MORE TREASURES FROM AMERICAN FILM
Review by Ed Nguyen
Dorothy Gish, Rin-Tin-Tin, Eddie Cantor, Calvin Coolidge, and much more!
Directors: Edwin S. Porter, D.W. Griffith, Ernst Lubitsch, Thomas Ince, Gregory La Cava, Alice Guy Blaché, W.K.L. Dickson, and much more!
Audio: English monaural/stereo
Video: Color and black & white, full-frame with variable aspect ratios
Studio: Image Entertainment
Features: Thirty-plus commentary tracks, film notes and stills, 200-page book
Length: 573 minutes
Release Date: September 7, 2004
morning, Mr. Edison, glad to see you back.
I hope you are satisfied with the Kineto-Phonograph."
- W.K.L. Dickson, early sound film (lost), 1889
it or not, the motion picture has only been in existence for barely longer than
a century. Modern films, with their
ultra-sensitive film stocks and computer-enhanced visuals, bear little
resemblance to movies from as recently as two decades ago.
Stereo sound technology (never mind surround sound) did not even exist in
any meaningful capacity just three decades ago.
Even the widescreen format has been around for only a half-century.
As film-goers today, we are often spoiled by the astounding technological
leaps and bounds seen in modern cinema. But
incredibly, the greater majority of films made since the late nineteenth century
have possessed none of these qualities and, primitive though they may appear now
to contemporary audiences, are more representative of the true history of the
years, film archives across the United States have endeavored to preserve the
country's cinematic history. In
2000, several American film archives combined their collective resources to
present rare but significant films in the DVD collection Treasures from American Film Archives. Produced by the National Film Preservation Foundation, this
collection re-introduced viewers to many forgotten but historically important
works of cinematic heritage. More
Treasures from American Film Archives 1894-1931, the follow-up to that
impressive set, has now arrived, assembling a new collection of films reaching
even further back into time. This
new collection is comprised of a dazzling array of film gems, some obscure and
some not, from the early, formulative years of cinema.
Among the film archives which contributed to this collection are the
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, George Eastman House, The Library
of Congress, The Museum of Modern Art, and the UCLA Film and Television Archive.
Overall, this new set, curated by Scott Simmon, contains more than nine
hours' worth of film.
so than the previous set, this new collection exclusively covers that period in
filmmaking commonly known as the silent era.
The term is actually a misnomer, as many of these films were not shown
silently but with musical accompaniment - either a piano, small pit band, or
even a full orchestra, depending on the importance of the film.
Several early films even boasted actual recorded sounds and were not
silent at all (examples of these rare films can be found in this collection).
in this collection of fifty films (and six trailers) are a potpourri of genres -
features, serials, documentaries, advertisements, public service announcements,
sing-alongs, newsreels, cartoons, and experiments involving color, sound, or
obscure photographic techniques. The films range from brief clips to one-reelers to
full-length features, documenting the transition of the motion picture from
peepshow curiosities to vaudeville house attractions and photoplays and finally
into a thriving entertainment industry.
motion pictures, or "movies" for short, of the silent era are rarely
seen today. Part of the problem is
that the vast majority, upwards of ninety percent, of films made during this
period are lost forever, and most of the remaining ones are not in pristine
condition. Nevertheless, among the
surviving films are some of the most influential artistic achievements in
cinema, though doubtless there are still many gems yet to re-discover.
their historical context, these films represent a time capsule of the culture
and social standards of their times. Watching
these images of yesteryear creates a sense of wonder and awe, as though we the
audience were peering through a window into a time long gone.
Herein, we can recognize the genesis of rudimentary storytelling and
photographic techniques which we take so for granted in today's movies.
contents of More Treasures from American
Film Archives 1894-1931 are spread over three DVDs (or
"programs"). Read on
below for descriptions of the many forgotten treasures and gems rescued from
obscurity in our film archives!
Dickson Experimental Sound Film (15 sec, 1895)
our journey back into time begins with none other than Thomas Edison, Inventor
Extraordinaire, and his remarkable assistant, Walter K.L. Dickson.
Together in 1888, they developed the world's first motion picture camera, the Kinetograph (or Kinetoscope).
Dickson combined this machine with Edison's earlier phonograph invention
to create the Kinetophone. Yes,
that's right - the "sound picture" existed from the very start of film
back in the late nineteenth century! The
Edison labs had a head-start on Al Jolson by some thirty years.
movies use a sound-on-film approach, but the Kinetophone employed a phonograph
synchronized via a mechanical belt to the on-screen action.
The Kinetophone was introduced in various peep-show parlors and later
into vaudeville theaters with some limited success.
Experimentation with the phonograph sound format continued until 1914,
when a fire in the Edison labs ultimately halted any further advancements with
One of More
Treasures from American Film Archives 1894-1931 opens with a series of extremely early Dickson films, including an
extremely rare sound experiment. The
first film, obviously a test not designed for public screening, shows Dickson
himself playing his violin into the Kinetophone's gigantic funnel while, nearby,
a pair of male co-workers dance. Dickson's
tune is a barcarole from Les Cloches de
Corneville, a 1877 French opera, though the aural fidelity is somewhat poor.
Coupled with the scratchy, cat shriek-like wail of the violin (the sound
is quite primitive), this makes for a truly surreal short film, the earliest
surviving synchronized sound film.
the original wax sound recording for this film was of greater duration than the
image portion itself. Sound was recorded for two minutes prior to actual filming,
so early conversation and even direction can be heard before the filmed images
even appear. As presented on this
disc, however, only the synchronized sound portion is heard.
Annie Oakley (20 sec, 1894)
next short film demonstrates the Kinetoscope's potential as an archival
recording device. The film
showcases the real Annie Oakley, "Little Miss Sure Shot" of Buffalo
Bill's Wild West fame, displaying her famed shooting skills in a confined
Buffalo Dance (15 sec, 1894)
group of Native Americans, featuring Oglala and Brulé Sioux, perform a ritual
dance for the Kinetoscope. Again,
these dancers were regular performers for the Buffalo Bill's Wild West show and may even have participated in the famed
"Battle of Little Bighorn" re-enactment in the show.
Bucking Broncho (20 sec, 1894)
this early outdoor film features cowboy Lee Martin hanging onto his bucking
broncho, Sunfish. Martin was also
another regular performer for Buffalo Bill.
Suburbanite (9 min., 1904)
Mutoscope was a popular peephole motion picture machine of the late 1890s.
It created an illusion of movement through a series of pictures flipping
on a horizontal axis whenever a hand crank was operated.
The Mutoscope was intended to be a rival to the Edison Kinetoscope, and
in comparison, even produced a sharper image (it used 70mm film stock).
Furthermore, the Mutoscope, being hand-cranked, did not require battery
power, unlike the Kinetoscope. However,
the Kinetoscope's projection system was capable of greater film lengths and
eventually surpassed the Mutoscope as the public's favored venue for film
exhibition. American Mutoscope,
which produced the Mutoscope, ultimately created its own projection system, the
is an example of one such early Biograph film.
While early films tended to be documentaries, often comprised of a static
single shot, films by 1904 were beginning to incorporate new editing approaches
to narrate a story. Consequently,
films were increasing in length. While
film editing was still rudimentary (one reason why many early silent films are
so difficult to follow today), The
Suburbanite shows the definite progress achieved in less than a decade of
chronicles the misadventures of a middle-class family relocating to a New Jersey
suburb and, as a film, represents a leap forward in terms of narrative
techniques. Intertitles, still a
fresh innovation from 1903's Uncle Tom's
Cabin, help to provide coherence to the story.
Multiple shots allow for multiple anecdotes, giving the story a broader
scope. We see the family arriving
proudly at its new home, having comic disagreements with the movers (who
eventually throw all the furniture out of their truck), "welcoming" a
visit from the mother-in-law, and engaging in slapstick mayhem with a
disgruntled cook (food and dishes are thrown about). The film closes when the father of the family, exasperated by
life in the suburbs, posts a "To Let" sign before his home (the film
is missing its final shot, in which the father then rushes everyone out the
Country Doctor (14 min., 1909)
of Biograph's best-kept early secrets was director D.W. Griffith.
Today, he is acknowledged as a master of the silent era with such
remarkable films as The Birth of a Nation
However, early in his career, Griffith worked anonymously for the
Biograph company and was often unaccredited.
He directed hundreds of short films a year and was instrumental in almost
single-handedly propelling Biograph to the forefront of the film industry, such
as it existed back then. With
cameraman Billy Bitzer, Griffith crafted many one-reel "photoplays"
which took advantage of new innovations involving editing, camera movements and
positioning, and close-ups to communicate emotionally-stirring stories.
Griffith may not have invented these innovations, but his skilled
direction and usage of these techniques helped to advance the art of filmmaking
as never before.
Griffith's films are among the most-preserved of early films, with 440 of his
films produced for Biograph between 1908 and 1913 surviving today.
