TREASURES OF AMERICAN FILM ARCHIVES
Review by Ed Nguyen
William S. Hart, Anna May Wong, John Bunny, Marguerite Clark, Groucho Marx, Anna
Q. Nilsson, Rose Hobart, Marian Anderson
Directors: William S. Hart, D.W. Griffith, Edwin S. Porter, John Huston, W.K.L. Dickson, Joseph Cornell
Audio: Dolby digital 2.0 stereo and monaural
Video: Black & white, color, full-frame
Features: Film notes, comments by Laurence Fishburne, four booklets
Length: 642 minutes
Release Date: May 10, 2005
can only be appreciated when they can be seen."
over one hundred years, the motion picture has served to entertain and delight
generations of fans. From the
earliest scratchy black & white images to the latest bombastic computer
graphics extravaganza, movies have transported viewers away into magical realms
of fancy and imagination, providing us (if only for a few hours) with an escape
from our daily worries and cares. From
the turn of the twentieth-century, when small movie houses slowly replaced the
vaudeville theater as the popular choice for mass entertainment, through the
Great Depression when the great movie halls gave audiences a vestige for hope
for the future, and into the modern-day sprawl of massive multiplexes where the
latest advances in digital and audio technology strive to amaze today's
audiences, the movies have become our primary source of popular entertainment.
those movies which so long ago thrilled our grandparents and great-grandparents
are now in danger of slowly vanishing forever.
Films from the silent era and the early sound era are increasingly
succumbing to the ravages of time and age.
Each successive print or negative that irretrievably deteriorates further
robs us and our future generations of the historic and cultural significance of
the dawn of cinema.
fewer than 20% of American silent-era films survive in complete form.
That number is always decreasing. The
nitrate stock upon which all early films were photographed is not an infinitely
stable medium, and any film printed on this highly-flammable stock remains
susceptible to inevitable decomposition. Nitrate
film disintegrates with time and heat, and our national film archives, the
curators of these treasures from yesteryear, are in a never-ending struggle to
preserve prints of their rare holdings onto sturdier safety stock before the
nitrate originals decompose beyond recovery.
The preservation of our motion picture heritage is thus our archives'
most essential role.
the year 2000, a remarkable DVD collection of fifty films was assembled under
the supervision of the National Film Preservation Foundation and offered to the
public. Proceeds from the sales
were distributed to fund continuing film preservation and restoration efforts.
Released by Image, this collection, Treasures
from American Film Archives, realized many a silent film enthusiast's dreams
and brought public awareness back to some long-forgotten treasures from the
past. A successful follow-up DVD release, More Treasures from American Film Archives 1894-1931, arrived in
late 2004 (after the first set had since gone long out-of-print).
Treasures from American Film Archives has
now been re-issued, thanks to generous donations from the Cecil B. De Mille
Foundation and Sterling Vineyards. This
"Encore Edition" arrives with slightly modified packaging but the same
content. The discs have been
repackaged into four sturdier cases and the program notes have been divided into
booklets which accompany each disc.
set encompasses a diverse collection of valuable films of varying emotional,
sentimental and intellectual significance.
Represented are documentaries, experimental films, short subjects, home
movies, and early examples of the first feature-length films.
Most of these films originate from the silent era, although sound films
are also included. In total, this collection contains over ten hours' worth of
invaluable and irreplaceable film history.
Watching these films may take quite some time but more importantly will
help modern audiences to appreciate the full scope of American cinema.
So, without any further ado, grab some condiments, sit back, relax, and
begin your journey down cinema's memory lane!
Original Movie (8 min., 1922)
films of Treasures from American Film
Archives have been categorized into four separate "programs," each
one filling out an entire DVD. The
first disc, starting off Program One, fittingly opens with a cartoon to whet our
appetites. This animated Tony Sarg
short film takes a comical look at how a hypothetical, prehistoric movie might
have been produced.
Sarg was a premier puppeteer of his day and also the creative mastermind behind
the giant helium-filled balloons now seen regularly at parades (and first at the
1928 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade). Sarg
envisioned such balloons as the penultimate marionettes!
Sarg also dabbled in animation, too, and his
Almanac series was a satiric set of seventeen animated shorts, co-created by
Herbert Dawley, which tracked the origins of various facets of modern society
back to the Stone Age.
remains one of only three Almanac
cartoons still known to exist. It
utilizes a puppetry-like, shadowgraph style of animation to narrate the efforts
of one prehistoric director and one editor to make a short picture. The efforts go awry when the censors demand drastic changes.
The director's vision for the film is thus butchered, and he
understandably flies into a rage, taking out his anger on the poor editor.
Some things never change, but at least today there are "director's
cut" DVDs to compensate for over-zealous rating boards.
Scene (39 sec, 1893)
discussion of the movies would be complete without mention of Thomas Edison.
The earliest years of American cinema were dominated by the Edison
Kinetoscope, invented in the 1890's by Edison and W.K.L. Dickson.
The Kinetoscope utilized a booth system to present the film image through
an eyepiece into which the viewer could look to watch the movie. Many of these films were less than a minute in duration, and
their appeal was mostly limited to penny arcades and parlors.
Scene is an
early example of the Kinetoscope process, shot in Edison's Black Maria studio.
It is historically significant as the first Kinetoscope film shown in
public exhibition. First unveiled
on May 9, 1893, Blacksmith Scene also
remains the earliest surviving complete motion picture.
The simple scenario shows three blacksmiths (actually portrayed by Edison
employees) crafting a tool and later partaking in a cool drink.
Gay Shoe Clerk (73 sec, 1903)
subject of this short Kinetoscope film, made by Edwin S. Porter, is a jovial
shoe store clerk. This dapper
fellow flirts openly with a pretty young woman while fitting a shoe upon her
slender and exposed leg. The young
gal's accompanying chaperone notices the clerk's overly-attentive gestures and
starts to pummel the hapless fellow with her umbrella for his impropriety.
short film displays an early example of film editing, consisting of two shots
cut together into a cohesive storyline. Ironically,
the "young woman" was actually a male Edison employee in drag, giving
this film's title an unintentionally quaint and contemporary twist.
American Beauties (46 sec, 1906)
day at the movie theaters today is vastly different than in the early years of
cinema. Once upon a time, mere
cents at the local movie house would serve up a myriad concoction of cartoons,
short subjects, newsreels, maybe an undercard film to get audiences in the mood
before the actual main attraction itself, and finally a short exit film, too.
is an example of one such exit film (shot by Edwin S. Porter again) designed to
play on the screen while audiences slowly filed out of the theater.
This particular film was color-tinted in a stencil method akin to Pathécolor.
As such, Three American Beauties
is also an early example of film colorization.
The three beauties in question are a red rose, a lady in a yellow dress,
and the red, white, and blue American flag itself.
Nicotine (The Smoke Fairy) (5 min., 1909)
Vitagraph studio, co-founded in 1897 by magician Albert E. Smith and cartoonist
J. Stuard Blackston, was known for its trick-and-effect films.
For some time, the company was even America's top film producer.
