Most feature-length silent films have decayed, Library of Congress study finds

  • Updated: December 5, 2013 - 6:33 PM

A scene from Cecil B. DeMille’s silent film “Male and Female.” The Library of Congress has conducted the first comprehensive survey of U.S. feature-length silent films.

Photo: Library of Congress • Associated Press,

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The vast majority of feature-length silent films made in the United States have been lost due to decay and neglect over the past 100 years, according to a Library of Congress study.

Of the nearly 11,000 U.S. silent feature films made between 1912 and 1930, the survey found only 14 percent still exist in their original format. About 11 percent survive exist only as foreign versions or in lower-quality formats, with at least 70 percent believed to be lost.

“It’s a lost style of storytelling, and the best of the films are as effective with audiences today as they were when they were initially released,” said historian and archivist David Pierce, who conducted the study. “When you take away dialogue from a narrative story, it actually puts quite a challenge upon the creative people involved to tell the story entirely in a visual fashion. And it’s that limitation, I think, which makes the films so effective.”

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