One of the sad, or at least frustrating aspects of archival work on early films is trying to identify reels where there is no convenient main title to identify the film for you, and you can’t tell who the performers are. For every Pickford or Chaplin, there were hundreds of second and third tier players, probably not much known about at the time, and recognised by only a dedicated few now. And below they came those whose names were probably never known, who hoped for a little fame and never found it. If you can’t recognise them, or you can’t name the film in which they appear, film and performers remain in limbo, orphaned, acting for no one. Who are you, you ask, peering ever more closely at the screen in the hope of some subliminal clue. You take frame stills and show them to colleagues, leaf through the reference books, scroll through endless lists of film titles looking for some hopeful match between the action on the film fragment you have seen, trying to imagine these things with the mind of a 1910s film producer. Find the right title, or find a name, and you’re restoring someone back to some sort of a life. It’s a precious responsibility.
So it is that the Nederlands Filmmuseum, which has made something of a speciality of curating unidentified films, has put together a PowerPoint slide show of actresses from the silent era that either they are unable to identify, or of whom they know frustratingly little. They’ve done this to coincide with the upcoming Women and the Silent Screen Conference, being held in Stockholm 11-13 June, and they are inviting anyone who can to help identify the names. So, visit the conference site to download the PowerPoint, or take a look at the faces here. From the faces above, who is it on the left who appears in a British Lupino Lane film of the 1910s? Who is the actress (centre) who was found in a fragment of a mid 1920s comedy for Fox or Universal with Fred Spencer and Billy Bletcher? And can anyone name the actress (right) in a 1910s film which features Austrian and British officers going on a hunting party, who end up shooting a lion?
Or what of these? The actress on the left played the character of Cunegonde in a popular series of comedies 1911-1913 for the French company Lux, but no one knows her name. In the centre, this unidentified player appears in a Universal Century comedy fragment, dating around 1922, with Jimmy Adams and Jack Earle. And who on the right plays the title character in a Powers Company film of 1910 entitled The Lady Doctor?
If you have any idea, the Filmmuseum would love to hear from you. And, from the grave, the women would doubtless thank you too.