Blackston himself made Princess
Nicotine, which uses a mélange of special effects, such as
trick-photography, oversized props, and prepared sets, to create a magical
encounter between a man smoking a cigar and a diminutive dancing fairy who
apparently lives in his cigar box. Princess
Nicotine was the most famous special effects film of its day and remains
surprisingly effective, if rudimentary, even today.
Confederate Ironclad (16 min., 1912)
Civil War was a frequent film topic around the early 1910's, popularized no
doubt by the numerous fifty-year commemorations and memorials of the time.
The Confederate Ironclad was
itself inspired by the historical Civil War clash between two ironclads - the
Union Monitor and the Merrimack
(resurrected by the Confederates as the CSS
one-reeler, made by the Kalem Company, was typical of that movie studio's
productions of the day. It boasts
two strong heroines, a Northern lady spy (Anna Q. Nilsson) who lays the ground
for a Union ambush and the enterprising Southern belle who saves the day.
W. Griffith protégée Miriam Cooper portrays the Southern belle who
conducts a train full of vital munitions through to Confederate troops besieged
by the surprise Union attack. Her
heroism helps to re-supply a Southern ironclad, which subsequently easily
defeats the Union wooden gunboats.
is one of two Kalem films with a surviving piano score, and that original music
can be heard accompanying the film on this DVD.
This exciting film can also be seen as an inspirational predecessor to
Buster Keaton's later silent masterpiece, The
Hinges (64 min., 1916)
needs this town, and it's goin' back, and goin' damn quick."
to what many people may believe, the Golden Age of the Hollywood western did not
coincide with the emergence of actors Roy Rogers and John Wayne or even director
John Ford. Rather, the Golden Age
was a period within the silent era during which thousands of westerns were
produced every year.
of the biggest western legends of the day was William S. Hart, who made his film
debut in the two-reeler His Hour of
Manhood (1914). Already an
veteran stage actor at the time, Hart quickly developed a passionate and
stoically heroic screen presence, eventually appearing in over seventy films en
route to becoming the silver screen's first true cowboy star.
Hell's Hinges, one of Hart's best
films, the actor portrays Blaze Tracy, a tough and not initially nice cowboy.
Living on the extreme fringes of the Wild West, Blaze is but one of many
hardened and wizened men accustomed to fending for themselves and taking the law
into their own hands. In their
frontier town, Hell's Hinges, these cowboys tolerate no lawmen and certainly no
day, a fresh and impressionable city preacher, the Reverend Henley (Jack
Standing), arrives with his devout sister to spread the gospel.
Blaze Tracy and "Silk" Miller (Alfred Hollingsworth) are the
meanest men about, and they decide to run the preacher out of town.
However, when Blaze catches sight of the preacher's comely sister, Faith
(Clara Williams), he suddenly has a change of heart.
While "Silk" attempts to incite chaos during the preacher's
sermons or sends the town's salacious saloon girls to corrupt the holy man,
Blaze surprisingly stands up to defend the reverend and his flock, particularly
the angelic sister. This devout
defiance, borne of sudden romanticism, inevitably leads to a final cataclysmic
showdown between the forces of good and evil with the fate of the entire town at
famous Western can be seen as a story of the supposedly pious, Reverend Henley,
turning to bad and the supposedly unredeemable, Blaze, turning to good.
Produced by the innovative Thomas Ince, Hell's
Hinges helped to revitalize the western and established Ince and Hart as top
talents in the western genre. Ince
expanded the western beyond its one-reeler roots with films like Hell's
Hinges and The Invaders (included
on the More Treasures from American Film
Archives compilation). He also
brought greater depth and authenticity into the characterization of Native
Americans on-screen. Ince and Hart
collaborated on numerous westerns together, and Hart himself actually directed
large portions of Hell's Hinges.
print of Hell's Hinges is mostly
complete. The elaborate original
intertitles have been retained, and significant ports of the film appear to be
either color-toned or color-tinted. The
films of the silent era were made in black & white for the most part,
although various processes existed to add some color to the cinematic images.
A color-toned film had the actual negative processed in such a way as to
give non-white areas a colored hue (while the white regions remained white).
This process differed from color-tinting, in which the entire film was
dyed, altering all portions of the film, white or not.
Fall of the House of Usher (13 min., 1928)
Edgar Allan Poe is the undisputed Master of the Macabre.
His poems and short works have inspired numerous cinematic adaptations,
most famously Vincent Price's AIP films of the 1960's.
The Fall of the House of Usher, a late silent film co-directed by
James Sibley Watson Jr. and Melville Webber, is an amazing if eerily demented
adaptation of one of Poe's more famous works of fiction.
an American avant-garde film, The Fall of
the House of Usher is something of a minor masterpiece.
It represents a high point in the American avant-garde movement of the
1920's, of which there are sadly few surviving examples.
This particular film has clearly been influenced by German expressionism,
particularly The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
(which Watson had seen), and possesses that film's jagged angles and nightmarish
qualities. In addition, there are
wipes, double exposures, subtle camera motions, and other optical tricks which
further accentuate an aura of Gothic madness descending about the house.
The Fall of the House of Usher is one
of the highlights of this DVD set. It
is presented entirely without intertitles (although the famed poet e.e. cummings
had contributed to early script treatises) and centers upon Roderick Usher and
his sick sister, Madeline, who live in a decrepit old castle.
One evening, they are visited by an old friend.
However, Madeline suddenly receives premonitions of her death and soon
dies, her specter seemingly haunting the castle thereafter.
Unspeakable horrors and even a ghastly demise await the men before the
night is through. By the witching
hours of the dark, the castle itself begins to crumble and fall, bringing an end
to the House of Usher.
Footage from Groucho Marx’s Home Movies (2 min., circa 1933)
Brothers fans who are accustomed to seeing Julius "Groucho" Marx with
his customary grease moustache, spectacles, and wild hair may be surprised to
see a relaxed Groucho out of makeup here (and bearing a strong resemblance to
his brother Zeppo). This silent
home movie excerpt portrays the comedian happily mugging for the camera outside
his home with his children and wife. The
full-length reel has twenty minutes of additional footage and is stored at the
Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
Around San Francisco for an Education (90 sec, 1938)
promotional and educational film represents a form of political advertisement,
in this case a plea for the allocation of city funds to build a new junior
college. The film was shown in
local theaters as part of a multimedia campaign just prior to the September 27
elections of 1938 for San Francisco. This
film illustrates the power of the cinema even then to influence the media and
public opinion. Audiences now can
certainly see similarities between this early film and the current trend of
political documentaries in the movie theaters.
Proposition 4, supported by this film, was easily passed, and funds subsequently
were made available for the city's new educational facility, proof that
political advertisement, like it or not, can be quite effective!
Footage from Tevye (17 min., 1939)
cinema flourished in the intervening years between the two World Wars.
Tevye is but one of many such
surviving films in the collection of the National Center for Jewish Film.
