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SILENT SURPRISES

       

        Mary Pickford finds the right note in "Their First Misunderstanding."

For Hicksflicks.com, Sept. 27, 2013

This week a DVD was released with 12 rediscovered, formerly "lost" silent movies — from shorts to trailers to newsreels to a feature-and-a-half — titled "Lost & Found: American Treasures From the New Zealand Film Archive."

These were collected in New Zealand, as the title suggests, and it speaks to how popular American movies have always been around the globe, as lost movies have been located in various places in various countries, from old theaters to aging residences to archives, where film canisters were in the wrong place or mislabeled.

It is estimated that only 24 percent of all American silent movies survive in their complete form, one of the great travesties of the arts. But it's a wonderful thing when a lost picture — silent or sound — is found, as with the first half of one of Alfred Hitchcock's first silent features, "The White Shadow" (1924), which is included on the New Zealand DVD, or an Orson Welles slapstick comedy, "Too Much Johnson" (1938), directed by Welles before "Citizen Kane," which was found in a warehouse in Italy.

And now, Mary Pickford's first credited movie, a 10-minute short titled "Their First Misunderstanding" (1911) — made when she was just 18 — has been restored after a carpenter stumbled across film cans while tearing down a New Hampshire barn.

In addition to being an early film starring America's Sweetheart, "Their First Misunderstanding" is significant because it contributed to the establishment of the movie-star system. Prior to this film, actors were not named because studios feared they would become popular and demand more money. That fear, of course, was realized.

In addition to being a star, Pickford was a central figure in the movie industry as a co-founder of the long-running movie studio United Artists, and later, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The first minute of "Their First Misunderstanding" was irretrievable, but experts say the rest of the film is remarkably clear. It has now been restored and will have its premiere next month in a Library of Congress-sponsored screening.

Shouldn't be too long before DVD comes calling.