Saved by a Kickstarter

ShowPeopleIt is estimated that about eighty percent of the movies made before 1930 are lost. No existent prints, no fragments, no nothing. This is why when the occasional print resurfaces in an archive, the hands of a collector, or buried under the snow in the Klondike (Google Dawson City film for more), it is a cause for celebration.

Which makes the other twenty percent easy to see, right?


While some of those titles are in public domain and are available on DVD, or shown at on Turner Classic Movies, those are a fraction of the ones that survive. Most other titles are one-of-a-kind prints, held by archives around the world. To see those titles requires a trip to the archive, and request permission for a viewing, not an easy feat, especially for the prints in other countries. Plus, in many cases, it is not the whole print but a fragment or incomplete print. And as much as TCM should be applauded for their efforts at film preservation and presentation, this goes far beyond what they can do single handedly.

Fortunately, a movement has grown in recent years to set some of these little-seen films free. Kickstarter is the new rallying point for raising funds to release titles that might otherwise sit quietly in archives, seen by only a few. This is especially true with the Library of Congress, whose holdings include a number of titles by Marion Davies. To date, the films of hers that have been given new life include The Bride’s Play, Beauty’s Worth, Enchantment, Buried Treasure, The Restless Sex, and When Knighthood was in Flower.

Mind you, these are not always full-fledged restorations, which takes far more funds and time to return them to the way they first looked a near century ago. No matter. For those who adore these old movies, the titles are welcome in whatever shape they come. Beggars can’t be choosers when there is no alternative—but you get the film, along with a score. If you’re lucky, it might even be tinted.

AliceHowellI am proud to support these campaigns. The people behind them work not for profit but for a love of the films of this era. My shelf is lined with these DVDs with more now in the works. The latest one (as of this writing) is a release of a series of comedy shorts by Alice Howell. Who, you say? That’s the point. Through these efforts, the works of the lesser-known talents have just as much a chance of reclaiming their popularity as the famous (such as Marion Davies). In her day, Alice Howell had a following. So did others. Now, the history of female silent comedy does not go much beyond Mabel Normand. It’s time to set the record straight.

Sound interesting? Support those efforts on Kickstarter. Look up the efforts of Ed Lorusso, Steve Massa, and Ben Model. It’s well worth the effort.

The Funding for the Alice Howell project ended on May 8, with 360 backers who raised over $14,000. Here is a link to the campaign:

Lastly, for those who have never seen a Marion Davies film, check out Show People. It is Davies at her comedic best.


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Cinema Houston celebrates a vibrant century of movie theatres and moviegoing in Texas’s largest city. This weblog is a companion to the Book, Cinema Houston: From Nickelodeon to Megaplex (University of Texas Press, 2007), and website,

David Welling is a Houston-based writer, artist, and graphic designer. His lifelong interest in movies (and the places that show them) led to the writing of Cinema Houston, which included fifteen years of research, and its subsequent website.

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