Based on Sholem Aleichem's Tevye
der Milhiker (Tevye the Dairyman),
this film follows the daily tribulations of a nineteenth-century Jewish family
living in the Ukraine.
a portion of the complete film is shown on this DVD, but it provides the gist of
the film's storyline. Khave, the
grown daughter of Tevye and his wife Goldi, is in love with a young Christian
man, but she is afraid to make her feelings known for fear of her orthodox
parents' reactions. Later in the
film, Khave marries her sweetheart regardless, and the family will eventually be
forced to leave their village for a new home elsewhere.
illustrates the generational difficulties which arise in all families but also
touches upon issues of ethnic and religious tolerance.
If the film's partial synopsis or the names of the central characters
seem vaguely familiar, that is because the well-known Broadway musical (and
later Oscar-winning film) Fiddler on the
Roof is also based on the same story.
From the Diary of Ray and Esther ( 14 min., 1943)
extremely well-made amateur film is derived from footage of the town of Cologne,
Minnesota, circa 1939, showing the bucolic local architecture and the town's
inhabitants at work and at play. Photographed
by the town's physician, Dr. Raymond Dowidat, during his brief respite in
Cologne, this film is presented as a series of diary entries by his wife Esther
about the friendliness and warm of the townspeople.
This film can be seen as a thoughtful and warm reflection of a more
innocent and by-gone era. This film may have been a private project never meant for
public exhibition, but it remains a well-crafted travelogue and happy diary of a
few years spent by the filmmakers in a small American town.
film was re-discovered by the doctor's daughter and submitted for preservation
to the Minnesota Historical Society.
Snafu: Spies (4 min., 1943)
rarely see political cartoons anymore, but during the World War II era, all the
major animation studios in Hollywood, from Disney to MGM and Warner Brothers,
were regularly churning out such animated shorts for propaganda purposes.
While most such films have dated badly now and have been relegated to
museum displays or dusty studio archives, these films still remain an important
part of our wartime heritage.
is one such cartoon, a black & white Warner Brothers cartoon with Private
Snafu, hapless star of twenty-six total Snafu
cartoons. Meant for viewing by
World War II personnel, this episode's theme is the importance of keeping mum
about potentially sensitive information during wartime.
After all, one never knows when a squinty-eyed or buck-toothed spy will
be listening or how even a presumably innocent remark can be used to the enemy's
advantage. In Snafu's case, one day
he drunkenly drops some ill-advised comments about naval movements to an enemy
female agent, and by the conclusion of the film, finds his boat surrounded by
hostile subs. Needless to say,
Snafu eats a wave of torpedoes and ends up in a boiling hot pot far down below
for his blabbering digressions. Loose
lips sink ships, as the saying goes.
Spies might seem racially insensitive,
particularly in light of the crude Japanese, German, and Italian caricatures
depicted in the film. However, the
film must be regarded within its context as a propaganda film made in the midst
of a serious world war. In that
sense, these ethnic slights can easily be dismissed (keeping in mind that the
adversaries probably had their own insulting propaganda cartoons about the Brits
and the Yanks as well). All's fair
in love and war.
TRIVIA: The production talent
behind Spies is top-notch.
Voice narration is provided by none other than Mel Blanc, the dialogue is
by Theodor Seuss Geisel a.k.a. Dr. Seuss, and the direction is by animator
extraordinaire Chuck Jones of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck fame.
(9 min., 1968)
could only have been made in the 1960's. A
kaleidoscopic, drug-induced rush of schizophrenic, seizure-inducing images, this
avant-garde film is like the wormhole sequence of 2001:
A Space Odyssey on fast-forward. Created
by Scott Barlett, the film utilizes loops of high-contrast 16mm images mixed
with rear-projection, video sourcing, superimposed images, color
over-saturation, and even hand-painted hues in some instances.
The end result is pulsating, hypnotic, and weirdly compelling.
OffOn makes an interesting
companion piece to this disc's The Fall of
the House of Usher and closes out Program One on a very high note.
and Building Up the Star Theatre (2 min., 1901)
of the competing film processes to the Edison Kinetoscope was American
Biograph's Mutoscope, a process that rose in popularity around the turn of the
twentieth-century. The Mutoscope
utilized the now-familiar screen projection system which allowed films to be
shown in vaudeville houses and nickelodeons to larger audiences, thereby vastly
increasing the appeal of early movies beyond the novelty of token parlors.
particular Mutoscope film is the first of three paper print copyrighted deposits
which open Program Two. Fortunately,
Mutoscope and Kinetoscope films prior to 1912 have been fairly well-preserved,
thanks to the existence in the Library of Congress of thousands of paper prints
(for copyright purposes). This particular film uses time-lapse photography to capture
the demolition of New York City's Star Theatre.
Curiously, the film was also intended to be run in reverse, hence the
"building up" portion.
On (90 sec, 1903)
Edison film is an example of an actuality, an early form of the documentary.
Actualities typically showed daily, everyday occurrences, in this case a
glimpse of an ordinary street market in New York City.
The street peddlers ply their wares until a policeman eventually chases
Factory (4 min., 1904)
Edison film photographed by Edwin S. Porter, this quaint little comedy focuses
on a "dog transformator," an unusual contraption apparently designed
to turn live dogs into link sausages (and vice versa).
This was a popular vaudeville sketch of the day, and several variations
on this theme have survived in other paper prints, too.
Dog Factory, a pair of enterprising
German butchers operate an unusual delicatessen shop. Customers can buy a dog created from a wide variety of
specialty sausage links hanging on the wall.
There are trained dogs and fighting bulls and terriers and so on.
Just throw the links in one slot in the transformator, and out of another
hole emerges the happy pooch. The
film is actually rather amusing, certainly more so than might be expected from
its macabre subject matter!
Lonedale Operator (17 min., 1911)
Griffith is a name virtually synonymous with the silent era.
While Griffith is justifiably renowned today for his pioneering
achievements in epic films and melodramas, he was also a dominant force in short
film early in his career, too. As
Biograph's top director of one and two-reelers, Griffith helped to define the
visual language of the cinema (dissolves, irising, cross-cutting, parallel
is a Griffith thriller starring 15-year-old Blanche Sweet.
As with Hell's Hinges, this
film also provides an early example of colorization (tinting, as reproduced here
by the Museum of Modern Art based upon Biograph records). The basic story for The
Lonedale Operator involves an attempted robbery of a train depot by a pair
of nefarious crooks. The station's
sole operator, played by Blanche Sweet, sends a frantic telegram for help, and
then it's a race against time between rescuers on a speeding train and the
crooks lingering outside the Lonedale Station's locked door. The female operator is eventually forced to take matters into
her own hands, single-handedly outwitting the crooks until armed help arrives to
apprehend the villains.
film was famous in its day for its energetic and innovative inter-cutting, which
augmented the tension of the film's on-screen action.
The Lonedale Operator was later
remade by Griffith himself as The Girl and
Her Trust (1912).
Crowning Glory (14 min., 1911)
forgotten today, John Bunny was America's first bona fide comedy film star.
