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Thursday Watercooler


Theda Bara in Cleopatra

Can you name this silent film star? Far more obscure stars will get a new chance to be named at a special Library of Congress screening.

Tonight’s video is “Tycho Brahe, the Scandalous Astronomer” from TED-Ed.

If you think scientists lead boring, monotonous lives, you must not know about Tycho Brahe. The 16th century astronomer who accurately predicted planetary motion led quite a dramatic life — complete with a kidnapping, a sword duel and even a clairvoyant dwarf. Dan Wenkel dives into the history behind this sensational scientist, explaining how he continued to inspire intrigue even after his death.

Talking during a film screening is usually frowned upon (and will get you kicked out of many theaters), but a special upcoming series from the Library of Congress will encourage viewers to shout — in order to help identify forgotten films and stars. From The Atlantic:

Some 70 percent of the movies made in the United States between 1912 and 1929—nearly 8,000 titles—are lost to history, according to a study last year by the Library of Congress. Even many of the existing films from the pre-talkie era are mysteries to today’s scholars.

Once-famous starlets are no longer widely recognizable. Films that wowed audiences a century ago have been all but erased from collective memory. And so, for the third year, the Library of Congress is calling on film buffs, historians, and members of the public to help search for clues in old reels. The smallest fragment of a detail—like the furniture used in a film’s set design—may be the key to unraveling a forgotten work’s origins.

Over the course of a weekend-long series of screenings at the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center in Culpeper, Virginia, next month, attendees will be asked to shout out potentially meaningful details in film as the watch—names of actors, locations, car models, and other clues that might help reveal a film’s origins. Film conservationists already know this approach works. After 204 such screenings so far, more than 100 films have been identified.

[… T]hough many historians have accepted the dismal state of preservation in early film, there’s optimism that as more films are catalogued, more previously forgotten works will emerge—either from private collections or from other countries. Already, the Library of Congress has found more than 800 American-made silent films in overseas collections. In the past decade, there has been a ‘groundswell of discoveries of silent features that had been thought lost,’ especially as archives take steps to identify unmarked reels.

Thanks to Firedoglake’s Elliott for the link.

Bonus: Visit Jacob’s Well, one of Texas’ most beautiful, endangered, and dangerous watering holes at Earth Porm.

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Photo of Theda Bara in Cleopatra (1917) courtesy Orange County Archives.

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Kit OConnell

Kit OConnell

Kit O’Connell is a gonzo journalist and radical troublemaker from Austin, Texas. He is the Associate Editor and Community Manager of Shadowproof. Kit's investigative journalism has appeared in Truthout, MintPress News and