Eleanor Roosevelt stands as a mythic figure in my family. Our folklore praises her for personally intervening in response to a plea for help by my grandmother and her siblings during the 1940s. While I have no documented evidence to support the story, for some reason I choose to accept it as true… perhaps due to my own desire to be part of the Roosevelt family’s great historical drama. It should come as no surprise then that I’ll be tuning in to watch the seven-part, Ken Burns’ series The Roosevelts: An Intimate History which begins September 14 on PBS. I’m really looking forward to it.
Reading the Atlantic online yesterday, I stumbled across an article on the dismal preservation record for American-made silent films.
In an article entitled The Forgotten Stars of Silent Film, Adrienne LaFrance claims that “Some 70 percent of the movies made in the United States between 1912 and 1929—nearly 8,000 titles—are lost to history.”
In an attempt to flesh out information about the surviving films , a series of screenings will take place over a long weekend next month at the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center in Culpeper, Virginia. Anyone and everyone is invited to attend and “shout out” details as the films role.
There have been 204 such screenings in the past through which 100 films have been identified. For more information about the films and the silent film survey, visit the American Silent Feature Film Database.
Recently posted at the Library of Congress website is a collection of rare films of New York City . The collection is called The Life of a City: Early Films of New York, 1898-1906 and contains forty-five films of New York dating from 1898 to 1906. Twenty-five of these films were made by the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company and the remaining twenty by Edison Company productions.
The films are silent and most last no longer than a few minutes. Regardless, each provides a wonderful glimpse of New York’s bygone days. You can see see immigrants landing, people shopping at street markets, and fire brigades on the move. There are buildings being torn down, skyscrapers going up, and men generally working in dangerous situations. There are pirates scuffling with police, newspaper boys brawling over news bundles, and what happened on 23rd Street is simply hilarious (and predates a similar scene with Marilyn Monroe by about 50 years).
Above all, the films provide a richness and authenticity of life as it was lived in that City… from the views and the articles of clothing to the hustle and bustle of activities and horse drawn carts.