He had a genial, roly-poly appearance that instantly endeared him to
audiences (think Santa Claus but without the beard).
By some counts, he made over 200 films, all with Vitagraph, during a
meteoric five-year film career. Until
his untimely death in 1915, Bunny was perhaps the world's most popular comedian,
a title later inherited by none other than Essanay's Charlie Chaplin.
Sadly, due to the loss of many John Bunny films from this era, he now
remains largely unknown and unappreciated by modern audiences.
this Vitagraph comedy, co-starring a young Helene Costello and Bunny's regular
comic foil Flora Finch, Bunny portrays Mortimer, a rich widower trying to raise
his somewhat mischievous young daughter alone.
A disapproving relative decides one day that the daughter needs a
governess for proper discipline. One
is hired, but when the new governess (Flora Finch) arrives, she turns out to be
a vain hag with a face that would sink a thousand ships.
Yet somehow, she manages to nearly charm her way into marriage with the
gullible Mortimer. Luckily,
Mortimer's daughter out-foxes the governess, who is sent packing in the end.
Mortimer and his daughter live happily ever after without
a new governess.
Toll of the Sea (54 min., 1922)
of this stranger! The sea is
treacherous. His coming bodes no
come now to one of the grand highlights of this DVD collection - an early
Technicolor feature. Most
movie-goers are familiar with Technicolor's famous three-strip color process,
used so brilliantly in many MGM musicals, but in the early 1920's, Technicolor
was still experimenting with a red-green, two-strip process.
The Toll of the Sea was the
first film to utilize that process for the entire running length of a film.
Although primitive in comparison to the later three-strip process, the
color process in The Toll of the Sea
is clearly a technical advancement over the previous examples of stenciling,
color-toning, and color-tinting seen earlier in this DVD collection.
landmark film stars Anna May Wong, the first Chinese-American actress to garner
mainstream recognition. Growing up
in Los Angeles' Chinatown, Wong received her big break in the film industry in
the film Dinty (now lost, 1920) after
the film's director first came across a photograph of the charismatic young
lady. Wong gained further
recognition for her role as a Mongol slave girl in Douglas Fairbanks'
extravagant The Thief of Baghdad
(1924). By the age of seventeen,
she was starring in her first major leading role in The
Toll of the Sea, becoming the first native-born ethnic Asian performer to
headline a major Hollywood production.
film is the story of a "lotus blossom," a metaphor for an Asian woman
who makes the ultimate sacrifice for the love of a Caucasian man.
This is an oft-told tale, reappearing in numerous variations from Madame
Butterfly to Miss Saigon.
In The Toll of the Sea, Wong's
character is even named Lotus Flower.
the melodrama opens in the Far East, a Caucasian man, Allen Carver, washes
ashore one day and is rescued by Lotus Flower.
She falls under his exotic spell and accepts him as husband, but the
unscrupulous Allen eventually departs for America, deserting his
unknowingly-pregnant Asian wife. Years
later and more mature now (but re-married), Allen learns of the existence of his
young Eurasian son and returns for a bittersweet reunion.
Lotus Flower subsequently take measures to ensure that her son's future
will be forevermore secure with his father.
Toll of the Sea,
as seen on this DVD, represents a 1985 restoration from the original camera
negative. Considered a lost film
for many decades, its survival is one of the happier outcomes in the often
frustrating on-going effort to preserve silent cinema.
The clarity of the color images is quite astounding, all things
considered, with red and green hues and their intermediaries.
However, yellow tones and a true blue scale are absent (and would have to
await the advent of the three-strip process). On hand for musical accompaniment is the original 1922 film
score, performed on piano by Martin Marks; this is a most pleasant surprise, as
many original scores from the silent era no longer exist.
this version of The Toll of the Sea does
not represent a complete print, as the final minutes of the film have not
survived. However, intertitles
provide a description (based on scriptwriter Frances Marion’s scenario) of the
film's probable conclusion. The
intertitles are also accompanied by new footage of the Pacific Ocean shot with
an actual two-strip Technicolor camera, still functional after all these years!
Footage from Accuracy First (5 min., circa 1928-1929)
footage, despite its obvious limitations, was used for in-house corporate
training, as evident in these two excerpts from a training film for
Western-Union employees. These
excerpts demonstrate how not to handle
telegram transmissions; presented is an example of the potentially harmful
effect of an erroneous transmission. The
actual details of the technical message, concerning stocks and commodities
futures, is somewhat obtuse, particularly in the absence of spoken narrative.
However, the general gist of these training clips is clear - error in the
workplace can be minimized with attention to certain protocols.
Failure to follow those protocols can lead to costly mistakes, as in the
case of this scenario for Accuracy First.
film was part of a series of 16mm films intended to help standardize workplace
procedures for Western-Union employees. Today,
training films such as this one provide invaluable insight into working
conditions and business practices from the turn of the century.
Footage from West Virginia, the State Beautiful (8 min., 1929)
introduction of 16mm safety film in 1923 and the increasing availability of
simple-to-use 16mm cameras by the mid-1920's no doubt boosted the public's
interest in documentaries and home movies.
Presented here are five excerpts from a 75-minute travelogue documentary,
West Virginia, the State Beautiful.
This film was shot by Reverend Ottis Rymer Snodgrass to foster tourism
and interest in his beloved home state.
Snodgrass was an amateur photographer, as is evident in his film's shaky
hand-held photography and quaint intertitles (photographed from the reverend's
own sermon board). Nevertheless,
the film was clearly a labour of love and certainly accomplished its goal of
presenting the beautiful scenery, urban and rural, of West Virginia.
The excerpts presented on this DVD document the start of a trip along the
Midland Trail from Kenova through an excursion to Lovers' Leap and then offering
a quick tour of some of the state's industry, too.
Schoolhouses (1 min., circa 1935)
is comprised of home movie footage shot by two physicians in rural West
Virginia. We see children at play
outside their schoolhouse during a recess period.
Footage from Early Amateur Sound Film (4 min., 1936-37)
the mid-1930's, a 16mm sound camera was made available for amateur filmmakers
and home movie enthusiasts. The
excerpts seen here are examples of an early sound home movie showing a family at
play. The father photographs a day
of sledding for his family and later an early attempt by his very young daughter
to read. We then see a clip of her
one year later reading the same book with greater efficacy.
Watching these home movies now creates a sense of poignancy, for these
home movies are a frozen portrait in time of people long dead or much changed by
the passage of the intervening decades.
1 (Themis) (4 min., 1940)
experimental animated cinema, not so far removed from the more abstract segments
of the Fantasia films.
The animation in this film is derived from stop-motion photography,
mostly of wooden, glass, and paper forms. The
Composition series, created by artist
Dwinell Grant, evoked a "rhythm which is part of nature's rhythm" and
might reasonably be considered a cinematic expansion upon the cubist works of
such early twentieth-century contemporary artists as Marcel Duchamp or Man Ray.
