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  • Writer's pictureJon

The Avalanche

The year is 1914. Cathrine Countiss is in the Life Photo Film Corporation office of film director Will Davis in the Candler Building on West 42nd Street in New York City. She has just been signed to star in the photoplay The Barrier Between based on the stage play The Avalanche. Miss Countiss is new to the silver screen, having just starred in her debut film The Idler, but she is no stranger to The Avalanche. For the past several seasons Cathrine Countiss has portrayed the conniving Clara Benson on stages throughout the Orpheum Circuit to rave reviews. Now is her opportunity to bring the role, and her fame, to the masses by way of the flickering silver screen.


Library of Congress - Main Reading Room
Library of Congress - Main Reading Room

This is what we know about The Avalanche and little else. So in 2020, my partner Mark and I began our quest for more information about the film. Our search led us to the world’s largest library – the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. We contacted Josie Walters-Johnston, Reference

Librarian in the Moving Image Research Center.


Josie informed us that of the four silent films Cathrine was in, only one of the films had survived, and only the first and last of five reels were intact – The Avalanche. Those precious fifteen minutes of film had been rescued by the Donald Nichol Collection and were now in the archives of the American Film Institute. There was only one obstacle remaining. We would have to travel to Washington to view the reels.

Josie Walters-Johnston and Jon
Josie Walters-Johnston and Jon

Meanwhile the Library of Congress was closed to the public due to the pandemic. Time passed and our other projects took precedence. Eventually the library reopened, and we received an invitation from Josie to come to Washington and view the film. In 2023, we applied for official Library of Congress Reader Credentials and booked our flight. Finally we met Josie face-to-face and spent an afternoon at the library with the sole purpose of viewing the film. For the first time we were able to see Cathrine Countiss chew the scenery and steal the show!



Never mind that we could only see the beginning and end of The Avalanche. There were so many tasty tidbits to savor – the lavish sets, beautiful costumes, elegant automobiles, and early ticker tape machines and telephones. But best of all were the images of my dear Aunt Birdie gliding across the screen and wreaking havoc in her path. Josie helped us through the process of acquiring a digital copy of the reels, and we are pleased to present them on this site’s Reel page.


 

Film Images: The Avalanche aka The Barrier Between courtesy of archival film and/or video materials from the collections of the Library of Congress

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