One example, Griffith's 1909 Biograph film The
Country Doctor, displays the potential of the photoplay as a narrative
medium. In this lovingly-photographed and well-acted morality tale of
a physician torn between his family and his profession, the editing is advanced
enough that even modern audiences can easily appreciate and follow the
uses alternating sequences and progressively rapid parallel editing techniques
to heighten the tension of the story. Subtle
pan shots frame the storyline, introducing a pastoral feel to the film, then
drawing us away at the film's conclusion from the grieving family.
The passive neutrality of early silent films is replaced in this film by
an emotional resonance that would become a hallmark of Griffith's future
film starts as the physician, his wife, and young daughter are first seen in a
calm pastoral setting, enjoying a pleasant family outing.
Later, the daughter is taken ill, and the physician applies his skills
towards improving her health. However,
the child of a neighbor is also taken ill, and the physician is called away from
his daughter's side to care for the other patient.
As his daughter's condition worsens, the physician is caught between
treating his patient or returning to save his own daughter.
The story has a bittersweet ending - the over-confident physician, having
restored his patient's health, returns home too late to a tearful wife, mourning
over the death of their daughter.
TRIVIA: A very young Mary Pickford,
one of the cinema's greatest film stars, has an early role as the elder daughter
in the neighbor's household.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (13 min., 1910)
one is a real treat, the first surviving film version of the classic L. Frank
Baum story! For many years, The
Wonderful Wizard of Oz was considered a lost film until a nitrate print was
re-discovered in 1983. Its
presentation on this disc can thus be considered a small miracle, an
all-too-rare occurrence in the never-ending effort to find and restore these
history behind this film is a fascinating one.
Baum himself commissioned the film from Selig Polyscope to accompany his
lecture show. In return, the
company received film rights to Baum's Oz tales.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was
to be the first of at least three Selig films about Oz.
One sequel, Dorothy and the
Scarecrow of Oz, was known to have been made, but this film and any further
unknown sequels are now lost.
inspiration, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
draws upon the then-popular stage adaptation of the Baum tale.
Like the later famous MGM version, this film is also vaudevillian in
style although the storyline is different.
As with many early films, the editing is a little choppy and only
highlights key scenes, thus requiring some audience familiarity with the text to
follow the plot. This version is
apparently a "musical" comedy, too, featuring a number of quick jigs
and dances (involving farm animals and female soldiers of Oz, among others), but
there is obviously no audible singing. The
character designs, like those in Return to
Oz (1985), also accurately reflect the appearances of the characters in the
original illustrations that accompanied the books.
story begins in Kansas, introducing Dorothy, her family, and some farm animals.
Dorothy meets the Scarecrow and unties him from his post just before a
cyclone hits, sending both of them and several farm animals (a cow, and mule,
and Toto, all clinging for dear life to a haystack) off to the Land of Oz.
Oz lacks munchkins or a Yellow-Brick Road.
A wicked witch (named Mombo here) is terrorizing the land, and the Wizard
of Oz, ruler of Emerald City, decrees that he will abdicate his crown to
whomever can free Oz from the witch's clutches.
Meanwhile, Glinda the Good transforms Toto into a big dog to protect
Dorothy from an attack by the Cowardly Lion, who quickly repents and journeys
the traveling party. They soon
encounter the Tin Woodsman who, after an oil job, recovers his movements, pulls
out a flute, and play a jig to which everyone dances.
Dorothy then spots a sign announcing the Wizard's proclamation, and it's
off to Emerald City for everyone.
the way, the party is ambushed near a forest cottage by Mombo and her hench-things
(bats, giant spiders, and flying ghoulies).
Everyone is captured and imprisoned.
Dorothy is ordered to clean Mombo's floors with a bucket of water, which
she instead deposits over Mombo's head with predictable results.
witch vanquished, Dorothy frees her friends and it's off again for Emerald City.
The Wizard crowns Scarecrow as the new king, and there is another jig as
the Wizard prepares to leave Oz for Omaha.
The film ends somewhat abruptly with Dorothy still happily in Oz. Further sequels, or even a serial, would surely have
continued the story and may have included the sleepy poppy field scene (seen in
MGM's version) or Dorothy's return to Kansas.
As it stands now, we will never know for certain, although the
re-discovery of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
certainly makes it one of the gems in this DVD set.
Admiral Cigarette (30 sec, 1897)
we move on to a series of four advertisements.
Yes, even before the turn of the century, manufacturing companies were
keenly aware of film's potential as a viable medium for promoting their
products. So, if all the promo ads
in movie theaters today vex many audiences, they may take some solace in the
fact that such ads have always existed.
ad, a 30-second spot, uses famous personalities like Uncle Sam, John Bull, and
the iconic girl-popping-out-of-a-cake to promote Admiral cigarettes.
The ad's motto is "We All Smoke."
While hardly politically-correct, this ad was certainly effective in its
Flash Cleaner (45 sec, 1920)
next ad is for a detergent, strong enough for the workplace but gentle enough
for the home environment.
Buy an Electric Refrigerator (30 sec, 1926)
there is a quick blurb encouraging the purchase of electric refrigerators.
This clip is remarkably well-preserved and was produced by the Electric
League of Pittsburgh. Modern
audiences should keep in mind that during the 1920's, less than half of all
homes had refrigeration, the vast majority of which were non-electric iceboxes.
The Stenographer’s Friend (8 min., 1910)
we come to what amounts to a short film in itself.
This advertisement tells a tale of an overwhelmed stenographer.
With two bosses continually piling papers before her, she is unable to
keep pace with the dictations. Soon,
she is clutching her head and even weeping.
fear, the Edison salesman is here! The salesman comes through the office door and proceeds to
promote and demonstrate the Edison Phonograph as a time-saving device that can
increase office efficacy and reduce the work load. Using a re-usable wax sound cylinder to record dictations,
the Phonograph can help the stenographer to complete all her work and leave on
reality, the business Phonograph, as with all new innovations, was initially
resisted for fear that it would replace stenographers at the workplace.
By 1910 though, it was an accepted and successful product, much like the
hand-held dictation tape machines commonly used today in law and medical
The Invaders (41 min., 1912)
Wayne notwithstanding, the Golden Age of the Western occurred during the silent
era, when literally thousands of Westerns were produced.
The western supplied ample potential for action and chases, with built-in
heroes and villains, so movie halls of this time were routinely floated with
Invaders, a western made by early film pioneer Thomas Ince, was an
above-average production, not only for its unusually long length (nearly all
westerns at the time were one-reelers) but also for its sympathetic portrayal of
both sides of the conflict. Authentic
Native Americans were even cast in the film, too, another atypical feature.
opens with a treaty between the Sioux and the U.S. government, which promises to
halt further settlement into Sioux territory.
However, only one year later, that promise is broken when railroad
surveyors are allowed to wander onto Sioux territory to scout the land.
They are quickly spotted, and when the Sioux peacefully ride into town to
voice their protest to the local U.S. cavalry commander, their pleas are
essentially brushed aside. Inevitably,
this indifference leads to a full-scale Sioux and Cheyenne retaliation in which
the surveyors are overwhelmed, local telegraph lines are cut, and the local
cavalry outpost is attacked. The
Indian attack is ultimately repulsed when help arrives from a nearby military
film contains some genre conventions which will be recognizable to modern
audiences. There is the typically
pretty commander's daughter, whose father disapproves of her sweetheart until
the young lad saves the day by gallantly riding through the Indian assault to
recruit help. There is also an
analogous romance among the Sioux, in which the chief's own daughter becomes
attracted to one of the young surveyors. When
a spurned Sioux suitor spots the Indian princess together with the surveyor, his
alarmed report to the chief starts the fateful chain of events which soon
spirals out of control. As in the
familiar Pocahontas tale, the Indian princess ultimately sacrifices her own life
to warn the White Men of the impending attack.
Sadly, The Invaders ends on a
down note as the survivors mourn over the dead body of the chieftain's daughter.
audiences might initially assume the "invaders" of the film's title to
be a reference to the Indians themselves, the film makes a sly statement about
the true nature of these "invaders." The blind avarice of the typical Big Company, as personified
in the railroad surveyors, can be seen as "invading" the native land.
In such a light, who is truly the villain of the story?
TRIVIA: Ince reputedly died under
mysterious conditions while abroad William Randolph Heart's yacht.
Some rumors persisted that Ince had been shot by a jealous Hearst.
The Wild Engine, Episode #26 from the serial The
Hazards of Helen (14 min., 1915)
were all the rage during the early years of cinema.
Offering sensational thrills and cliff-hanger suspense, they enticed
audiences back to the theaters again and again to follow an on-going story line
(in much the same addictive fashion as modern soap operas or reality shows).
most popular serial of the day was The Perils of Pauline, whose iconic image of a damsel-in-distress,
tied to the tracks in the path of an oncoming train, is still recognized today.
However, there were certainly many other serials, and The
Hazards of Helen was another very popular serial.
It featured a strong female lead in Helen Holmes.
Helen was no damsel-in-distress; instead, she was frequently the action
heroine, regularly performing such stunts as leaping upon moving vehicles or
falling from heights.
DVD includes one episode, The Wild Engine,
from the serial. A variant on the
popular railroad cliffhangers of the day, this episode finds Helen as a
newly-hired railroad worker. Being
a woman, she must work harder than the men to prove her worth.
