Early film was stored on nitrate stock that was ridiculously flammable. Seriously—just writing that sentence caused four more movies to go up in flames in 1924.
What that means is we will always be missing a huge portion of our history. Not just Hollywood history, either. We no longer have a copy of President McKinley’s ambulance leaving the Pan-American Exposition after he was shot in 1901. We don’t have the film version of The Great Gatsby made during F. Scott Fitzgerald’s lifetime.
Gone are newsreels, short subjects—anything that illuminates daily life from 1900 to 1930 and reminds us that people in the past were just as real as we are.
The studios didn’t care. Their concern was for future profits, not heritage, and there was no perceived commercial value in keeping movies around. America! We’ve lost a lot of our identity because our identiy couldn’t make us a buck.