Here’s a long newsgroup thread I started (and contributed heavily to) about slavish copies and silent films. Be sure to read from the start to finish. I might actually drag the things I wrote into a single post here.
In other news, I noticed that Houston Public Library owns only a handful of silent films, and certainly none of the recent restorations (aside from Charlie Chaplin and maybe Buster Keaton).
I’m thinking of purchasing the Unseen Cinema Early American Avante-Garde Classics boxed set ($75) and possibly even Treasures from the American Archives. (here’s a good list of silent film boxes sets compiled by an amazon reviewer). Here’s are reviews about Unseen Cinema.
In the commercial market, here’s a listing of silent DVDs and VHS. Also, Movieflix silent movie streams (many of which you can watch online with free membership). See also openflix for more info about public domain films.
See also: this arbitrary list of must see silent films and a wikipedia listing of public domain films.For an introduction, see also the wikipedia entry on silent movies. See also this greencine primer on silent comedies. See also this collection of articles about silent cinema by John Sinnott (whom I know! he married a high school friend!)
Also, according to one poster on Internet archives movie section, Japanese films produced prior to 1953 are in the public domain. (here are some divx of early Kurosawa films) (also, Google video has some Kurosawa vids). I have yet to find confirmation of this. However, if this is true, that would make many early Ozu films available (including my favorite “I was born but“)