Helen's chance arrives one day when a freak accident sends three
locomotives upon a collision course. With
time running out and her colleagues unable to help, it is up to Helen to stop
all three trains and to save the day. Naturally,
this involves a lot of rushing about on a motorbike with a stunt or two, such as
speeding off a bridge into the flowing waters below.
the age of this episode, it remains as tense and exciting today as it must have
seemed ninety years ago. Featuring
suspenseful cross-editing and a charismatic heroine, The
Wild Engine was typical of the Hazards
of Helen serial, which ran for a remarkable 119 episodes and established
Helen Holmes as one of the top serial heroines.
Gretchen the Greenhorn (58 min., 1916)
Gish was one of the first true film celebrities, a predecessor to Mary
Pickford's "America's Sweetheart."
The younger sister to Lillian Gish (probably the silent era's finest
dramatic actress), Dorothy Gish was a skilled comedian and a silent film star in
her own right. Few of her films
survive today, but in actuality Dorothy appeared in more silent films than did
her sister Lillian.
was one of seven five-reelers in which Dorothy Gish appeared in 1916.
A warm and occasionally comedic tale of urban immigrant life, it was not
an "event" film but, rather, was representative of the typical
entertainment found in the movie halls in the 1910's.
Today, it would be comparable to any number of feel-good but
inconsequential comedies in neighborhood theaters.
is the tale of Gretchen (Dorothy Gish), who has just immigrated to America, the
Land of Opportunity, to re-join her father, a humble engraver.
The family is re-united at the harbor and, from there, return to the
tenement housing in which Gretchen's father lives.
Gretchen is introduced to the other immigrant neighbors, including Pietro,
a young Italian man who will become the love interest for the film.
The first half of the film provides an intimate look at immigrant culture
and tenement life style in the New World, while the second half embarks upon the
"meat" of the story.
counterfeiters deceive the honest father into creating engravings for U.S.
currency. When he discovers the
true nefarious nature of their plans, the counterfeiters kidnapped him abroad
their mercantile ship to keep him quiet. Gretchen
tries to come to her father's rescue but is captured herself.
Pietro arrives with the dock police to save the day, and the film closes
with a happy wedding scene for Gretchen and Pietro.
displays a good example of tinting, an early "colorization" technique.
The film demonstrates effectively how tinting was used as a subtle means
of conveying emotions or the passage of time.
This film was long considered lost until a nitrate print was miraculously
donated for preservation in 1991 by Galen Biery, a private collector who had
kept the film safe for years in his barn!
TRIVIA: Elmo Lincoln, who plays a
ship's captain, would later become the screen's first Tarzan!
The Breath of a Nation (6 min., 1919)
cartoons began appearing in the 1910's. Usually,
these were fairly low-budget affairs with crude animation.
They frequently used familiar comic strip characters to off-set their
low-production values and were entertaining enough for their day. Many of these early cartoons no longer exist, so The
Breath of a Nation is a rare find indeed.
by newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst's International Film Services
Company, the cartoon itself is fairly well-preserved and still remains amusing.
As was common with many of these early cartoons, it was printed in sepia
tones to reduce the eyestrain from the glare of the transparent cel drawings
when projected. Directed by a young
Gregory La Cava (who later did such notable 1930's films as My
Man Godfrey and Stage Door), the cartoon offers an amusing social commentary on the
"horrors" of drink in the final days before the Prohibition.
It uses the popular Judge Rummy comic strip character to hook audience
members. An unreformed drunk, Judge
Rummy wanders into a bar, Silk Hat Harry's Soda Fountain, and eventually causes
a bit of a ruckus.
De-Light: Making an Electric Light Bulb (12 min., 1920)
it or not, industrial and educational films comprise the largest number of films
created over the history of cinema, accounting for over a half-million films.
This early film, by the Ford Motor Company, was part of the company's
weekly educational series. Designed
to be shown in schools, churches, and other public venues, films such as this
were not only educational but also made for good promotion, presenting a
pleasant public image for the producing companies.
describes the process by which light bulbs are made.
Still quite fascinating to watch today, surviving films such as this are
invaluable in illustrating how labor and industry once functioned in this
nation's past. De-Light employs a great number of close-ups to show how the
machines and craftsmen assembled the glass bulbs, tungsten filaments, and brass
bases into the completed light bulb. This
was all quite hi-tech for the time. The incredible degree of detail in this particular film
suggests that De-Light may also have
been used to train factory workers, too.
Skyscraper Symphony (9 min., 1929)
avant-garde documentary by Robert Florey is a montage of multiple shots of
Manhattan skyscrapers. Some are
static shots, but many are panning shots which communicate the size and majesty
of these large man-made structures. The image compositions emphasize strong vertical and diagonal
lines. A handheld 35mm DeVry camera
was used for many of these shots, and the resulting images would look perfectly
at home in the opening scenes of Fritz Lang's Metropolis.
Child composed the new music for this film.
It is a poignant score that is occasionally evocative of a Philip Glass
score (such as that for Koyaanisqatsi).
Symphony was considered a lost film before a single print was re-discovered
in a Moscow archive in the 1990's.
Greeting by George Bernard Shaw (5 min., 1928)
One concludes with a sound clip from novelist George Bernard Shaw, shot at his
English country retreat. This film was a first-generation Fox Movietone, later the definitive newsreel of the Great Depression
era, and was obviously meant to be shown as an introduction before a main
a sound film, the audio quality is slightly scratchy but otherwise decent.
One can hear the horn of a passing car, the shuffling of gravel under
Shaw's feet, the chirping of birds, and of course, Shaw's own cultivated
speaking voice. The technology used
a new sound-on-film process developed by Theodore Case and sold to Fox, which by
December 1927 was employing the process to create sound newsreels under the new Movietone
this newsreel, Shaw doesn't say much of importance, although the mere sound of
his voice at the time was novelty enough. Among
his comments, he makes fun of Mussolini and jokes about an autograph-seeking
girl. Coincidentally, Shaw never actually introduces himself in the
entire film (although he does allude to his profession as a novelist).
What Happened on Twenty-Third Street, New York City (75 sec,
Two (on disc two) opens with a series of short films documenting the
"Streets of New York." Since the center of the film industry at this time still
resided along the east coast, hundreds of short films were created to document
daily splices of life in the major eastern cities, such as New York City.
Today, many of these films survive thanks to paper prints preserved at
the Library of Congress.
first short film offers a surreal sense of time travel, as we can see in the
formal attire of the pedestrians and the streets lined with horse-drawn
carriages. This film was shot at a
well-known "windy corner," so named by eagle-eyed gentlemen for the
site's propensity to cause women's skirts to toss up suddenly (either due to the
gusty breezes or the frequent ventilation grates).
That is precisely "what happens" in this Edison film.
At the Foot of the Flatiron (1 min., 1903)
here is an American Mutoscope and Biograph clip of another very windy day at the
foot of the Fuller Building. Nicknamed the "Flatiron," this twenty-one story
building was the tallest in Manhattan at the time. Again, this film was also shot on twenty-third street, near
New York City “Ghetto” Fish Market (2 min., 1903)
Edison production shows is a scene from the Lower East Side district of New York
City. This single-shot film
captures the activity at an open-air fish market as the locals wander about
purchasing fish from the street vendors.
From Leadville to Aspen, a Hold-Up in the Rockies (8 min., 1906)
Biograph film is an early example of the "phantom ride," a genre whose
descendant, the simulation ride, can now be found in many amusement parks
nationwide. In the film's original
presentation, "passengers" would enter a theater designed to resemble
a train passenger car, complete with a conductor. The film itself would be shown at the front (usually through
"passenger car" would be gently rocked, with the recorded sound of a
moving locomotive being piped into the theater.
Thus, there would be an illusion of an actual joyride on real train.
Leadville to Aspen,
directed by Edwin S. Porter, was part of the popular Hale's
Tours simulation series. This
particular episode is comprised of countryside travelogue scenery as might be
viewed from the front of a moving train. The
shots are lengthy, using extremely long takes, such that the film only has five
total shots. The travelogue portion
begins the film, and a robbery portion concludes the film, alluding to Porter's
own famous The Great Train Robbery,
which preceded this film by three years.
Hale's Tours film doesn't quite offer
the same thrills as riding space shuttle or roller-coaster simulations, but it
is clearly a precursor to those attraction rides.
The "Teddy" Bears (13 min., 1907)
audiences back in the day were arguably more sophisticated than modern audiences
and were frequently expected to bring an awareness of current social, cultural,
and political events to the viewing of films.
To some degree, this is one reason why silent films are occasionally
difficult to follow now - they are being viewed out of their original
sociopolitical context by audiences without the prerequisite foreknowledge.
this extremely old one-reeler, also directed by Edwin S. Porter, the classic
fairy tale "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" is combined with a popular
anecdote about Theodore Roosevelt's 1902 bear encounter.
For anyone not old enough to remember (and that would be about, oh, 100%
of viewers today), President Theodore Roosevelt was presumably on a hunting trip
one day when, coming across a bear cub, he refused to shoot the poor thing.
