Lost film

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A lost film is a film of which no surviving film material is known, neither in archives nor in private collections . A film that is no longer completely present is said to be (only) fragmentarily preserved .

Most of the lost films date from the silent film and early sound film era between 1895 and 1930. It is assumed that around 80 percent of all silent films are lost or permanently lost.

Almost lost movies

Many important silent and sound films only exist as a single copy in museums, archives and private collections - the only copies that have not been copied or digitized.

Conceptual problems

Since copies are almost always made from the original negative of a film for special distribution channels, the term lost film is problematic in several respects. Some of the copies differ considerably in terms of material, cut , length, quality, etc.

Different versions and versions of films also pose a problem of definition. For example, Friedrich Wilhelm Murnaus Tartüff (1926) is only available in the American distribution version; the version published in Germany by Herr Tartüff no longer exists. It is therefore doubtful whether Mr. Tartüff can be described as a lost film.

The digitization of film material also raises many fundamental questions, since the characteristics of the film material and the way it is projected cannot be transferred. There are also digital artifacts .

Reasons for Losing Movies

Celluloid - an unstable material

Until about 1951, nitrocellulose- based film material was produced. This nitrate film, which was common at the time, had excellent optical properties and a long service life (under optimal conditions the film material can last for more than 100 years), but was very easily flammable and is now subject to the law on explosive substances . Many early films fell victim to this instability and burned them. Fire destroyed many cinemas, storage rooms and entire film archives. For example, in 1937 a Fox Pictures storage room burned down and with it all of the company's original negatives produced prior to 1935. Similarly, several chapters of the early history of Finnish cinematic art were completely lost in the camp fire of the Finnish film company Adams Filmi in 1959.

In addition, nitrate films decompose themselves if they are not stored at the right temperature and humidity, and damage material stored nearby with the acidic gases released in the process. The self-destruction of the film material can be slowed down by ideal storage, but never stopped.

Help was expected from the flame- retardant , safe acetate film that Eastman Kodak launched in the United States in the first half of the 1940s . But even this material, which was used in Europe from 1952 onwards, gradually destroys itself through chemical changes, especially if storage conditions are unfavorable. The film carrier contracts, acetic acid is formed (see acetic acid syndrome ); the disintegration phenomena are even more serious than with the nitrate film.

Nitrate won't wait is therefore the premise of film archives that digitize the sensitive and dangerous material or copy it onto new film material for the reasons mentioned - a time-consuming, expensive and controversial undertaking that is always associated with a loss of quality.

The question of long-term archiving also arises in the digital age. When a DVD version of Toy Story (USA 1995), the first fully computer - animated full - length feature film , was to be produced, it was found that twelve percent of the digital originals had disappeared. In a three-month search, some missing parts were found, but about one percent of the film was lost and had to be reassembled.

But the carrier materials themselves also pose a problem. At ever shorter intervals, a technology is being replaced by a new one, and the digital data must be copied over (“ data migration ”).

Early sound film process

Many early sound films made using the needle-tone process such as B. the Vitaphone system are now believed to be lost because the records separate from the picture were damaged or destroyed while the picture survived. Conversely, from some Vitaphone films only the soundtrack exists, while the images are lost.

The development of the Tri-Ergon optical sound system , in which the sound edge track was connected to the running film strip, solved this problem. However, many of these films are now only available with monophonic optical sound. In the magnetic sound process , chemical reactions between the magnetic particles adhered to the triacetate film base often caused the films to self-decompose.

It is a matter of dispute whether films of which either only images or only sound exist should be classified as lost films .

Transport losses

Sending film copies, d. H. The transport of film reels from the film store to the cinema and back involves complex and, in practice, error-prone logistics . Films can be sent to the wrong address, they can be lost during transport and even in the film warehouse or in the cinema. Even films, of which only one role out of several is lost, become unusable in this way.

Deliberate destruction

However, the vast majority of the films lost today were deliberately destroyed, mostly for financial reasons.

Torn copies and films, from which one expected no commercial profit, were melted down by the studios in order to win the silver content contained in the material. This was done twice on a large scale during the silent film era: around 1915, when feature films became the norm, many short films that could no longer be commercially exploited were destroyed , and in the late 1920s, the switch from silent to sound films led to the massive destruction of silent works, since they were now considered worthless.

Many films were simply destroyed to make room for new ones in the studios' storerooms. Other copies were either intact or in short scenes dismembered sold to individuals, the early home theater - Projectors possessed and wanted to play scenes from their favorite films.

The situation today

Movie poster for The Oregon Trail (1936) directed by Scott Pembroke with John Wayne . The film is considered lost.

Although the Polish cameraman Bolesław Matuszewski in his eponymous manifesto in 1898 highlighted the medium of film as “a new source of history” and demanded that the products of this “authentic, exact and infallible” technique be preserved, this succeeds until now not today.

Although the first film archives were founded in Europe and the USA in the 1930s and the Fédération Internationale des Archives du Film (FIAF) has existed since 1938 , which now has more than 120 members from over 65 countries - even today, films cannot be found Premiere was only a few years ago. The Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv , the central German film archive, complains that the transmission of German feature films in the seven German film archives, on the contrary, continuously declined until 1995. "Only from the time of the two German dictatorships, which archived because they controlled, is the record almost complete."

Only in the last few decades did the view prevail that film has cultural value in addition to its mere economic use. The “Recommendation for the Safeguarding and Preservation of Moving Images” of UNESCO , in which it was stated in 1980: “moving images are an expression of the cultural identity of peoples, and because of their educational, cultural, artistic, scientific and historical value, form an integral part of a nation's heritage. " ("Moving images are an expression of the cultural identity of the peoples and, because of their educational, cultural, artistic, scientific and historical value, an essential part of the cultural heritage of a nation")

This declaration was confirmed in 1995 with the inclusion of films in the UNESCO World Document Heritage . The restored and reconstructed negative of Fritz Lang's Metropolis (D 1925/1926) has been part of the world register since 2001 , in 2005 all previously identified and restored original films (negatives and positives) by the Lumière brothers and The Battle of the Somme (GB 1916) and 2007 The Story of the Kelly Gang (AUS 1906) recorded.

In Germany, however, there is still no statutory deposit and systematic recording of films worth preserving, which was introduced for books and phonograms as early as 1969 and as required by all member states in 2005 by the EU . A first important, but not sufficient, step is the binding self-commitment of all federal states agreed in 2004 that a deposit copy must be submitted of every film that is supported by the federal government or one of the federal states in production or distribution . The agreement says nothing about the form of archiving and anyway - according to the information provided by the Filmförderungsanstalt in 2006 - only covers 50 percent of total German production.

See also

  • In the documentary series Lost Film Treasures , known historical recordings from collective memory are examined and analyzed more closely.

Individual evidence

  1. cf. Paolo Cherchi Usai: The Death of Cinema. History, Cultural Memory and the Digital Dark Age BFI, London, ISBN 0-85170-837-4 , 2001, p. 100.
  2. Bolesław Matuszewski: A new source of history: the creation of a depository for historical cinematography ( Memento of December 9, 2008 in the Internet Archive ) Paris, 1898. As of November 18, 2008.
  3. ^ Thomas Jansen: Gray areas in image memory . In: FAZ.net . May 15, 2008. As of November 18, 2008.
  4. Recommendation for the Safeguarding and Preservation of Moving Images by UNESCO . October 27, 1980. As of November 18, 2008.
  5. Memory of the World Register ( Memento of the original from August 23, 2011 on WebCite ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / portal.unesco.orgof UNESCO . Status: November 18, 2008.

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