The Official Student Newspaper of Tarleton State University since 1919

the JTAC

The Official Student Newspaper of Tarleton State University since 1919

the JTAC

The Official Student Newspaper of Tarleton State University since 1919

the JTAC

Rediscovering Theda Bara’s Cleopatra

The restoration of one piece comes to life
Theda Bara
** I.V.
“Cleopatra” Theda Bara 1917 ** I.V.

Films are a huge part of media culture and there have been many different eras of film that have contributed to modern society. One era being Silent Films, which have laid a foundation on how things are filmed and created, but have unfortunately been lost to time. Recently a Snippet of the 1917 silent movie, “Cleopatra,” has been discovered after almost 100 years of being lost. 

Theda “the Vamp” Bara, originally Theodosia Goodman, was a Jewish actress from the early 1900s and one of cinema’s first sex symbols who starred in many silent films, many being inaccessible due to a multitude of circumstances. “Cleopatra” was unfortunately a film that was lost, as the only known copies were turned to ash during the 1937 Fox Studio fires that burned thousands of other silent films and older cinema alongside it. 

“Cleopatra,” although almost completely lost, is one of Bara’s most infamous works, as it was one of the costliest productions of its time. Based on William Shakespear’s play, “Antony and Cleopatra,” it was supposed to be one of the biggest productions ever. However, as not many copies of the reels were made, July 9, 1937, was the last day this film was seen as the fire completely wiped “Cleopatra” from the Earth. Well, almost completely. 

Some clips have appeared here and there in the years since this film’s disappearance, but these clips only amount to about 10 seconds in total. Recently, the YouTube Channel “Old Films and Stuff,” gives context that he recently bought a toy film projector off Ebay which held this short never-before-seen 41-second fragment of the silent movie, making it one of the biggest Cleopatra discoveries in the past 100 years. 

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Unfortunately, much of American films from the early period of filming are lost to time, fire, and even being thrown into the ocean. As the silent film era ended, “talkies” films that featured dialogue and sound swept through and made silent movies obsolete.  

“Only 14 percent—about 1,575 titles—of the feature films produced and distributed domestically from 1912-1929 exist in their original format. Five percent of those that survived in their original 35 mm format are incomplete,” the Library of Congress reports. 

Although films have come a very long way since the silent film era, as we now have color and audio, silent films are still very important to the history of cinema. As only 14% of silent films produced can still be fully accessed, a part of history is lost. Being able to visualize and hear what life was like in the late 1800s to early 1900s, lost media is a treasure trove full of past culture and language, many of which will never be rediscovered. However, the hope of rediscovering them still stands. 

Restoration of these older and lost films can be a hard task to accomplish, as many reels were made of nitrate which is highly flammable and many have decayed over the years. The chemical deposition has altered many spools of film, however, once the damage can be checked, cleaned, and possibly cut, the films are salvageable.  

“Once the reel is ready, it’s fed into an ultrasonic cleaner. They get off all the microbial gunk and dust we can’t see. Once clean, the film can be scanned digitally,” Jason Hellerman of NoFilmSchool describes. “That’s when the man-made work comes in. Restoring things in digital files, color correcting, and using contrast and color grade to make something whole by the end.” 

Archivists, librarians, and organizations such as the Film Preservation Society have all put in work to try and bring back films and media that are lost to time. Though “Cleopatra,” has not been fully recovered, there is still hope that a spool of the film lies somewhere in the world, which seems to be how so many other once-considered lost media are found. Recovering lost media, though an arduous task, is one that will recover the history of modern cinema. 

 For More Information regarding lost films and Cleopatra (1917), visit: 

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Jennifer Fernandez
Jennifer Fernandez, Staff Writer

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