This first of two abbreviated compilations culled from the 1994 five-videocassette collection The Movies Begin released by Kino International is a quick but disjointed history lesson for film buffs.
Presented in roughly chronological order, much of the first hour of this DVD compilation are early films by the Edison studio, the Société Lumière and Pathé Frères, with a nod to Méliès and Biograph. This volume along with the Landmarks of Early Film, Volume 2 and The Lumière Brothers' First Films (both on DVD) make excellent overviews of the first 15 years or so of motion picture production in the United States and Europe. — Carl Bennett
Film Preservation Associates, distributed by Image Entertainment,
ID4103DSDVD, UPC 0-14381-41032-7.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, single-layered DVD disc, Region 0, 4.5 Mbps average video bit rate, 192 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo and mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 40 chapter stops, snapper DVD case, $29.99.
Release date: 21 July 1998.
Country of origin: USA
Many of the films in this collection have been transferred to video from 35mm original prints (with a couple apparently taken from Library of Congress paper prints). The clarity on some of the films is striking. Only Pack Train on Chilkoot Pass (1898) is of questionable quality (and historic value).
Georges Méliès Le voyage dans la lune (1902) [also known as A Trip to the Moon] is well represented here in a high-quality version, with description and clarification of the action by a French accented narrator.
Edwin S. Porter’s pivotal short film The Great Train Robbery (1903) has also been included. This was certainly not the first realistic narrative film but it was certainly the coalescence of a series of filmmaking techniques that helped propel the motion picture industry into its next major phase of development.
A special attraction is Segundo de Chomon’s film The Golden Beetle (1907), with its hand-tinting done in the Pathé stencil process. Also from Pathé is The Policemen’s Little Run (1907). It is a chase comedy of the run-of-the-mill sort that audiences must have been getting tired of after the initiation of the genre with Edison’s Tom, Tom, the Piper’s Son (1905). A group of comical policemen chase a dog that has stolen some meat. Audiences will sit up and take notice when the dog and police scale a building wall. The building exterior was painted onto the film studio floor and a camera mounted at the studio ceiling shooting downward tracks with the actors as they ‘climb’ the wall (on their hands and knees).
The most popular European comedian of his time, Frenchman Max Linder, is represented in his Pathé comedy Troubles of a Grasswidower (1912). It is easy to see why Linder was popular, as his charming performance here remains funny and inventive today.
Nero; or, The Fall of Rome (1909) represents Italian epic filmmaking in its advanced infancy. The story of Nero, Poppea and Octavia (with the burning of Rome happening offscreen) is told in one green and red tinted reel. Of note are the richly detailed sets and large number of extras. The film ends abruptly (probably due to film decomposition) with Nero’s decision to commit suicide.
The disc is wrapped up by two representations of the next phase of film development, the maturation of storytelling technique. D.W. Griffith’sThe Girl and Her Trust (1912) and Mack Sennett’s comedy Bangville Police (1913) are representative examples of cross-cutting editing techniques used to elevate and extend dramatic tension.
The collection as a whole covers too much historical ground ultimately to be a satisfying retrospective of what are three distinct phases in the evolution of filmmaking. However, as a historical document the DVD represents a fine collection of well-preserved individual silent era short films.
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