We've all heard the term "Stars of the Silver Screen," but where did it come from?
Well, in the early days of movies, before 1950, silver was an indispensible part of motion pictures. The movie screens were actually embedded with silver in order to reflect the projected light for the best images.
Also the film stock itself was made of silver nitrate.
The combined effect of silver on the screen and silver in the film was nothing short of magical, particularly in the black and white movies of the time. Images would literally glisten and shimmer in the darkened theatre. Movie fans could see their favorite actor or actress shine and glow (yes, like a star) -- truly larger than life.
Unfortunately, though, the silver nitrate film stock was also chemically unstable and highly combustible. If not stored properly, it decomposes rapidly to a brown dust (an estimated 83% of all silent films are now considered lost due to this deterioration!) and, worse yet, could and too often did catch fire!
So silver nitrate is no longer used in the manufacturing of films.
Around the same time that silver nitrate fell into disuse (1950) the old silver-embedded screens also began to be phased out in favor of larger modern ones that could better meet the demands of the new wider projected films of cinemascope, panavision, vistavision and others.
But take a moment to reflect on how that old movie you're watching on DVD must have looked to its original audience -- shimmering, shining and glistening! Quite the experience! Lost forever? Perhaps, but take heart -- apparently the original silver-embedded technology of the 1920s is proving quite workable for the new technologies of 3D in film. So we may yet see a comeback of the silver metallic screen for a new generation of movie lovers!