Battle of San Pietro (33 min., 1945)
films, like the Snafu cartoons, were
not the only films used for the World War II effort. Many top Hollywood directors participated in the best way
they could - by creating documentaries which celebrated the indomitable spirit
and bravura of America's fighting boys. Today,
Frank Capra's Why We Fight series is
probably the best known of these efforts, demonstrating that there were many
ways to contribute to the war effort and boost morale without actually wielding
John Huston made his own contribution with The
Battle of San Pietro, created for the U.S. Army Pictorial Service.
Part factual representation, part reconstruction, this well-made film
focuses upon a clash between German and Allied forces in the mountains of
central Italy in December 1943. The
film was one of three such war documentaries directed by Huston (and in this
case narrated by him as well). The
photography has a cinéma vérité
style with music by Dmitri Tiomkin. Huston
describes the strategy behind the Allied assault upon fortified German
installments around San Pietro as well as the order of battle.
the Allies were eventually victorious, the battle proved costly in lives and
equipment. It was not a
particularly key victory, either, but merely one in an long chain of endless
skirmishes fought in a exhausting war of attrition upon the battle-scarred
landscapes of German-occupied Italy. The
true purpose of the battle was to bleed German forces away from other defensive
positions along the Western Front in preparations for the true Allied objective,
the Normandy beach landings of Operation Overlord.
Leagues Baseball (8 min., 1946)
fans always hear fascinating and fabled anecdotes about the Negro Leagues.
This short film offers rare silent footage shot during one game between
league opponents at Cincinnati's Crosley Field in 1946.
Featured are the entertaining Indianapolis Clowns, suitable named for
their very funny Harlem Globetrotters-style antics on the baseball diamond.
Most of the spotlight is centered upon the gangly-limbed, wildly-flexible
first baseman, Reece "Goose" Tatum.
Members of the opposing Kansas City Monarchs are glimpsed, too.
film is complemented by a jazz ensemble score and should be a true gem for avid
Film (9 min., 1985)
most recent entry in this DVD compilation, Battery
Film has been included as a gentle reminder that even recent films can be in
need of preservation. In this case,
the film was the work of artists who died of AIDS. Battery Film
presents an abstract vision of New York City, weaving together animation
sequences with eerily uninhabited shots of the city itself.
Prominently featured are the Twin Towers, an inadvertent memorial now to
the fleetingness and frailty of life and existence. In such a light, the cinema serves as a good way to preserve
the visual memories of all things past, be they people, places, or things, for
our future generations.
film concludes Program Two.
Thieving Hand (5 min., 1908)
Three opens back in the days of silent cinema once more, this time with a
well-preserved Vitagraph film employing some of the company's trademark trick
this fantastical short comedy, a one-armed beggar performs an act of honesty but
is rewarded with more trouble than he expects. Noticing one day that a pedestrian has dropped something
accidentally, the beggar good-heartedly returns the fallen object.
The pedestrian returns the favor by purchasing a replacement arm for the
beggar from ye olde "Limb" shoppe.
This is not a metal prosthetic, mind you, but a flesh and bone appendage
(apparently with a mind of its own).
beggar initially enjoys his new limb, unaware is he that the arm moves on its
own (shades of the classic 1902 horror story "The Monkey's Paw") and
performs nefarious acts, mainly thievery. The
arm's irascible actions ultimately lead to the arrest of its innocent and
bewildered owner. Imprisoned, the
exasperated beggar eventually discerns the truth and tosses the arm away, only
to watch it crawl away and attach itself to a one-armed bandit in the same cell
- an appropriate ending.
events in The Thieving Hand are played
purely for comic effect, an undercurrent of grotesquery does linger about the
film, and one wonders how this story might otherwise have been interpreted as
perhaps a Twilight Zone episode.
Fawn’s Devotion (11 min., 1910)
upon a time, France boasted the world's largest film production company in Pathé
Frères. Among Pathé's productions
were westerns, and to enhance the authenticity of these films, Pathé opened up
an American branch in New York and hired James Young Deer, a Winnebago Native
American, to direct its westerns. Young
Deer is estimated to have made over one hundred westerns for Pathé between 1910
and 1913, of which at least six are still known to exist today.
of those extant films is White Fawn’s
Devotion, possibly the earliest surviving film directed by a Native
American. Young Deer adapted the
film from the popular 1905 theatrical melodrama The
Squaw Man, a Madame Butterfly-style
romance between a Native American woman and her Caucasian husband.
Much as with Lotus Flower in The
Toll of the Sea, the female character in this film, White Fawn, attempts to
sacrifice herself for the sake of true love.
White Fawn's tribe mistakenly believes that Combs, her white husband, has
attempted to kill her and is preparing to execute him when White Fawn,
miraculously recovered, re-appears to save her husband.
Thus, the film's finale is a happy one that draws to an optimistic
conclusion, unlike The Toll of the Sea's
bittersweet closing scenes.
Chechahcos (86 min., 1924)
was a mother's call that echoed to the girl."
impressive eight-reeler feature film, directed by Lewis Moomaw for the Alaska
Moving Picture Corporation, is the story of Ruth Stanlaw, a young orphan girl
growing up in turn-of-the-century Alaska. Caught
in the wreckage of a northern passenger ship and separated from her parents,
Ruth is rescued and raised by a pair of scruffy but good-hearted gold miners -
"Horseshoe" Riley and his young partner Bob Dexter.
Riley is a rough and hard-nosed veteran of the snowy plains whose callous
exterior hides a gentle heart, while Dexter is a more happy-go-lucky fellow.
Together, they attempt to track down Ruth's parents in the vast expanse
of the Klondike.
the years pass, Ruth matures into a lovely young lady (Gladys Johnson) under the
care of the kindly Riley and Dexter. She
even begins to experience the pangs of early romance.
Sadly, Ruth has heard no news of her lost parents, but unbeknownst to
Ruth, her mother still lives, having been rescued years ago from the shipwreck
as well. However, her
"savior," the rascally Richard Steele, is a gambler and villain with
dishonorable designs on Mrs. Stanlaw, who without home or means had been forced
to depend upon Steele for survival all these years.
evening, young Dexter spots Steele and Mrs. Stanlaw in the town dance hall.
Thus begins a renewed quest to learn the truth behind Mrs. Stanlaw's sad
fate and to re-unite mother and daughter once more.
The Chechahcos is a melodrama,
so as the story unfolds, there are the prerequisite face-offs with the
black-hearted villain Steele and multiple escapades along white river rapids,
crumbling glaciers, and through snow-bleached valleys and raging blizzards via
Chechahcos (The Newcomers) was an independent production made entirely on
location in Alaska. Its title is an
Alaskan term meaning "tenderfoot," presumably in reference to the
fragility of humanity in such a hostile and barren territory.
Despite being the only film produced by Alaskan entrepreneur Austin E.
Lathrop, The Chechahcos was an
impressive feat, boasting some rather spectacular natural scenery.