Word of his charitable mercy spread quickly, and soon, a new toy emerged
that capitalized upon this tale - a cuddly stuffed bear christened the
follows the classic fairy tale storyline as Goldilocks enters a cabin in the
woods belonging to a family of three playful bears.
When she is discovered, the three bears run her out of the cabin and
pursue her through the woods, the film then evolving into a chase (the
"chase" genre was very popular at this time).
They eventually come across a hunter (unidentified but clearly meant to
represent Theodore Roosevelt) who quickly shoots and kills the Papa and Mama
Bear. Baby Bear is chained up and
taken prisoner. Goldilocks leads
the hunter back to the cabin, which they enter and then re-emerge with armfuls
of stuffed teddy bears.
the plot is slight, but the film is interesting more for its social context than
its actual content. There is also
an unusual (and surreally creepy) special effects sequence in which the teddy
bears all dance. This film is
somewhat ironic in nature and is not really a children's film (unjust death or
captivity awaits the bears, after all). Alternatively,
it has been suggested that the film is a political satire that pokes fun at
early U.S. relations with Russia, the "Bear."
Who Labor (13 min., 1912)
that train of thought, the political film was actually more common in the 1910's
than today. Children Who Labor is a good example of a short propaganda film
designed as a cautionary tale pleading for better working conditions and child
labor reforms (the film also alludes to the sexual harassment present at many
by the Edison Manufacturing Company in association with the National Child Labor
Committee, this morality play opens with a picture of Uncle Sam, highlighted by
the words "GREED," as he watches a procession of child laborers
marching into a factory. It is a
not-so-subtle criticism of the U.S. government's inadequate child labor laws at
the time (by one census estimate at the time, around 18% of the work force was
formed by children ages 10-14).
story proper begins when a young girl hops off a train one day unbeknownst to
her mother. When the train starts
to move again, the young girl is inadvertently left behind.
A friendly family of poor laborers from the local factory find her and
kindly take her in. They provide
food, clothing, and shelter for the girl, who goes to work with the children in
an ironic twist of fate, the girl's rich father, Mr. Hanscomb, buys the factory
but fails to spot her during an inspection tour. When the girl is later taken ill and carried to the
immigrants' home, she is briefly seen by her mother, who also doesn't recognize
her daughter. Only when a doctor is
summoned to the immigrants' home at the end of the film is the girl's true
identity discovered. The rich
Hanscombs initially threaten to have the kindly laborers arrested for kidnapping
until their daughter begs for sympathy. The
Hanscombs see the error of their ways, and in the end, conditions are improved
in the Hanscomb factory.
Concerning $1000 (85 sec, 1916)
in films existed long before the arrival of such 1930's Technicolor
extravaganzas as Robin Hood or Gone
with the Wind. As early as the
mid-1910's, experiments were already on-going to develop practical ways of
producing color images on film.
one color was simple, and there were several common ways to do so.
Individual frames could be hand-painted, although this was
labor-intensive. Tinting, in which
the entire film was colored, could be done by dipping the film into dye or later
by using specially-prepared one-color film for a desired shot.
Toning involved a process by
which silver in the film's emulsion was chemically altered so that black
portions of the film became brownish or colored during development (while the
white portions remained white). Sometimes,
a film would use both toning and tinting.
two colors was much trickier. Early processes were additive,
meaning the black & white film image was sent through filters which
"added" color to the original image.
Later subtractive processes
offered better color fidelity, though. In
these processes, a beam of white light was projected through a prism that split
the image through filters. In
either process, the resultant preliminary negatives were usually combined
together such that the final print was a two-color, one-strip film.
next three films, including this one, are examples of early color films using
subtractive processes. Concerning $1000
was meant as an advertising short for a new Kodak camera.
This ad, shown in a short clip here, was remarkable as the first film to
utilize the 2-lens Kodachrome process. The
action was first photographed through two lens which sent the images through a
red filter and a green filter. Both
negative frames were then combined onto a single two-sided emulsion print,
resulting in a very early, if undoubtedly primitive, example of a color film.
In Concerning $1000, the actors have peach-colored flesh tones, flowers
are red, dresses are green or pink, and the furniture is brown.
The film clip starts in an office and ends with a stroll through a flower
Reel of Two-Color Film (4 min., 1929)
technology demonstration of the Brewster two-color process offers clips from a
cartoon, a car commercial, a busy day in New York City, and even a parade.
The Brewster subtractive process here demonstrates its greater color
fidelity over earlier processes but does not quite achieve the crisp hues of the
later, successful three-strip Technicolor process (first introduced in 1932 with
the famous Disney cartoon Flowers and
Trees). Nevertheless, this was
a state-of-the-art demonstration for its time and an extremely rare opportunity
to see color documentary footage of early Americana.
Flute of Krishna (7 min., 1926)
last of this trilogy of color films is the best - the earliest known example of
a dance film choreographed by Martha Graham (the famed dancer herself does not
appear although her students do). The
Flute of Krishna presents an encounter between the mythical Indian god
Krishna and three alluring maidens. The
blue-skinned god is seen cavorting with the Indian maidens in a sensual dance
heavily influenced by orientalism. Then,
Krishna's most devoted lover, Radha, arrives, and the second half of the film is
devoted to her seduction of Krishna.
Flute of Krishna
makes good use of the Kodak color process, with a mostly muted blue-green color
palette. While the colors can
hardly be proclaimed as natural in appearance, they are still remarkable to see
in such an early film. The original
film score has been lost, but a new traditional Indian music score has been
commissioned and works extremely well with the choreography, making this short
film one of the brightest gems in this DVD collection.
Blossom (12 min., 1921)
is technically a lost film. That we
are able to view any of it at all now should be considered a small blessing in
itself, although the film is still quite incomplete.
The original film consisted of seven reels, of which only the fifth reel,
presented here, remains. This film
is also noteworthy for being one of the few remaining examples of a
co-production between Chinese and American companies.
story of Lotus Blossom, drawn from
Chinese legends, concerns the creation of a sacred bell.
The previous bell has been broken, and the Ming Dynasty Emperor has
commissioned a new bell. Meanwhile, Mongolian Tartars have begun to besiege the
kingdom. The film's fifth reel
picks up the story as a young man (the lover of the film's central heroine, Moy
Tai) successfully assassinates a Tartar chieftain.
Moy Tai herself goes in search of an imprisoned inventor who knows the
secret of crafting the sacred bell. The
reel ends soon after she meets with the inventor.
the film would have continued with the revelation that only virgin flesh could
properly fix the metal during the casting process for the bell.
Moy Tai would ultimately sacrifice herself by leaping into a cauldron of
molten metal, saving the honor of the kingdom.
The new sacred bell's deep intonation would thereafter always ring with
the sound of Moy Tai's name.
no other reels of The Lotus Blossom
are known to exist, viewers now can only speculate on how the film might have
looked. Reviews from the era
suggest that the film, although independently produced, possessed very solid
production values and was unusual for its large Asian cast and its generally
positive attitude towards Asian culture (keep in mind that Asians in American
films of the silent era were generally depicted as opium dealers or Fu
surviving reel of The Lotus Blossom
also boasts gloriously tinted images and intertitle cards with both English and
Visser and His Singing Duck (90 sec, 1925)
is a weird one. Visser owns a duck
that "sings" along with him. The
duck doesn't actually sing but rather quacks on cue during Visser's vaudeville
act. This very short Theodore Case
sound film is remarkable as an early demonstration of sound technology, even if
the sound quality is admittedly very high-pitched and scratchy (plus, the song
of the Wolves (74 min., 1925)
universal appeal of the most famous film stars during the silent era far
eclipses that of modern movie stars. It
is hard to appreciate the celebrity magnitude of such stars as Douglas Fairbanks
or Mary Pickford today. Some of the
most beloved stars were not necessarily human, either.
Language was obviously not much of a barrier in films of the silent era.
were many silent animal stars, none more celebrated than the original Rin-Tin-Tin.
Born around 1918 and discovered within a bombed-out shelter in the final
days of WWI, Rin-Tin-Tin was the sole surviving pup of a brood of eight. The soldier who rescued the pup named him after a popular
French good-luck doll at the time. He
quickly discovered his pet's remarkably physical agility, and movie studios
would soon recognized it, too, after Rin-Tin-Tin's record-breaking eleven-foot
jump in a 1922 dog show. Warner
Brothers signed Rin-Tin-Tin to a film contract, and for the next decade, this
German shepherd would rule the cinema as the most beloved animal star of the
day. At one point, he even had his
own radio show!
of the Wolves
is a real treat from Warner Brothers and finds the canine star near the height
of his popularity. Rin-Tin-Tin is
cast as Lobo, the renegade half-breed leader of a pack of wild wolves in the
Wild West. A forest fire forces the
pack from its wooded shelter, and they settle in the open prairie lands and
deserts of the Old Wild West. Unfortunately,
cowboys and fortune-seekers are already in the region, and Lobo is soon caught
in a desperate struggle between providing for his pack and fending off the
cowboys eager to claim his pelt for a rich bounty.
