Saturday, 12 April 2014

Silent Betty Balfour film 'masterpiece' found in Holland

Silent Betty Balfour film 'masterpiece' found in Holland

As something of a silent film aficionado it is always a great delight for me to see the recognition that these products of the early years of cinema deserve and the general renaissance they have undergone in recent years (precipitated, it could be argued, by 2011's Oscar-winning The Artist).  This is only tempered by the sad knowledge that time is not kind to old 35mm film stock, which was invariably nitrate and not only flammable but also subject to decay over time, leading to many a silent film being missing presumed lost.

So it is an even greater joy when a previously "lost" silent film is discovered, usually after languishing for years in a private collection (and/or a mislabelled tin).  Such has been the case with Love, Life and Laughter, a British comedy-drama film from 1923 that starred silent actress Betty Balfour.  (I must admit despite being a fan of the silents that I was ignorant of Betty Balfour, who was a huge star of British cinema in the Twenties - "the British Mary Pickford", as she was known at the time.  I had vaguely heard of her most famous film series, Squibs - from 1921, its sequel the following year and the 1935 remake, from which the accompanying song is taken.  Sadly the advent of talkies marked a downturn in her career; she made sporadic appearances throughout the 1930s and her last performance was in 1945.  She passed away in Weybridge, Surrey, in 1977 aged 74.)

For decades no extant copy was known of Love, Life and Laughter, with only half-a-dozen stills and a couple of publicity documents surviving to attest to its existence.  That is until two weeks ago, when a complete copy was identified in The Netherlands by the Dutch film museum EYE.  Apparently it had lain undisturbed in a small, old cinema in the Dutch town of Hattem until 2012.  When the building underwent redevelopment its contents were sent to EYE for cataloguing, with the identity of this film having only just been established earlier this month.

Despite lacking its original English inter-titles it sounds as though this copy is in good condition, with its new custodians the British Film Institute - whose list of "75 Most Wanted Films" included Love, Life and Laughter - promising a public screening later this year.  Something to look forward to!

Something also to give us hope that more "missing" films from the silent era of cinema may still be in existence, just waiting to be found.  Although the march of time makes such discoveries increasingly unlikely, this most recent and classic example reminds us that it is still eminently possible.  Unlabelled cannisters, private copies on hardier 16mm or 75mm film - they may well still be out there waiting to be found.  It's interesting to note that this discovery was made in the Netherlands, for it seems that that country is an inordinate source of lost film footage.  As a Laurel & Hardy fan I know that I great deal of previously-lost film related to their work has come via Holland and its seems that Betty Balfour's popularity there has also played no small part in this film's survival - dank u, Nederland!

1 comment:

  1. It's brilliant news, isn't it? One of my favourites is Colleen Moore, and more of her films have turned up in recent years. There is still hope!


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