The breathtaking wintry snowscapes and climes (and even the dance hall)
most probably influenced Charlie Chaplin's masterpiece The
Gold Rush, and The Chechahcos even
had its share of light-hearted moments as well - a salty dinner scene, a
touching birthday party, and an out-of-tune recital.
this film breaks no new grounds in terms of narrative, its awe-inspiring natural
locations (at a time when very few American films, let alone independent ones,
were shot on location) makes The Chechahcos a treasure from the silent era as well as a worthy
inclusion on the National Film Registry.
Excerpts from Japanese-American Communities (7 min., 1927-1932)
again, we look at candid 16mm amateur footage, this time of Japanese-Americans
taken by Reverent Sensho Sasaki in Stockton, California, and Tacoma, Washington.
The community members shown in these brief excerpts carry out their
usual, ordinary activities of daily living.
We see children dancing and playing, baseball players posing, and people
filing into a local Buddhist temple. The
poignancy of these scenes is derived from our knowledge of what will befall
these peaceful communities following the commencement of Japanese hostilities
with America in World War II.
Footage from The Keystone “Patrician” (6 min., 1928)
is an excerpt from an advertising film by the Keystone Aircraft Company
promoting the "Patrician," its largest commercial plane at the time.
With an eighty-eight foot wingspan and room for twenty passengers, the
"Patrician" was a large and luxurious plane by the day's standards.
Showing that sex sells (then as now), part of this clip includes a
gathering of leggy "California beauties" stretching out in poses
beside the "Patrician."
Zeppelin "Hindenburg" (7 min., 1936)
second aviation film, comprised of home movie footage shot by a vacationing
family, focuses on a trip aboard the famous, if ill-fated, airship during
happier days. Shown are the
enormous dirigible's four impressive diesel-driven propellers, stately dining
room, and observation salon. This
home movie imparts a sense of Hindenburg's
true enormity and grace. A small
portion of this film is also in color, a decided rarity for home movies of the
Work Again (15 min., 1937)
is one of the small gems in this collection.
This documentary looks at the Works Progress Administration’s efforts
to secure employment opportunities for Americans as part of Roosevelt's New Deal
program during the Great Depression. This
film focuses primarily on African-American workers in New York City.
Shown are the squalor of the unemployed and the subsequent beneficial
effects of job-training programs.
what makes this documentary particularly remarkable is the inclusion of footage
previously thought never to have existed. The
footage in question covers four minutes from a Harlem stage performance of Orson
Welles' legendary "voodoo" production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
Shown is the march of the Birnam Woods and Macbeth's bloody fate.
This famous production used an entirely African-American cast and shifted
the setting of Macbeth from Scotland
to nineteenth-century Haiti in the court of the self-proclaimed Haitian ruler
"King Henry I."
Valse (6 min., 1951)
Balanchine is generally considered one of the true Greats of twentieth-century
dance. He was instrumental in
founding American ballet, and he created the choreography for over four hundred
works in theater and film. A
Russian immigrant, Balanchine founded the School of American Ballet in the
1930's and the New York City Ballet a decade later.
His memorable 1954 staging of Tchaikovsky's The
Nutcracker was highly influential in making the classic ballet the annual
Christmas tradition that it is now in the United States.
here are excerpts from the 1951 ballet La
Valse with choreography by Balanchine and music by Maurice Ravel.
This amateur footage was captured on 16mm film during a performance at
the annual Jacob's Pillow dance festival in Becket, Massachusetts.
Wall (10 min., 1962)
United States Information Agency was created in 1953 to promote American
interests beyond the nation's borders. The
USIA's well-known "Voices of America" radio broadcasts and documentary
films such as The Wall were examples
of how American ideals and philosophies were spread abroad.
produced by Hearst Metrotone News, focuses on the tensions and tragedies brought
about by the Cold War. The symbol
of the deadly ideological face-off is the shattered city of Berlin, its Great
Divide of cold steel and stone serving as a cruel monument to the dangers of the
Cold War conflict. The Berlin Wall
had only been in existence for less than a year at the time this documentary was
created. Footage of escape
attempts, some successful and some with more tragic consequences, is shown.
The Wall remains a powerful
piece of filmmaking, archaic now perhaps but still a moving reminder of a
regrettable chapter in the annals of human history.
Dumpson's Place (8 min., 1965)
artist George Dumpson was known for his abstract artwork as well as his
prodigious output in science fiction illustration during the 1960's.
This film, by Ed Emshwiller, takes a look at the folk artist's home with
its labyrinth of "found object" art, sculptures, and decorated paths.
Dumpson himself appears ever so briefly near the end of this film, which
concludes Program Three.
Martinetti, Contortionist (30 sec, 1894)
Four opens with a pair of Edison Kinetoscope films, both photographed by W.K.L.
Dickson. One of the common uses of
the Kinetoscope was as an early method of immortalizing on film the feats and
abilities of well-known celebrities and personalities of the day.
For instance, the Kinetoscope was used to document performers from the
likes of the famous Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, vaudeville acts, and even sporting
contests. This Kinetoscope film,
shot in Edison's Black Maria studio, shows contortionist Martinetti performing
on gymnastic rings. It was one of
about eighty Kinetoscope films produced in 1894 by Edison.
King of the Slack Wire (25 sec, 1894)
particular Edison film is a rare example (for its time) of an outdoors
performance. The subject matter is
Juan Caicedo, a Venezuelan tight-rope acrobat.
New York Subway, 14th Street to 42nd Street (5 min., 1905)
Biograph actuality looks at a candid subway ride through a new extension of New
York City’s subway system, still a relatively new innovation for the city
then. The journey starts in Union
Square at 14th Street and concludes in Grand Central Station at 42nd Street.
The popularity of this actuality predates the later popularity of the
"Hale's Tours" films, which simulated the sensation of being on a
this particular film, three trains were used.
The first train was the one being photographed, while the camera rested
on a trailing train that closely followed the forward train (if precariously
so). A third train, keeping apace
of the first train (but on a parallel track) provides sufficient lighting to
illuminate the first train in the otherwise pitch black subway tunnel.
Land Beyond the Sunset (14 min., 1912)
Edison film company was on the wane in the 1910's. One reason for the decline was the company's adherence to the
one-reel format at a time when other movie companies were beginning to test
audience appetites for longer features. As
such, this melodrama about a poor New York newsboy represents one of the final
productions made by the Edison company.
is a newspaper boy trapped in a bad family setting with an abusive mother.
One day, he receives a ticket for a summer vacation sponsored by the
Fresh Air Fund (a nonprofit organization which still exists today, helping to
bring children from the inner-city to the Hudson River Valley for summer trips).
The film chronicles Joe's happy country outing as he thrills to stories
on the picnic lawn, daydreams about fairy tales, and finally sails away into the
sunset, caught in the rapture of his own imaginations and desire for a better
life. The bittersweet conclusion is
highlighted by a pensive aria sung over the soundtrack.
The pensive ambivalence of the film's ending (does the boy die or has he
somehow ascended to a more heavenly existence?) lends a greater sense of depth
and poignancy than is typical for silent films of this time.
Insured (3 min., 1916)
films began to gain in popularity after 1914 thanks to the availability of such
innovations as transparent celluloid and tracing paper.