When Lobo is eventually injured falling upon a cactus, a friendly cowboy
takes him in and nurtures him back to health.
Lobo thus becomes his faithful companion and later returns the favor by
saving the cowboy and his sweetheart from the greedy clutches of a local
villain, who is out to steal the cowboy's territorial claim on borax.
of the Wolves
is an action film through and through. It
is heavy on the chase sequences and also features many spectacular leaps,
fights, and demonstrations of Rin-Tin-Tin's physical agility.
Some of the comic scenes, mostly involving the human performers, seem
trite and sweetly inconsequential today, but when Rin-Tin-Tin is on the screen, Clash
of the Wolves truly soars.
have been very few Rin-Tin-Tin films, if any at all, available for home
screening. Clash of the Wolves may well be the first.
If so, let's hope that more vintage films with this classic animal star
find their way to home video!
TRIVIA: According to legend, the retired Rin-Tin-Tin, in his final moments of
life, was comforted in the arms of glamour star Jean Harlow.
Not a bad way to go!
International Newsreel (13 min., 1926)
silent era anthology would be complete without a few Hearst products.
William Randolph Hearst was the omnipresent media mogul of his day and
certainly one of the most influential men in America.
In addition to his newspapers, Hearst's media conglomerate produced
movies, cartoons, and newsreels as well. When
newsreels first began appearing in 1911 with the introduction of Pathé's
Hearst was soon to follow with the Hearst-Selig News Pictorial. This
Hearst newsreel would actually persist under various names, including International
Newsreel, until 1967. One
tinted episode from Hearst's International
Newsreel is provided here.
the contemporary topics of the day, this episode (volume 8, issue 97) looks at
sporting events, college bonfires, floods in England and Wales, and other human
interest stories. Of note is
coverage of the third annual Macy's parade and quick glimpses of Mussolini, not
far removed from a recent assassination attempt on his life.
Most spectacularly, this newsreel concludes with a war game exercise
involving many British tanks.
Now You’re Talking (9 min., 1927)
to any such suggestions by the title, this is actually a silent film.
Funded by American Telephone and Telegraph, Now
You're Talking is an early example of a public service announcement, in this
case providing instructions to the general public on the proper etiquette for
the use of telephones. While this
may seem an unusually obvious topic, consider that telephones were still
relatively new at the time. An
analogous situation today would be the proper etiquette on using cell phones in
public locations, such as restaurants or movie theaters.
the silent era, telephones were leased out by AT&T rather than privately
owned. Since the telephones were
AT&T property, it behooved the company to make sure its telephones were not
abused (thereby cutting down on maintenance).
This instructional film, an early animated effort from Max Fleischer's
Inkwell Studios, offers guidelines on how to hang up the phone properly, how to
avoid physically abusing the phone as an outlet for job stress, how to protect
the phone from the elements or wear and tear, and how to communicate with live
operators to place calls (particularly important, as many phones at the time did
not have dials).
There It Is (19 min., 1928)
all silent comedy was slapstick (à la Keystone) or pathos (à la Charlie
Chaplin). There It Is, a comedy by Charley Bowers, is a celebration of the
Theater of the Absurd. The Bowers
comedies were frequently unpredictable and bizarre, bending the laws of physics
and logic in their absurdist plots. There
It Is offers Bowers as a Scotland Yard sleuth, complete with a bug,
MacGregor, as a sidekick. Bowers is
called to investigate an American household that has suddenly become haunted by
a "fuzz-face phantom." The film chronicles the non-stop madcap chase
through corridors and walls of the haunted mansion as one by one characters all
seem to disappear. The film
concludes when the true identity of the phantom is revealed (in a twist
reminiscent of the ending to The Cabinet
of Dr. Caligari, an expressionist classic).
Bowers remains relatively obscure today, but his comedy was most akin to that of
the Great Stoneface, Buster Keaton. With
comedians like Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd moving onto feature films by the
mid-1920's, the niche of the one-reel comedy shorts was filled by comedians such
as Charley Bowers who were not afraid to experiment outlandishly.
A Bronx Morning (11 min., 1931)
Two concludes with an experimental film by a young Jay Leyda, later an
accomplished film historian. A
Bronx Morning showcases shots of everyday life in the Bronx taken by Leyda
in his first attempt at filmmaking. It
is also a documentation of the early effects of the Depression on urban America.
Like Skyscraper Symphony, this
film contains some dynamically-composed shots of the local architecture, but it
focuses more on the people themselves and their activities.
Rip Van Winkle (4 min., 1896)
Three opens with Rip Van Winkle.
This film was actually a collection of eight linked early American
Mutoscope films, directed by W.K.L. Dickson, highlighting the adventures of Rip
Van Winkle. The films starred
Joseph Jefferson, at the time the world's most successful actor, who early in
his career had even performed in the fateful theater play Our
American Cousin. His greatest
claim to fame, however, arose with an 1865 stage adaptation of Washington
Irving's famous tale "Rip Van Winkle."
For decades afterwards, Jefferson would be completely identified with the
lead character, his signature role and one which he was to perform even into the
Mutoscope films are selections of eight short scenes from the stage play that
have been re-enacted outdoors via pantomime.
As the films open, Van Winkle is seen drinking in the mountains and
encountering a dwarf carrying a heavy load.
Van Winkle assists the dwarf, who leads Van Winkle to a group of other
demonic dwarves. They trick Van
Winkle, giving him a strange brew which causes him to collapse into a
twenty-year sleep. The films end
with Van Winkle awakening, an old and feeble man.
is significant not only as a record of early film history but also as a rare
opportunity to see one of the leading stage performers of the nineteenth
century. The story itself was so
popular that at least eight further adaptations were made before 1915, making
Washington Irving's tale one of the most adapted works to film (second only to
the Bible) during the silent era.
Mutoscope films survive today as 35mm paper prints, the source of this transfer.
While only a combined four minutes in length, Rip
Van Winkle was an epic, relatively speaking, for its time.
Mr. Edison at Work in His Chemical Laboratory (30 sec, 1897)
short clip employs the Edison Kinetoscope to record the famous inventor mixing
chemical reagents in his lab. For a nineteenth century film, this clip is in quite good
condition and is remarkable for presenting a very rare motion picture of Edison
actuality, for this film, Edison was photographed outside in a mock laboratory
using natural sunlight, as electric lighting technology had not yet advanced
enough to allow for indoor cinematography.
Life of an American Fireman (6 min., 1903)
Life of an American Fireman
was an important film by Edwin S. Porter and is considered one of the first
films to tell a story using multiple shots, early editing, and even a close-up.
This Edison Manufacturing Company film combined indoor and outdoor
footage with some special effects (double exposure).
"fire" film was a genre in itself during cinema's early years.
Burning buildings, women and children in peril, heroic rescues - such
were the common building blocks for these films.
Porter's innovative contribution was an early editing style that devised
a new way to telling a familiar story.
film opens with an alarm at the fire station.
The firefighters assemble and gear up their horse-drawn fire trucks.
Then, the race is on to save a burning house, where a woman and child are
in peril from their second-story room. Both
are rescued and the fire is combated successfully.
this film today is not in great condition, with very scratchy emulsion, a shaky
frame, and copious amounts of film stock degradation.
While the story is certainly nothing extraordinary, the film's early
display of sequential story-telling is quite noteworthy.
It is also an early example of a docu-drama, combining real footage with
new audio track includes "Fireman's Quick March," and an old, vintage
song, too, "The Fireman's Call" (1837).
Films from the Westinghouse
Works Series (6 min., 1904)
1896, American Mutoscope had recognized the projector system as the future of
film exhibition and had developed its own projector, the Biograph.
The company would eventually alter its name to reflect this new
technology. In 1903, the company
used the Biograph to create some thirty films for the National Cash Register
movies generally existed less as story-telling devices than as documentaries or
industrial promotional films. The
Biograph industrial films caught the attention of the Westinghouse Electric and
Manufacturing Company, which subsequently contracted American Mutoscope and
Biograph to create a series of twenty-nine short industrial
"actualities" promoting its manufacturing sites.
The three short films included on this disc focus on a huge Westinghouse
site completed in 1895 in East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, supposedly the largest
in the world at the time. Shot by
Billy Bitzer, D.W. Griffith's long-standing cameraman, these films were
exhibited at the Westinghouse pavilion in the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair and
became fairly popular internationally.
is Panoramic View, Aisle B, a
two-minute spectacular crane shot. Floating along far above the factory floor, the camera peers
downwards on the workers and their gigantic generators, converters, and other
machineries while gliding from one end of the factory to the other a
second film, Girls Winding Armatures,
is a stationary shot of female factory workers affixing copper wires to electric
motors. This film demonstrates the
gender division within these early factories as well as an early usage of
interior lighting for cinematography (probably from new mercury vapor tubes).
The third, untitled film is also a stationary shot, this time of
thousands of cheerful workers leaving a factory at the end of the day.
musical accompaniment for these films is derived from period pieces - "The
Gladiator" (J.P. Sousa), "The Wanderbilder suite" (Adolf Jensen),
and "Sam Fox Moving Picture Music" (J.S. Zamecnik).
