Library of Congress remakes cinematic history

Friday - 10/22/2010, 9:41am EDT

Patrick Loughney, chief, Packard Campus of the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center, Library of Congress

Click below to hear the interview

Download mp3

By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

More than half of American films created before 1950 have been lost to history due to neglect and deterioration.

Others exist only in foreign archives.

But, ten silent films were returned this week to the Library of Congress from the Russian Federation.

The repatriation of these films is part of the LOC's larger efforts to locate missing films.

Dr. Patrick Loughney, Chief of the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation in Culpeper, Virginia told Federal News Radio he's been receiving digital copies of the films from the Russians.

The films, previously considered "lost", were shown in the former Soviet Union, "some dating back to the pre-revolutionary period," said Loughney.

The search is now on for the archivists to find copies of the original intertitles in English, since the ones they have now are in Russian.

These films, said Loughney, are part of a larger program, "a sort of general repatriation effort going on. We are in fact in the age of archeology for American cinema, particularly prior to World War Two."

Loughney said this is "one of the more notable examples of this kind of repatriation effort," in a 20 year effort.

While slow and steady progress has been made, the job still has its "Eureka moments." Loughney described one he'd had just last week to anchors Tom Temin and Amy Morris:

We took in a very important collection from a major recording label. One of the technicians was unpacking a crate and brought out a recording by Bing Crosby. It was the original master recording of Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" (he paused while the anchors gasped) and on that disc, were alternate takes that were never publicly released of that very famous recording. So that sort of thing happens very frequently.

Now, those discs, as well as the newly donated silent films, go into collections at the Library of Congress, said Loughney, with the original camera negatives to "Maltese Falcon, Casablanca and the best surviving materials on Citizen Kane and so on, so that's what we're safeguarding there is that American patrimony and it's for future generations."

Many of the Library's resources can be accessed through its website at www.loc.gov and at myLOC.gov.