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Alarming Study Finds 70 Percent Of Silent Films Are Gone For Good

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An early shoot in the streets around 1916 (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
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A good chunk of our film's silent film heritage—from Cleopatra to our first 3D film— are gone forever, according to a new study.The Library of Congress released a study on Wednesday that revealed around 70 percent of the 11,000 American films created between 1912 to 1930 are lost due to decay, destruction, and neglect, reported Associated Press. Of the remaining films, 14 percent are the original 35 mm prints, while 11 percent are complete films but low quality, and 5 percent are mere fragments of the originals.

Even more startling, director Martin Scorsese's Film Foundation has found that approximately 90 percent of the world's silent films have disappeared as well, according to Vanity Fair.

"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," David Pierce, who conducted the study, told Associated Press. "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."

Among those lost films include 1926's The Great Gatsby and Cleopatra from 1917. However, the Library of Congress has a database online that shows which films, as few as they are, have been saved.

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The study also found that so few of Paramount Pictures' silent-era films survived, as they didn't start a preservation program until the 1980s. Only about 29 percent of full-length and segments of films are left, reported Associated Press. However, silent films are still being unearthed, especially in other countries, so that gives us a glimmer of hope some are hiding somewhere.