I'm Insured represents an early
surviving animated film from Gaumont-American, in this case a Komic
Kartoon episode by Harry S. Palmer. The
film opens with a hand sketching in the scenery, a similar ploy to one used for
the Dave Fleischer Inkwell cartoons of the 1920's.
the tale of an unlucky man, broke and down on the dumps.
His insurance policy is the only thing going for him. So, this sad sack decides to cash in on his lousy luck and
wanders about town trying to get into accidents but to no avail.
As (bad) luck would have it, he finally does end up in the hospital after
he slips on a banana peel. Unfortunately,
the accident occurs on the day after his insurance policy has expired!
White (63 min., 1916)
mirror, in my hand, who's the fairest in the land?"
before Walt Disney's own famous animated feature, the classic fairy tale of Snow
White was adapted into a feature-length film with the lovely Marguerite
Clark as Snow White. In actuality,
this film was an adaptation of a stage version by Winthrop Ames, one of the
era's most prominent theatrical directors.
The screenplay by Ames departs somewhat from the Brothers Grimm tale by
incorporating elements of the Cinderella fairy tale.
For a long time, this film was long thought to be lost until a single
tinted print was recovered from a Dutch museum.
Restored in 1998, the film is mostly complete now, although a few
original sequences are missing.
for the film's star, Marguerite Clark, she is mostly forgotten now, but there
was a time when she was considered the leading film actress in America.
Had she not retired at the peak of her popularity in 1921, Clark might
well have gone on to establish herself as one of the greatest silent film
actresses ever. In fact, Clark had
already been a solid stage actress by the time of her first film, Wildflower
(1914), and no doubt she would have handled the eventual transition to the sound
picture with relative ease.
was thirty-one when she first began to appear in films, but her doll-like
features and short stature made her appear very young and quite ideal for
children's roles. Along with Mary
Pickford, Lillian Gish and Dorothy Gish, Marguerite Clark popularized the 1910's
trend of waifs and child-women in film.
White is a
"Famous Players" production and is presented here with original
tinting and narrative intertitles. The
original Gothic typeface is beautiful although at times difficult to read.
Fortunately, the story is a familiar one.
Snow White (Marguerite Clark) is a lovely young princess, the fairest in
all the land. Her stepmother however is a vain and wicked queen.
Jealous of Snow White's beauty, she assigns menial chores and scullery
maid duties to Snow White. One day, the wicked queen orders her huntsman to execute Snow
White, but the gentle huntsman cannot bear to do so. He allows Snow White to escape into the forest dells, where
she finds a receptive home in the cottage of seven friendly little dwarves.
When the queen learns that Snow White is still alive, she disguises
herself and ventures into the woods to vanquish Snow White, first with a
venomous comb and then with the infamous poison apple.
Happily, Snow White is revived by her Prince Charming, the queen's true
ugliness is revealed, and everyone lives happily ever after.
viewers familiar with the Disney version will note some variations to the tale
here. The queen knows no magic
herself but is assisted by a witch who crafts enchantments for the queen.
The role of the huntsman is much expanded, and he even has three children
with whom Snow White is acquainted. We
also see more of Snow White's life in the palace before her exile, particularly
in her congenial interactions with her maids of honor and with a visiting prince
who falls in love with Snow White and who will eventually save her.
this version of Snow White is a visual
and entertaining treat, certainly one of the highlights of this DVD compilation.
Watching it now, one can see how the young Walt Disney was enthralled and
strongly affected by this film, the childhood memories of which would influence
his own later animated version of the fairy tale.
TRIVIA: "Famous Players"
Film Company is now known as Paramount Pictures.
Japan (15 min., 1918)
Benjamin Brodsky documentary contains travelogue footage of Japanese urban,
rural and cultural settings. The
complete film is a whopping two hours, an epic by 1918 standards, especially for
a non-fictional film. Beautiful
Japan is mostly as promotion for Japanese tourism and might be considered a
sequel of sorts to the filmmaker's own Brodsky's
Trip Through China (1917).
excerpts from the documentary are provided.
The first describes the planned itinerary and nationwide excursions for
the filmmaker. One stop is in
Yokohama for the launch of a Japanese ship.
On the island of Hokkaido, the annual Ainu iyomante festival is
witnessed, with its ceremonial garbs and unusual rituals.
And in the port city of Shizuoka, dancing Geisha girls and street
performers entertain travelers during the Cherry Blossom Festival.
excerpts were transferred from a preservation print prepared made from the
sole-surviving 16mm reduction print of Beautiful
Japan. Today, the completed
film itself can be considered a time capsule capturing a by-gone Japan during a
more elegant and traditional period in its past.
Life in Maine (12 min., 1930)
clips seen here represent home movie footage taken by Elizabeth Woodman Wright
over a period of six years at her family's summer farm.
On the farm of "Windy Ledge," we witness preparations of the
fields for the new planting season. We
also see a barn being shingled, a country pastor working his rural oratory
magic, a picnic scene, and even a noted regional fiddler playing for the
admiration of a viewer or two.
News Parade of 1934 (10 min., 1934)
in the Great Depression era, the television was still years away from becoming a
viable source of news or home entertainment.
If audiences wanted to see the
news, they usually went to the movie theaters to catch the various newsreels
shown before the main feature attraction.
Hearst Metrotone News was one of the typical newsreels of the day.
The News Parade of 1934 is a
Metrotone compilation of the big news stories of the year.
This newsreel was reassembled from its component stories and sequences
(intact Hearst newsreels are exceedingly rare to find today).
Proving that sensationalism was and still remains a strong selling point,
many of the big stories focus upon violence or disasters.
From sea wrecks, earthquakes, fires, floods, and droughts to strikes,
riots, gunfights, and assassinations, any major 1934 story with lurid or
shocking appeal was included in this newsreel.
We learn of the death of German's leader von Hindenburg (leading
consequently to the rise of Hitler's Nazism), the assassinations of Yugoslavia's
Alexander I and Austria's Chancellor Dollfuss, and the deaths of "public
enemies" John Dillinger and "Baby Face" Nelson.
The arrest of Bruno Hauptmann for the Lindbergh baby kidnapping merits
mention, too. In tamer moments, the
newsreel glosses over Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal reforms as well as
a few sporting events (preferably with crashes).
Hobart (19 min., 1936)
Cornell was one of America's top contemporary artists.
Strongly influenced by transcendentalism and constructivism, Cornell was
particularly well-known for his assemblage artwork, particularly his distinctive
glass-fronted boxes filled with a mélange of surreal and beautiful bric-à-brac.
The fascinating Joseph Cornell:
Shadowplay...Eterniday compilation allows virtual tours of many Cornell
creations and also offers a selection of quite a number of his films, too.
For art connoisseurs, the collection, comprised of an oversized art book
and DVD, is well worth checking out.
represents one of Cornell's avant-garde cinematic experiments.
