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It is believed that almost 80 percent of the films made before 1930 have vanished forever due to a variety of reasons including the unstable nature of the film. In addition up until a few years ago most studios did not make an attempt to preserve their films since they had served their purpose, and storing the fragile film is very expensive.
In 1908 the legendary actress Sarah Bernhardt was so upset at seeing herself "bigger than life" in "Tosca," she demanded that the negative be destroyed. Later, realizing the cinema's potential for creating a permanent record of at least some aspect of her genius, she commented," I rely upon these films to make me immortal." Unfortunately her immortality is due to the memory and written word since most of her films have disappeared.
Hollywood dominated the world movie market following World
War I, and many films produced elsewhere had no means of getting
distributed in the United States. Many of these obscure and seldom
seen films didn't adhere to the "Hollywood Happy Ending,"
and the few that made it to the United States had limited showings
in the "art" theaters found in the larger cities. Not
much information can be found on most of these films, and the
conversion from PAL and SECAM to our NTSC standard, as well as
translating the titles, is time consuming. Since most collectors
are unaware of the films, the commercial possibilities are very
limited. Not many distributors will take the time or effort to
convert the films or render the titles into English. Many of these
obscure films exist in private collections in Europe, and usually
the quality of the film leaves a lot to be
Major commercial companies will not reissue a film where the quality of the print will be other than pristine. However, occasionally a small distributor will issue these worn and tattered prints to the few collectors who believe seeing Sarah Berhardt or Eleanora Duse in a scratchy fair print is far better than not seeing them at all.