Falling Leaves (12 min., 1912)
the last leaf falls, she will have passed away."
and prominent women directors, like Jane Campion or Sofia Coppola, are hardly a
new phenomenon in cinema. From the
very start, there were female film directors, none more prolific or talented
than Alice Guy Blaché. Born in France in 1873, by the mid-1890's Blaché was already
directing films for the Gaumont studios. During
this time, she also created at least one hundred sound-on-cylinder "phonoscènes."
In 1910, after immigrating to the United States, Blaché started the
Solax Company, for which she would direct many of the company's 120 films until
its dissolution in 1914. Overall,
Blaché made almost one thousand films, a staggering number by any standard.
remains one of the few surviving films by Blaché. Loosely based on
the 1907 O. Henry story "The Last Leaf," this melodrama about
redemption demonstrated Blaché's gentle and lyrical approach, which emphasized
subtle acting over histrionic gesturings and stylistic editing.
Blaché's reminder to her actors, as printed upon a sign in her office,
was simply: "Be Natural."
opens with a scene of Dr. Earl Headley, a bacteriologist, proclaiming his
invention of a serum that could cure consumption (or tuberculosis), then the
leading cause of death in the United States.
The film then shifts to a docile scene between a young girl, Trixie, and
her loving sister. When the sister
starts to develop coughing fits, a doctor is summoned and delivers the grave
news to the family, "When the last leaf falls, she will have passed
a touching sequence, Trixie, overhearing the news, later goes into her front
yard and begins stringing up the fallen leaves back onto their tree.
She meets a passing Dr. Headley who, learning of her sister's malady,
offers his assistance. Dr. Headley
injects his miracle medication into the ill sister, and three months later, she
is clearly better and on the path to full recovery.
its initial release, this film did encounter some difficulties with the
newly-formed National Board of Censorship. The Board complained about the health concerns over the
depiction of a tubercular patient cuddling with her sister. Nevertheless, Fallen
Leaves remains a fine example of Blaché's
artistic directorial style and even featured the "Shirley Temple" of
the day, Magda Foy, who was often simply known as the "Solax kid."
accompaniment for the film includes excerpts from the second movement of
Beethoven's Pathétique sonata, La
Cinquantaine by Gabriel-Marie, and Chopin's melancholy Prelude
in E minor.
Teaser trailer for Hands
Up (7 min., 1918)
all movie trailers are meant for public viewing.
Some, such as this Hollywood exhibitor reel for the Hands
Up serial, were meant to persuade theater owners to book their films. Hands Up was a
western serial by Cyclonic and remains a lost serial today. It starred Ruth Roland, one of the queens of the serials who appeared in hundreds
of short subjects and serials until 1923, when she retired.
Hands Up was to be a
fifteen-episode Pathé production, although due to the influenza epidemic that
arose during this time period (effectively scaring audiences away from movie
houses in droves), it is doubtful whether all the episodes were ever completed.
reel introduces the various western heroes (cowboys, of course) and villains
(Incas, for a change) of the film. Some
stunts from the film, such as horse chases, escapes from Incan traps, and rescue
sequences, are shown, including the prerequisite heroine-in-peril scenes.
To further entice theater owners, the reel shows some of the picturesque
nature shots used in the film, various sets (from the throne room to the
sacrificial chamber), and a wealth of promotional artwork that would come with
the film (including one-sheets, lobby photos, and title cards).
TRIVIA: The exhibitor reel for Hands
Up was re-discovered buried under the former home of Ruth Roland, along with
some of her other films and serials.
Newsreel footage from the production of Greed (4 min., 1924)
von Stroheim's masterpiece Greed is one of the legendary films of the silent era.
It is not a lost film but, surviving only in a severely butchered form
due to studio interference, it might as well be.
Nevertheless, even in its truncated form, Greed
remains a towering achievement in cinematic history and was once numbered among
the ten greatest films ever made.
any new footage from the film will always be cherished by film enthusiasts.
The newsreel footage, by C-V News, contained on this disc offers a
behind-the-scenes look at the making of this classic film.
It focuses mainly on the crew but also quick glimpses of Von Stroheim and
some of his actors from afar.
News documents the shooting of Greed's finale in Death Valley.
The location shoot was ninety miles from the nearest significant
settlement and could only be reached by horseback and pack animals.
The shoot occurred during the summer in August, when ground temperatures
easily reached over 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
Dehydration and sunstrokes were obviously very real concerns, but such
were the sacrifices one made for the sake of art!
newsreel is untinted and possibly incomplete, with signs of early decomposition.
It is highly unusual, however, for its behind-the-scene footage which,
while common today, was quite rare during the silent era.
"The Movie-Lovers' Contest" (3 min., 1926)
participation in movie halls was encouraged through a number of ways, including
contests such as this one. This particular contest, organized by the Daily Mirror with
Photoplay Magazine, offered a total of $10,000 in prize money.
Unfortunately, audiences had to see all forty "photoplaylets"
in the contest to solve the series of riddles.
This particular clip, the fourth in the contest, shows a swash-buckling
sequence from a film about Henry the VIII; it asks for the film's name and
identity of the female lead.
answer is not obviously not provided, but for the inquisitive, the film is the
1922 Cosmopolitan picture When Knighthood
Was in Flower, a Marion Davies starring vehicle.
No need to send in any replies - the contest is long over.
A Few Moments With Eddie Cantor (7 min., 1923)
talk briefly about early sound films. During
the 1920's, Theodore Case and Lee de Forest were at the vanguard of film sound
technology. Both men even collaborated with one another to develop and
refine the sound-on-film process (earlier sound processes, such as the Edison
Kinetophone, had already fallen out of favor by this time).
An example of a Case sound film can be found on disc two of this DVD set,
while the next two selections are examples of the Phonofilm, a synchronized
sound-on-film process developed by de Forest.
By all accounts, the de Forest process achieved perfect synchronization,
but early theater sound systems were essentially non-existent or of such
rudimentary design that sound reproduction was terrible.
Nevertheless, de Forest created one thousand sound shorts, capturing the
essence of the American vaudeville stage.
first de Forest film here features Eddie Cantor, the famous vaudevillian of the
Ziegfeld Follies. Cantor stands
upon an empty stage and addresses an unseen audience.
He performs a stand-up routine act, tossing about some flat jokes and a
limerick before singing a couple of goofy but funny songs -"The Dumber They
Come, the Better I Like 'Em" (from his stage hit Kid
Boots) and "Oh Gee Georgy" (a Cantor signature tune).
Cantor displays the self-deprecating ethnic humor and vibrant on-stage
charisma that had made him such a star (sadly, this energy was seldom captured
in his later sound films). About
the only thing Cantor doesn't do is perform his trademark rolling "banjo
audio quality of this film is obviously quite primitive.
The sound is scratchy and hollow, and Cantor's voice sounds quite buzzy
and muffled sound. Nevertheless, his unmistakable vocal style comes through.
A Few Moments with President Calvin Coolidge (4 min., 1924)
Coolidge was famous for his reticence, earning himself the nickname "Cool
Cal." Once, a society lady had
boasted of a wager that she could get more than three words out of him, to which
Coolidge had replied, "You lose."
this second de Forest sound film is unusual not only because it is the first
talking newsreel of a President but also because it presents an unusually
talkative Coolidge. Filmed in
August 1924 before the national elections, this newsreel shows Coolidge giving a
speech outdoors. Coolidge drones on
in a dull monotone while reading from notes in his hands.
The speech covers taxation and a need to cut down on public expenditures.
It is about as dry as can be expected.
Inklings (6 min., 1925)
cartoon was part of a Dave Fleischer series of which only three have survived.
Dave Fleischer was the brother of the famous animator Max Fleischer, and
this series represented one of Dave's independent endeavors at Inkwell Studio.
This particular cartoon was the twelfth in the series.
starts off by asking audiences to identify various hand-drawn images, such as
Rin-Tin-Tin. Then, it presents a
series of before-and-after drawing of faces and some upside-down pictures, too.
The film closes out with a very clever sequence involving cut-out art of
a house, a farmer, and other objects from "the house that Jack built." Much of this visual inventiveness is accompanied by whimsical
new score is an homage of sorts by Fred Steiner, known for his Perry Mason and
Rocky & Bullwinkle scores. Steiner's
father had worked on the original Max Fleischer cartoons Popeye and Betty Boop!
Lady Windermere’s Fan (89 min., 1925)
of the towering geniuses in all of cinema, silent or otherwise, was Ernst
Lubitsch. The son of a German
tailor, the young Lubitsch honed his comic craft upon the German cabaret and
music hall scene before gravitating towards the cinema in the 1910's.
By the end of the decade, with a string of non-stop hits such as 1918's The
Eyes of the Mummy (starring Pola Negri), 1919's The
Oyster Princess (a satire of American mannerisms) and Madame Du Barry, and 1920's Anna
Boleyn, Lubitsch had rapidly ascended into the elite class of Germany's
premier film directors.
success would continue in America, where Lubitsch further established himself as
one of the greatest pioneers of the art of cinematic narrative. His
mildly ironic directorial wit soon became known as the "Lubitsch
Touch." Through impeccable
timing and a great economy of shots, Lubitsch was able to compress many ideas
together into a cohesive unison, communicating ideas and emotions through subtle
gestures, careful editing, and confident mise-en-scène.
