Library of Congress remakes cinematic history

LOC leads the age of archeology for American cinema. The Library\'s Dr. Patrick Loughney gives us a peek behind the curtain.

By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor

More than half of American films created before 1950 have been lost to history due to neglect and deterioration.

Others exist only in foreign archives.

But, ten silent films were returned this week to the Library of Congress from the Russian Federation.

The repatriation of these films is part of the LOC’s larger efforts to locate missing films.

Dr. Patrick Loughney, Chief of the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation in Culpeper, Virginia told Federal News Radio he’s been receiving digital copies of the films from the Russians.

The films, previously considered “lost”, were shown in the former Soviet Union, “some dating back to the pre-revolutionary period,” said Loughney.

The search is now on for the archivists to find copies of the original intertitles in English, since the ones they have now are in Russian.

These films, said Loughney, are part of a larger program, “a sort of general repatriation effort going on. We are in fact in the age of archeology for American cinema, particularly prior to World War Two.”

Loughney said this is “one of the more notable examples of this kind of repatriation effort,” in a 20 year effort.

While slow and steady progress has been made, the job still has its “Eureka moments.” Loughney described one he’d had just last week to anchors Tom Temin and Amy Morris:

We took in a very important collection from a major recording label. One of the technicians was unpacking a crate and brought out a recording by Bing Crosby. It was the original master recording of Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” (he paused while the anchors gasped) and on that disc, were alternate takes that were never publicly released of that very famous recording. So that sort of thing happens very frequently.

Now, those discs, as well as the newly donated silent films, go into collections at the Library of Congress, said Loughney, with the original camera negatives to “Maltese Falcon, Casablanca and the best surviving materials on Citizen Kane and so on, so that’s what we’re safeguarding there is that American patrimony and it’s for future generations.”

Many of the Library’s resources can be accessed through its website at and at

Copyright © 2024 Federal News Network. All rights reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

    Getty Images/iStockphoto/scyther5best places to work in the federal government, small business, VBA

    Lessons from the best and not-so-best places to work

    Read more
    government shutdown, Congress, government funding

    One side of House trying to finish 2025 appropriations package early

    Read more