageous," "The Wizard of Oz" and "Gone with the Wind."

8. Canyon of the Fools (R-C Pictures, 1923)
Director: Val Paul
Cast: Harry Carey, Marguerite Clayton

In this tale of love and revenge, set against the backdrop of the American gold rush, a young man named Bob (Harry Carey) heads West to confront the man who once framed him for a crime. After teaming up with a local sheriff, Bob tangles with bandits and eventually discovers both love and gold during his quest.

Carey was one of the biggest Western movie stars of the silent era and one of the few who bucked the trend by making a successful transition to sound motion pictures.

9. Circus Days (First National, 1923)
Director: Edward F. Cline
Cast: Jackie Coogan, Barbara Tennant, Russell Simpson, Claire McDowell

Jackie Coogan (Chaplin’s "Kid") stars as Toby Tyler, who runs away from his cruel uncle and joins a circus to work as a lemonade boy. Eventually Toby works his way up the ladder to become the Big Top’s star clown.

This film was based on the novel "Toby Tyler, or Ten Weeks with a Circus" by James Otis Kaler, an extremely prolific author of boys’ novels from the 1880s-1905.

10. Valley of the Giants (Famous Players, 1919)
Director: James Cruze
Cast: Wallace Reid, Grace Darmond

Upon his return from college, a young man (Wallace Reid) learns that his father is in danger of losing the family’s beloved land to an unscrupulous lumberman. The film is highlighted with a daring scene played out on a runaway logging train.

Reid, one of the most popular film actors of the late teens and early 20s, teamed up with director James Cruze for several pictures in 1919, including this outdoor adventure. Cruze, originally trained as a stage actor, started working in films in 1911. In 1918, he turned his attention to directing, and by 1927, was the most popular and highest-salaried director in the business. It was on this movie, filming on location in northern California and southern Oregon, that Reid was injured doing stunt work. He supposedly was given morphine injections for the pain by a studio physician, which led to his addiction and ultimate death on January 18, 1923.

Background

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. It is administered by the State Committee for Cinematography, under the aegis of the Ministry of Culture.

The Boris Yeltsin Presidential Library is one of three national libraries in Russia; the other two are the Russian State Library in Moscow and the Russian National Library in St Petersburg. Rather than focusing on the artifacts of a particular president, the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Library is an all-digital library on the history of the governance of Russia in its broadest interpretation.

Founded in 1800, the Library of Congress is the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution. The Library has been collecting and preserving movies and sound recordings for more than 100 years on behalf of the American people. It is the leading film preservation archive in the U.S. and has preserved over 20,000 feature films and short subjects since the early 1980s. The Library also preserves the nation’s largest collections of television, radio and sound recordings and related materials. Many of the Library’s rich resources can be accessed through its website at www.loc.gov and via interactive exhibitions on a personalized website at myLOC.gov.

All of the Library’s audiovisual collections are stored and preserved at the Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation, a $200 million state-of-the-art conservation facility donated to the Library by the Packard Humanities Institute and located in Culpeper, Va. (www.loc.gov/avconservation/).

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PR 10-239
10/21/10
ISSN 0731-3527

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