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Discovery and restoration of “Beyond the Rocks,” a lost Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino silent film

The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin contributed to the restoration project of the 1922 movie ‘Beyond the Rocks,’ long considered one of the great lost films.

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AUSTIN, Texas—The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin contributed to the restoration project of the 1922 movie “Beyond the Rocks,” long considered one of the great lost films. 

The silent film, starring Gloria Swanson, one of the greatest Hollywood stars of the era, and Rudolph Valentino, the first male sex symbol in film history, was missing for more than 75 years. Only a one-minute fragment of the film survived until catalogers at the Nederlands Filmmuseum discovered reels of the film in 2000.

The Ransom Center provided restorers more than 100 film stills from its Gloria Swanson archive.

To celebrate the discovery, a restored “Beyond the Rocks” is screening at international film festivals such as the Cannes Film Festival and the New York Film Festival. This fall the film opens throughout North America and will premiere in Texas at the Association of Moving Image Archivists’ (AMIA) annual convention in Austin on Dec. 1.

Milestone Films, a company with a reputation for restoring and releasing classic films, has released the movie to theaters and will issue a DVD version in 2006.

“It’s always cause for celebration whenever a lost film has been found,” said Martin Scorsese of the discovery. “Every film found restores another piece of our collective memory, our sense of our past, and our history. The greatest actors of the silent era had a rare intensity—emotional, physical, almost spiritual. They had to seize us right from the start, with their own inner power and luminosity. As you will see, that’s exactly what Valentino and Swanson, both at the peak of their powers, do in ‘Beyond the Rocks.’”

Two nitrate reels of “Beyond the Rocks” were discovered when staff at the Filmmuseum were taking inventory of a collection of more than 2,000 cans of film bequeathed to them by a collector. The collector had six buildings filled with film mementos, yet there was no information about the contents. 

It took about three years to locate almost the entire film in the vast collection. 

“Normally speaking, restoration starts with investigating other material. In the case of ‘Beyond the Rocks,’ this phase was omitted,” said Giovanna Fossati, archivist at the Filmmuseum. “There was no other film material to compare it with.”

After an international search, the Filmmuseum found a list of the film’s original English intertitles and a 32-page continuity script, including brief descriptions of each scene, in the archive of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Using this information, Filmmuseum archivists and conservators from Hagheflim Conservation restored, cleaned, repaired and duplicated the film. They attempted to match the original colors on the new print as much as possible.

Restoration of the delicate and deteriorating film materials began in 2003.

“If ‘Beyond the Rocks’ had been found a couple of years later, the whole film would probably have been damaged by decay,” said Fossati.

The discovery is especially significant because fewer than 20 percent of American silent-era fiction features survive in complete copies.

AMIA, an international association of archivists, scholars and supporters of moving image preservation and access, is spotlighting “Beyond the Rocks” as its restoration screening during its annual conference.

The discovery and screening would be of interest to Swanson, who couldn’t locate a print of the film, a melodrama about the impossible love between Lord Hector Bracondale (Valentino) and Theodora Fitzgerald (Swanson).

She wrote in her 1980 autobiography “Swanson on "Swanson”: “The same sad questions are always asked: Does anyone know of a print anywhere of ‘Beyond the Rocks,’ the film Rudy Valentino made with me in 1921? Can anyone locate a print of ‘Madame Sans-Gene’? Does anyone have a complete copy, including the last reel of ‘Sadie Thompson’? I would love to see them again and know they’re not lost forever. That, after all, was supposed to be the great virtue of pictures—that they would last forever.”

For more information contact: Jennifer Tisdale, Harry Ransom Center, 512-471-8949.