Lubitsch's films usually satired those great American themes - sex and
often criticized his fellow directors in the silent era for an increasing
over-reliance on intertitles to tell their story. Cinema, to Lubitsch, was a visual medium and as such should
communicate its narrative through its images, not a parade of intertitles.
One of Lubitsch's many silent era triumphs was Lady
Windermere’s Fan, an adaptation of Oscar Wilde's stage play, a
comedy-drama famous for its verbal witticisms.
Lubitsch, not surprisingly, jettisoned nearly the entire text of the
play, yet his film remained a brilliant illustration of his ability to tell a
complex tale even without extensive intertitles.
is a satirical comedy about the frivolity of the British social elite.
The young Lady Windermere is planning an upcoming birthday party.
Unbeknownst to her, Lord Windermere has been contacted by a woman of
leisure just returned from abroad, a Mrs. Erlynne, who offers proof that she is
Lady Windermere's long-presumed dead mother.
To be the daughter of such a woman would be utterly scandalous, so Lord
Windermere presents Mrs. Erlynne with a check of a not-inconsiderable sum in
return for her silence.
Erlynne is not actually a wicked person, rather a desperate one whose reputation
has been stained by the improprieties of her impulsive youth.
She hopes that an invitation to Lady Windermere's upcoming party will
restore her to society's good graces and will allow her to honorably marry a
gentleman who has begun courting her.
plot thickens when Lady Windermere's admirer, a Lord Darlington, reveals to her
that he suspects infidelity on the part of her husband.
Lord Darlington's agenda, of course, is to steal away Lady Windermere's
affections from her husband, and when Lady Windermere discovers the receipt for
Mrs. Erlynne's payment, her doubts are seemingly confirmed.
Lady Windermere threatens to strike Mrs. Erlynne with her fan, a birthday
gift from her innocent husband, should that woman of ill repute appear at the
Mrs. Erlynne does appear, and Lady
Windermere, despondent over her husband's apparent lack of fidelity, runs away
to Lord Darlington's flat. The film
concludes when Mrs. Erlynne, wishing to protect her own unknowing daughter from
the same mistakes she made in her youth, pursues Lady Windermere and averts the
potential scandal. Mother and
daughter (still unawares of their true kinship) part on good terms, and all's
well that ends well.
is the brightest gem in this entire DVD collection and is presented in a print
that possesses good clarity and contrast levels with minimal wash-out.
For a silent film, it is in fine condition!
Lady Windermere’s Fan is
truly a classic of the silent era and a wonderful demonstration of the
"Lubitsch Touch," from which directors today are still
Cockeyed: Gems from the Memories of a Nutty Cameraman (3 min.,
avant-garde short film is a random collection of effect gags, mostly created
in-camera or with an optical/projection printer using
Some of the unusual shots, which manipulate city scenes from New York
City, include the city rising out of sea, a man eating a light bulb, a waterfall
on the Hudson River, and various shots of trains, bi-planes, and automobiles,
not to mention parades, too. This
tinted film was one of several Pathé Review
"Mystery Pictures" created by Alvin Knechtel, a special effects
The prologue from The
Passaic Textile Strike (18 min., 1926)
January 25, 1926, thousands of textile workers across New Jersey began a
year-long strike in protest of wage cuts and inhumane working conditions in the
wool mills. Extensively covered in
the media at the time, the strike, funded in part by the International Workers'
Aid and the American Communist Party, led to the creation of a union uniting the
sixteen thousand workers together in a common voice against work site
seven reels in length, The Passaic Textile Strike opened with a fictional docu-drama
prologue that illustrated the working conditions, while the rest of the film
offered documentary footage of the strike and congressional hearings.
Today, five reels still survived, and the first reel, the prologue, is
prologue is a short tale of the Breznac family as it falls in ever deepening
despair due to poverty. Young
Stefan Breznac, a Polish factory worker, bring his sweetheart Kada to America.
They raise a family together over the years in New York City but must
live in a small, crowded apartment. Bad
news arrives when Stefan's factory begins to issue unfair wage cuts. Stefan's oldest daughter Vera, fourteen years of age, is
forced to drop out of school to help support the family. Vera's new boss soon makes sexual advances towards the young
girl, even though he is married; when he grows tired of her, he fires her.
tries to compensate for his lower wages by working even longer hours.
He goes against a doctor's advice and eventually collapses. When he dies
from sheer exhaustion, the other workers decide to act against the slave labor
in the factory and form a union. The
prologue ends when Kada herself must begin night shifts at the textile mill to
some melodramatic elements in the prologue, many of the hardships were factual.
Sexual abuse in the workplace was common, and workers were often
underpaid and poorly treated. The
Passaic Textile Strike helped to raise public awareness of the workers'
plight. The year-long strike
eventually ended with some concessions from both sides.
Tramp, Tramp, Tramp (The
Boys Are Marching) (4 min., 1926)
very earliest movie theaters were actually vaudeville theaters.
Often, the live acts were followed by motion picture exhibitions,
although by the 1920's, vaudeville had been supplanted by movies.
In the early days, though, most vaudeville theaters or nickelodeons only
had one motion picture projector, so the time required to change between reels
was pre-occupied with song slides. These
were frequently led by live singers on the stage who would encourage a
sing-along with the audience.
this early tradition, the sing-along cartoon was developed in the 1920's.
The Fleischer brothers (Max and Dave) first introduced the "Oh,
Mabel" sing-along cartoon in 1924 to an enthusiastic reception.
Forty more such cartoons soon followed, each featuring Ko-Ko the Clown,
an Inkwell character who was second in popularity among cartoon characters only
to Felix the Cat. In each
sing-along, Ko-Ko and his clown band would lead audiences via the now-familiar
bouncing white ball (at first animated, but later ingeniously photographed as a
white disk on a black, unseen string or stick).
Several of these sing-alongs were released as de Forest Phonofilms, but
most were silent and relied upon audience participation and familiarity with the
the selection included on this disc, animator Max Fleischer uses a bouncing-ball
to entice audiences to join the Ko-Ko Glee Klub in singing the Civil War battle
anthem "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp." The
ball is eventually replaced by animated clowns dancing over the words.
musical accompaniment on this DVD for Tramp!
Tramp! Tramp!, featuring vocals and a piano and horn quartet, emulates the
atmosphere as might have existed at one such sing-along.
Fieldwork footage from the rural southern United States (7 min.,
anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston, before she became a noteworthy novelist, used
the loan of a camera to photograph fifteen reels of film preserving the heritage
of southern African-American culture. Of
these reels, only nine are known to have survived and contain black & white,
occasionally grainy footage capturing children at play, a baptism in a river, a logging camp, and footage of
octogenarian Cudjo Lewis, the final survivor from The Clotilde, the last arriving slave ship to America (in 1859).
No intertitles are presented with these clips, although the musical
accompaniment is comprised of spirituals and bluegrass music.
patron was Charlotte Osgood Mason, a rich supporter of the
Harlem Renaissance art movement. Mason
provided Hurston with travel expenses and the 16mm camera to capture her
evocative documentary footage. Although
the footage photographed by Hurston was to be spliced together into a
documentary, this never occurred.
Trailers from six presumed lost films
Program Three concludes with a bittersweet note that touches upon a sad truth
about cinema's early years. Despite
a richness of diversity and output over cinema's first formulative decades, over
ninety percent of these films are lost forever. Trace glimpses of these films, either through stills or
trailers or a few seconds of scattered footage, are too frequently all that
remain of these films, if anything remains at all.
list of lost masterpieces over time extends like a sad parade of ghostly
memories - 4 Devils (by F.W. Murnau), The
Sea Gull (by Joseph von Sternberg and Charlie Chaplin), London
After Midnight (a Lon Chaney film), or Cleopatra
(a Theda Bara film), just to name a few famous ones.
for six presumed lost films are included here as a reminder of the importance of
preserving our cinematic heritage. Those
films which still remain must not be allowed to vanish as well:
the Days of Daniel Boone (1923) - This red-tinted trailer shows a lot of
battle scenes involving Indians and Redcoats.
The original film was a fifteen-chapter serial.
Silent Flyer (1926) - Rin-Tin-Tin was not the only dog star of the silent
era. Silver Streak was another dog
star. This red-tinted trailer shows
clips from one of his lost films, including a sled dog chase across ice and
American Venus (1926) - This Paramount film starred the then-current Miss
America among a cast of other Atlantic City bathing beauties.
The silent era beauty Louise Brooks also appeared in the lost film.
This trailer is toned and very briefly shows a glimpse of the two-color
Great Gatsby (1926) - This lost film was the first adaptation of the famous
novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Again,
there are more bathing beauties here, including Georgia Hale (The Gold Rush).