Rose Hobard might be described
as a surreal example of "found object" art, a collage of celluloid
images from East of Borneo (1931) and
various other films re-edited together. With
the speed slowed to a silent projection speed of 18 fps, the result is a
strangely compelling mishmash of images that despite their little semblance of
film continuity weave a strangely hypnotic spell.
Nestor Amaral's samba recording "Holiday in Brazil" is played
repeatedly in the background and imparts a dream-like, almost seductively erotic
tone to the film. Water and moon
imagery abound amidst the primal jungle setting.
The film's title refers to Rose Hobart, star of East
of Borneo, and justifiably so, as the film concentrates most intently on
Hobard's visage and profile. The
film's dream-state continuity leaves the story open to interpretation, although
it might be loosely regarded as a sensual tale of desire and yearning, filled
with mysterious suggestions and meaningful gazes.
In essence, Cornell took a maudlin melodrama and converted it into
something entirely different.
film premiered in the Julien Levy Gallery on December 1936 at the Museum of
Modern Art in New York. Designed as
an argument against the perversity of the sound film and clearly an articulation
of Cornell's preference for the sensual beauty of silent images, Rose
Hobart nevertheless left its audience generally dumbfounded and bewildered.
However, surrealist Salvador Dali, in attendance at this screening, did
feel quite strongly about the film, even suggesting that Cornell has somehow
pulled the ideas from out of Dali's mind.
Autobiography of a "Jeep" (10 min., 1943)
propaganda film, produced by the U.S. Office of War Information, is an amusing
story narrated by a jeep. The
affable, talking motor vehicle describes its creation, its dimensions, and even
the numerous duties thrust upon it by demanding army personnel.
The jeep also reveals how it acquired its nickname.
Along the way, the jeep proudly reminisces about some of its
accomplishments thus far in the war, among them hobnobbing with the rich and
famous, from movie stars to royalty to famous generals.
Briefly glimpsed are global encounters with Major Chennault's famed
Flying Tigers, General MacArthur in New Guinea, and even victory over Rommel's
vaulted Deutsches Afrika Korps.
this film was meant not only to proclaim the merits of the jeep as a general
purpose vehicle but also to maintain high morale among the viewing public and
the soldiers during the wartime.
Anderson: The Lincoln Memorial Concert (8 min., 1939)
Four fittingly concludes with a performance by contralto Marian Anderson
delivered during one of the seminal events in the struggle for civil rights. Anderson
was the first African-American singer to perform with the New York Metropolitan
Opera and her courage, particularly in this important concert, helped to break
down the color barrier in the fight for civil liberties.
this film excerpt, Anderson performs at an April 9, 1939 Easter Sunday concert,
suitably in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
The performance had been arranged by an incensed Eleanor Roosevelt after
Anderson had been unjustly banned by the Daughters of the American Revolution
from singing in Constitution Hall due to her race. Consequently, Anderson's free outdoor concert before a live
audience of over seventy thousand people, not including the national radio
audience, received extensive media coverage, much more so than if the DAR had
been simply more tolerant.
excerpt provides a look at the first eight minutes of this important event, from
an introduction by Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes to Marian
Anderson's rendition of "America."
The footage comes from a Hearst Metrotone newsreel with additional audio
from the NBC radio broadcast of the live concert.
fifty films selected for Treasures from
American Film Archives represent just a small sample of numerous rarely seen
but influential films in our archives. These
films provide a cross-sectional glimpse at early film history and the
development of early film technology. A
significant number of the early cinematic gems in this compilation, including
the Marian Anderson concert, have been included in the National Film Registry,
one of the highest honors to be bestowed upon any American film (at present,
there are just about four hundred selections preserved in the National Film
many more early films are still in dire need of help. Without public support, the diligence of our archives and
institutes cannot indefinitely turn back the ravages of time on early film
stock. Compilations such as Treasures
from American Film Archives provide one way for us to lend our support to
the preservation efforts while receiving in turn some affirmation of the
beneficial effects of our charity. Every
little bit helps, and we can enjoy this wonderful collection of early films with
the knowledge that our film heritage will be preserved for future generations to
cherish as once our grandparents and their grandparents did before them.
to the potpourri of source material assembled for this DVD collection, the
picture quality of each film will be highly variable. Factors such as age, condition of the source print, and the
inevitable nitrate decomposition all play a role in how these films appear.
Some look quite good, while others are scarred by numerous blotches of
decomposition. Some images are
moderately contrasty, splice-choppy, speckled, grainy, or scratched with scuff
marks. Missing fragments are not
unusual. The transfers are
full-frame or letterboxed, depending on the source print.
While most of these films are in black & white, a few are
color-tinted, color-toned, or even in early Technicolor.
contributions from the various film archives include 16mm prints, 16mm and 28mm
reduction prints, 35mm nitrate prints, and even paper prints.
The average video bit rate averages roughly 6 Mbps.
The aspect ratios vary from 1.25:1 to 1.37:1, with as much of the
original film image being presented as possible.
These films have been copied at their correction projection speeds,
ranging from 16 fps to 24 fps.
course, considering the extreme age or rarity of most of these films, we the
viewers should not be too particular but rather should draw encouragement from
the fact that these films have survived intact enough to be preserved for our
is provided at an audio bit rate of 192 kbps, either as two-track monaural sound
or new two-track stereo. Those
silent films with new musical accompaniment have scores mostly arranged and
performed by Martin Marks. These
scores are predominately compositions for the piano with a few ensemble pieces
for selected works, too. A few of
the films come with their original sound, which being older is subject to the
variable clicks and background hiss of time.
disc includes five minutes of extensive credits for all the individuals and
archives which made this compilation set possible. Each of the nineteen participating archives also receives a
one-minute slideshow, with commentary by actor Laurence Fishburne, about their
on-going efforts to preserve not only films but also other exhibits of world
culture. For viewers interested in
learning more about these archives and their expansive collections, web-links
are provided. In many cases, these
links contain further examples of early films which can be downloaded for free!
participating archives and institutes for this DVD are the Academy Film Archive,
Alaska Film Archives, Anthology Film Archives, George Eastman House, Japanese
American National Museum, Library of Congress,
Minnesota Historical Society, the Museum of Modern Art, Smithsonian
National Air and Space Museum, National Archives and Records Administration,
National Center for Jewish Film, National Film Preservation Foundation,
Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Smithsonian National Museum of
Natural History, New York Public Library, Northeast Historic Film, Pacific Film
Archive, UCLA Film and Television Archive, and West Virginia State Archives.
remainder of the bonus features which come with this extensive DVD collection
will appeal mostly to film enthusiasts who did not mind reading.
The bulk of these features is comprised of pages of archival and
historical material about each and every film included in this collection.
150-page book which accompanied the first printing of this set now has been
divided into four smaller booklets. The
content has been slightly updated with suggestions for further reading and
viewing. These highly resourceful
booklets, curated by Scott Simmon with musical notes by Martin Marks, provide
rather extensive background information that can also be found on the discs,
too, although having the information in print form makes for easier
accessibility. However, the on-disc
versions do contain interactive links to illustrative frames or moving sequences
which are obviously not in the booklets.