Sun, Oct 05, 2014 - Page 6 News List

Long-lost ‘Sherlock’ film found in nitrate collection in France

The Guardian

A long-lost Sherlock Holmes film dating from 1916 has been discovered in the vaults of the Cinematheque Francaise, the Paris-based archive that houses one of the world’s biggest film collections.

Entitled Sherlock Holmes, the silent film stars renowned US actor-manager William Gillette and is an adaptation of the play with which Gillette was famously associated.

Celine Ruivo, director of the film collection at the Cinematheque Francaise, said the supposedly lost film was uncovered while staff were working on an ongoing project to catalogue the 80,000 boxes of nitrate films in its collection.

“It had been briefly cataloged in the past, but the document was incomplete. One of our team found it mistakenly put with some other Sherlock Holmes films,” Ruivo said.


Directed by Arthur Berthelet, the Sherlock Holmes film was shot in Chicago by Essanay studios, now best-known for its series of Charlie Chaplin shorts made in 1915. It remains the only record of Gillette’s performance as Holmes, which popularized the deerstalker-and-cape image of the detective.

Gillette was by no means the first to come up with the look. Though never mentioned by Doyle, it is generally credited to an 1891 illustration by Sidney Paget for The Boscombe Valley Mystery short story.

The play — and presumably the film — is a compendium of Holmes’ “best bits,” weaving scenes from a variety of stories into a single narrative.


A nitrate negative of the 90-minute film that is subtitled with French-language captions was discovered in the Cinematheque Francaise.

“The film was to be tinted for the French market, we think, so it was in small rolls to make it easier to color,” said Ruivo, who has viewed sections of the work.

“It’s just marvelous to find a film that is lost. We are all very moved,” Ruvio said.

Restoration is being undertaken in Bologna, Italy, by the Cinematheque Francaise, in conjunction with the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

“William Gillette’s Sherlock Holmes has ranked among the holy grails of lost film, and my first glimpse of the footage confirms Gillette’s magnetism,” San Francisco Silent Film Festival president Robert Byrne said.

It is the only existing film of the actor, Ruivo said.


The film is to have its modern-day premiere in January next year as part of the Toute la Memoire du Monde festival at the Cinematheque Francaise, followed by a US premiere in May at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

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