Sabreur (1928) - This lost melodrama starred a young Gary Cooper with Norah
Beery. Drawing upon the popularity
of Beau Geste, this trailer features
cavalry charges and sabre fights.
Patriot (1928) - Another lost Paramount film, this Academy Award-winning
costume drama was directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starred Emil Jannings.
The epic story concerned a man who had killed his former best friend to
save the nation. The film featured early sound effects with a Russian musical
score, huge sets, and a large supporting cast.
is utterly unfathomable to me how an Academy Award-winning film, with such
enthusiastic reviews in its initial release, can have joined the ranks of lost
films! But The Patriot is truly a lost film, the only remnants of what must
once have been a majestic epic being this trailer, the complete original musical
score (held today in the Library of Congress), and a short six-minute fragment
of the film discovered in Portugal in 2001.
is a perfect illustration of the importance of film preservation.
More than mere entertainment, from actualities to advertisements to
technology exhibitions, all the films on these three discs represent a captured
look at our history and culture. The
cinema is as much a window into the essence of human experience as is any
portrait or sound recording. The
wonderful audio-video accessories which we take for granted today would not have
been possible without the incalculable knowledge acquired from the lessons of
the early cinema. More than to
ourselves but to future generations, we must be responsible for preserving these
records of our past before they too crumple away with time.
of these films, despite their age and the limitation of their technology, remain
stirring and are still quite capable of captivating audiences through their
visual storytelling. Even the
documentaries help to remind us of our nation's diverse heritage and history.
The value of these films is not simply in their individual merit but in
their overall collective significance, a true example of the whole being greater
than the sum of its parts.
Treasures from American Film Archives 1894-1931 would be considered one of the most important releases of any calendar
year. Made possible in part by a
grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, this is surely a dream for
silent film enthusiasts. Furthermore,
proceeds from the sales of this DVD set will support ongoing work in film
preservation and restoration at our American archives, and that is as noble a
goal as any in cinema today.
digital restoration is exemplary, but the final image quality is clearly limited
by the extreme age and rarity of these films. The films have been mastered from the best surviving source
material. Nevertheless, most have
scratch marks, tears, and signs of nitrate decomposition.
Flicker is slight but occasionally present.
Some entries are grainy and fairly contrasty with muddy details, while
others are relatively clear with more exact details.
Again, the flaws in the video presentation come from the source material,
not the transfer process, which is quite good and exhibits no compression
source prints for these films vary from paper prints and 16mm prints to 35mm
nitrate prints, which naturally will have greater levels of detail and clarity.
While the vast majority of these films are in black & white, there
are a few exhibiting early color techniques.
films were copied at variable frame rates from 16-30 fps (today, the standard is
24fps), with meticulous efforts to show the films at their proper projection
speed. The films are also shown
full-frame, although not necessarily at the familiar 1:33.1 aspect ratio, as a
fixed standard for frame rate and aspect ratio did not yet exist in the early
years of cinema. As a result, some
films are shown with black borders at the top and bottom (or even on all four
sides!) in order to present the entire frame without cropping.
to popular belief, Al Jolson was not the first person to speak in the movies.
He merely popularized the "talkie."
This few sound films in this collection demonstrate extremely early sound
techniques, so the audio quality is understandably limited, with a frequently
reedy and scratchy quality and poor fidelity to natural sound.
The de Forest sound films, originally projected at 21 fps, required
tricky restoration to permit these films to be played properly on modern
equipment without distorting the sound.
audio quality improves significantly with the musical accompaniments, all
recorded for this collection using contemporary equipment.
The new music was curated by Martin Marks and includes new music scores
from composers Peter Child, Mark Harvey, Brian Robinson, Charles Shadle, and
original audio tracks, when available, are presented in two-track mono.
All new music is presented in two-track stereo.
six of the major American film archives contribute to the creation of one DVD
boxed set, viewers can be assured that the commentaries provided by these film
archivists and historians will be the authoritative word for many of these rare
DVD is loaded with text extras. Each
film includes an "About the Film" section, curated by Scott Simmon,
which supplies pages after endless pages describing each film in great detail,
covering everything from its early history, its production and the techniques or
equipment used, its significance in history, its preservation, further
references or interesting reading materials, and much more!
While these pages contain only text accompanied by some still footage,
the wealth of information they contain is quite overwhelming and of greater
merit than any typical "making-of" featurette.
Almost anything that a viewer might want to know about the films can be
found within these text notes.
pity the poor composer, too! Most
of us are probably dismissive of silent film scores, and I doubt that much
attention is given by audiences to any research or careful synchronization done
by the belabored pianist (with occasional string, horn, or vocal accompaniment).
Thus, Martin Marks, as musical curator of this DVD collection, must
surely have appreciated the opportunity to discuss every
single score for all the selections in this set.
Marks goes into great details in his section of the text notes to
elaborate on how certain musical pieces were chosen (or composed) for the film.
those who prefer that old-fashioned style of reading (i.e., from a real book),
The National Film Preservation Foundation has kindly included a whopping
186-page book (not including the prologue and technical notes sections, which
bring the total to 200 pages) that contains all the text (and many screenshots)
from the three DVDs. The book also
organizes the films by the archives which contributed them to this collection.
Each archive is further described, too, and the book lists downloadable
films available at their websites. This
heavy book, with over fifty separate articles, easily contains DAYS of reading
material. It is by far the most
comprehensive and informative book included with any DVD collection this year.
are seventeen commentators on disc for this collection, and several of the
contributors speak on more than one film. Listed
below are the commentators and the films in which they expound upon everything
from the film's cast and story to its significance.
M. Bartell (UCLA Film and Television Archive) talks about the vintage newsreels International
Newsreel and C-V News. Robert Gitt, also of the UCLA Film and Television Archive,
and Randy Haberkamp (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) both
contribute comments on Gretchen the
Greenhorn. Much of the
discussion centers upon the preservation and restoration of the film as well as
biographical information about the two Gish sisters.
Carr (National Film Preservation Board) speaks up from time to time on Lady
Windermere’s Fan, although his comments are generally very few and far
in-between. His remarks tend to
comment upon the subtle nuances in the film that comprise the "Lubitsch
Cherchi Usai (George Eastman House) talks about the three color films in this
collection and Cockeyed, too.
Crafton (University of Notre Dame) is the most prolific commentator and can be
found offering historical insight on The
Breath of a Nation, Greeting by George
Bernard Shaw, Now You're Talking, A Few Moments With Eddie Cantor, A
Few Moments with President Calvin Coolidge, and Tramp!
Tramp! Tramp!. He also lays
some eggs with his amusingly lousy puns for Gus Visser and His Singing Duck
Gunning (University of Chicago), being a D.W. Griffith scholar, is an ideal
commentator for The Country Doctor.
Gunning discusses the narrative techniques used in this film.
He also provides brief comments for the Program Two films Streets
of New York, From Leadville to Aspen,
and The "Teddy" Bears.
Steven Higgins (Museum of Modern Art) discusses early editing on The Life of an American Fireman and early narrative techniques on The Suburbanite.
Gong (University of California, Berkeley) fills in some of the missing storyline
for Lotus Blossom.
Kaplan (University of Southern California), being a Hurston historian, discusses
the novelist's Fieldwork footage and
provides much biographical information about the novelist, too.
Kaplan's colleague Steven J. Ross from the University of Southern
California discusses the labor films Children
Who Labor, Passaic Textile Strike,
and the Westinghouse Works Series.
M. Bean (University of Washington) discusses Fallen Leaves in terms of the actresses involved, the story
synopsis, and Blaché's camera framing and stage setups.
Bean also talks about the serials The
Hazards of Helen and Hands Up and
provides the answer for the "Movie Lovers' Contest."
She also joins Donald Crafton and Tom Gunning in commenting upon the six
trailers at the end of Program Three.
Samuel Brylawski (Library of Congress) offers commentary for The Stenographer’s Friend, discussing the history of the phonograph as a dictation device and its impact upon stenography. He also elucidates the somewhat vague on-screen instructions by the salesman on the usage of the business phonograph. Brylawski's colleague Patrick Loughney (Library of Congress) discusses the Dickson Experimental Sound Film, particularly how the separate portions of the original Kinetophone and the original recording studio were re-assembled to re-construct this film.
Prelinger (National Film Preservation Board) discusses the relevance of
industrial films like De-Light: Making an
Electric Light Bulb.
Elena Pinto Simon (Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture) talks about A Bronx Morning.
Strickland (University of Oregon School of Law) makes good use of his specialty
on Indian law for The Invaders.
Strickland discusses race portrayals and film's depiction of the uneasy
relationship between Indian tribes and the U.S. cavalry.
if all of this weren't enough, there are also three complimentary postcards
included with each disc in this set. Each
postcard offers a screenshot or promotional art from these early films.
an astounding DVD boxed set! For
film students and silent film enthusiasts, More
Treasures from American Film Archives is far and away the most important
release of the year. This boxed set
is an essential addition to any academic film library and may well teach viewers
more about cinematic history than most other DVDs in their
collections...combined! For the
true film enthusiasts out there, this release gets my top recommendation.