A veritable treasure trove of 75 long-lost silent films that was discovered in New Zealand last year is on its way back to the U.S. to be restored, including the only known copy of John Ford’s drama Upstream, the earliest surviving film by Mabel Normand, and a period drama starring 1920s “It” girl Clara Bow. It’s a valuable find, considering none of these films has been seen in decades, and no known prints have survived in the U.S.—owing primarily to their being printed on highly unstable nitrate film stock. The U.S. National Film Preservation Foundation is spending nearly half a million dollars to have them shipped in “U.N.-approved steel barrels” to prevent any unwanted exposure to the air, and says it estimates that, while one-quarter of the titles are in “advanced nitrate decay,” most have retained their image quality. The foundation even expects to have Ford’s Upstream—which now counts among the 15 percent of Ford’s silent films that have survived—ready for possible screening in September.
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