The Long-Lost Movies of Colleen Moore
If you've heard of Colleen Moore, it's probably because of her fairy castle at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. But before that remarkable castle became her unlikely legacy, Colleen Moore was one of the biggest stars of the silent era and the most popular personification of the "flapper" in the 1920s. If she's less famous than Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, it's because so few of her films still exist. The ravages of time are particularly brutal to the nitrate film stock utilized in the industry before 1950. The stock deteriorates to a sticky, smelly goo if exposed to the elements. Oh, and it's also extremely flammable! Around 90% of silent films are gone forever because all negatives and prints were destroyed either due to that devil oxygen or fire. Or both, probably.
I've watched silent movies for 30 years, and while I can't say it's any kind of an obsession, I can say I've watched a lot of them, and pretty much every major silent movie starring every major silent movie star: Chaplin, Pickford, Fairbanks, etc. Really the only thing preventing more viewings is accessibility. First of all, most films are lost. Second, of those films that even exist, they're not easily accessible, locked up in archives to be unseen by many except the most dedicated researchers. And third, of course, are the major studios, who still own the rights to silent movies made after Jan. 1, 1923, and while they don't care about making them accessible to audiences, woe be to the enterprising bootlegger who just wants to watch the damn things.
Colleen Moore had been in pictures for a few years when she starred in the 1923 movie Flaming Youth, in which she portrayed the kind of flapper straight out of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novels. Unfortunately, the film is mostly lost with a mere 10 or so minutes still in existence. FORTUNATELY, that 10 minutes is available on YouTube below.
FUN, RIGHT? Many films of this era are credited with promoting the Jazz Age, and there were earlier examples of the Jazz Age film, such as the one actually titled The Flapper, a 1920 romp starring the doomed Olive Thomas. More on her some other time.
Despite all these lost films, we're in the midst of a full-fledged Colleen Moore revival, with three of her lost films rediscovered and restored in recent years: Her Wild Oat, Why Be Good? and Synthetic Sin. Ron Hutchins of the Vitaphone Project wrote a great article about the rediscovery of the latter two films:
Here's another taste of Colleen Moore, in a clip from Why Be Good? promoting its DVD release from the Warner Archive Collection.