According to The Hollywood Reporter, the long lost William Gillette silent film Sherlock Holmes (1916) has been uncovered in the film vaults of the Cinemateque Francaise. The Cinemateque Francaise will be working in collaboration with the San Francisco Film Festival to restore and screen the film. It will premiere in Paris at the festival of restoration in January, and in the US at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival in May. Gillette performed his play Sherlock Holmes over 1,300 times over thirty years and only ever appeared in this one film. This lost gem now gives generations of Holmesians the chance, not only to see the embodiment of Holmes in action, but one of the most popular stage actors of the time at work.
Any Holmesian worth his salt knows of the famed performance by stage actor William Gillette as Sherlock Holmes. It is one of the most fabled performances lost to history that many Holmesians would give anything to see. Gillette is the quintessential portrayal of Sherlock Holmes from which all others arise, and as Orson Welles said, “It is too little to say that William Gillette resembled Sherlock Holmes; Sherlock Holmes looks exactly like William Gillette.” He popularized the image of Sherlock Holmes and made legendary many of the quirks and phrases that we associate with the character today. Until now, our only record of this performance were photographs and a radio play produced by Welles’ Mercury Theater – which can be found here.
This find comes at a fortuitous time when Sherlock Holmes is experiencing a healthy resurgence in popularity. With no fewer than three active screen franchises (BBC Sherlock, CBS Elementary, and the Guy Ritchie blockbusters Sherlock Holmes and Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows) and at least one highly anticipated Sherlock Holmes film entitled Mr. Holmes (2015) and starring Ian McKellen as the aging detective, this will be a welcome environment in which to release a fabled masterpiece of cinema. I, for one, cannot express how I’ve longed to witness Gillette’s storied performance. You can expect to find me at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival next May.
Source: The Hollywood Reporter