Silent Movie Ads Capture Early American Movies

Silent films established the American film industry. But many of those films from the early 1900s no longer exist.

A new project aims to capture flavor of these films by digitizing old advertisements and posting the material online.

The idea for the project came from Chicago-based collector Dwight Cleveland. He is cooperating in this effort with a professor and students from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.

Cleveland is a real estate developer who became interested in silent film advertisements, also called maps, as a high school student in the 1970s. He was introduced to real maps by his art teacher at the time. , who had a small collection.

A cinema lobby card promotes the 1919 silent film ‘Strictly Confidential’. (Photo courtesy of Dwight Cleveland via AP)

Cleveland recently told The Associated Press that he “fell in love” with the colors, chart and other elements used in movie maps. The first experience made him want to start his own collection. “He just yelled, ‘Take me home! ‘” Cleveland said.

The cards were designed to be placed inside the area outside the theater entrances, also known as lobbies. The cards informed viewers of movies currently playing as well as movies that would arrive next. They showcased everything Hollywood had to offer, including comedies, romances, and action movies.

Cleveland told the AP that about 90% of all silent movies have been lost. One of the main reasons for this is that the chemicals used to make many of the early films have broken down over time. Many silent films were also destroyed in fires.

A cinema lobby card promotes the 1923 silent film "The Secret of the Pueblo." (Photo courtesy of Dwight Cleveland via AP)

A movie theater lobby card promotes the 1923 silent film ‘The Secret of the Pueblo’. (Photo courtesy of Dwight Cleveland via AP)

“What this means is that these lobby cards are the only tangible example that these movies even existed,” Cleveland said.

Cards, traditionally measuring 28 by 35 centimeters, were placed in sets of eight or more. They showed a movie’s name, production company, actors, and more. The cards were intended to give moviegoers a Insight movies. Today, they capture the stars and storytelling methods that existed during the period or era of American silent cinema.

Back then, movie trailers – the brief video introductions to upcoming movies that we still see in theaters today – weren’t common.

Dwight Cleveland, an avid collector of movie posters and lobby cards, poses for a portrait with his first lobby card he collected for the 1929 film Western Wolf Song. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Dwight Cleveland, an avid collector of movie posters and lobby cards, poses for a portrait with his first lobby card he collected for the 1929 film Western Wolf Song. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Early lobby cards were produced using a process that primarily used black, white, and brown designs. Other colors were often added later by hand, writes Josie Walters-Johnston. She is a librarian at the Moving Image Research Center of the US Library of Congress.

By the 1920s, images began to look more like pictures and included more intricate design details. The cards were placed in theaters for many years, but production halted in the late 1970s or early 1980s, Walters-Johnston wrote.

Cleveland sent examples from his personal collection to the Media Ecology Project in Dartmouth. The effort is led by Mark Williams, associate professor of film and media studies. He oversees a small group of students who remove each card from its protective envelope to to analyse and digitize.

When complete, the Lobby Card Collection will become part of Dartmouth’s Early Cinema Compendium. This is an extensive collection of rare and valuable items relating to old and mostly lost American films. The collection will be published online with financial assistance from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

A cinema lobby card promotes the 1923 silent film "Turn signal." (Photo courtesy of Dwight Cleveland via AP)

A cinema admission pass promotes the 1923 silent film ‘Blinky’. (Photo courtesy of Dwight Cleveland via AP)

Williams said the main goal of the project is to make the material available to early movie fans and scholars look alike. He added that he hopes the publication of the collection “catapult new interest” in the silent film era.

I am Brian Lynn.

The Associated Press reported this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for VOA Learning English.

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words in this story

flavor -not. the quality of something, usually related to taste

chart nm or related to the pictorial arts

tangible adj. something real that can be seen, touched, measured, etc.

Insight nm a short film that advertises a movie or TV show

to analyse -v. use a machine to read or copy something into a computer

learned nm someone who has studied a subject and knows a lot about it

catapult v. to move something in the air quickly and with great force

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