Most lost films are from the silent film and early talkie era, from about 1894 to 1930. Martin Scorsese's Film Foundation estimates that over 90 percent of American films made before 1929 are lost.
The largest cause of silent film loss was intentional destruction, as silent films were perceived as having little or no commercial value after the end of the silent era by 1930. Film preservationist Robert A. Harris has said, "Most of the early films did not survive because of wholesale junking by the studios. There was no thought of ever saving these films. They simply needed vault space and the materials were expensive to house."
Before the eras of television and later home video, films were viewed as having little future value when their theatrical runs ended. Thus, again, many were deliberately destroyed to save the space and cost of storage; many were recycled for their silver content. Many Technicolor two-color negatives from the 1920s and 1930s were thrown out when the studios refused to reclaim their films, still being held by Technicolor in its vaults. Some prints were sold either intact or broken into short clips to individuals who bought early novelty home projection machines and wanted scenes from their favorite movies to play for guests or family members.
As a consequence of this widespread lack of care, the work of many early filmmakers and performers has made its way to the present in fragmentary form. A high-profile example is the case of Theda Bara. One of the best-known actresses of the early silent era, she made 40 films, but only three and a half are now known to exist. Clara Bow was equally celebrated in her heyday, but twenty of her 57 films are completely lost and another five are incomplete. Once-popular stage actresses such as Pauline Frederick and Elsie Ferguson who made the jump to silent films are now largely forgotten with a minimal archive to represent their careers; fewer than ten movies exist from Frederick's 1915-1928 work, and Ferguson has just two surviving films, one from 1919 and one from 1930. This is preferable to the fate of the stage actress and Bara rival Valeska Suratt, whose entire film career has been lost. Western hero, William Farnum, like Bara and Suratt a Fox player, was one of the four big Western actors rivaling William S. Hart, Tom Mix and Harry Carey. Farnum has about three of his Fox films extant.
If you need to store a lot of data — and I'm not even just talking about movies here, I'm talking about stuff like phone company billing records and the like, where you're churning out TB per day, all the time — but the retrieval rate is very low, hard drives don't look as good because they require electricity and maintenance to operate.
at some point you're going to be looking at a matryoshka VM setup with multiple layers of emulation so you can e.g. run Windows XP to watch a late 90s Real Video file
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