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ON DVD

Back for another helping of vintage movie tidbits

The second set from the national archives holds more treasures, some over a century old.

September 05, 2004|Susan King

More Treasures from American Film Archives, 1894-1931

Image Distribution, $80

ThIS impressive new three-disc set is a must-have for any serious film student. A sequel to the National Film Preservation Foundation's award-winning set of a few years back, it showcases films from the earliest days of cinema.

"More Treasures" features 9 1/2 hours of features, serials, cartoons, newsreels, previews, documentaries and early sound films that have been preserved by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the George Eastman House, the Library of Congress, the Museum of Modern Art and the UCLA Film and Television Archives. All the films have been digitally mastered from the archival sources, and music has been newly recorded.

Most of the films feature astute commentary from 17 critics, historians and preservationists, including Blaine M. Bartell and Robert Gitt from UCLA and Steven Ross and Carla Kaplan from USC. Text information for each film is included on the discs, and there's also a 200-page illustrated book about the collection.

Program 1 Highlights

"Dickson Experimental Sound Film": This 15-second film was produced in 1894, 33 years before the first talkie, "The Jazz Singer" with Al Jolson. It is the first surviving sound film and features two men dancing while a man plays the violin.

"Annie Oakley": The famed sharpshooter performs some of her rifle routines from Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show in this seconds-long clip, also from 1894.

"The Country Doctor": One of D.W. Griffith's early films, this 1909 soap opera illustrates Griffith's sophisticated use of the camera and editing. The cinema's first star, Florence Lawrence, and a teenage Mary Pickford appear.

"The Wonderful Wizard of Oz": This clever 13-minute fantasy from 1910 is the earliest surviving film adaptation of the Baum classic. The movie is elaborate and marvelously innovative -- just check out the cyclone scene. Bebe Daniels, a big star in the 1920s and '30s, plays Dorothy. Director Robert Z. Leonard is also in the cast.

"The Invaders": Considered the first feature western, this 1912 sagebrush saga is attributed to the legendary director Thomas Ince and features Lakota Sioux tribal members in the cast.

"The Hazards of Helen": More than 100 installments of this internationally popular serial were produced in a three-year period, and in each episode, the plucky heroine saved the day using women's intuition and ingenuity. Featured here is Episode 26, from 1916, which finds Helen saving a train full of tourists from a runaway engine.

"Greeting by George Bernard Shaw": The famed playwright of "Pygmalion" and "Major Barbara" is wryly amusing in this 1928 talkie. His impression of Mussolini is a surreal hoot.

Program 2 Highlights

"From Leadville to Aspen": A train hold-up film from 1906 is part travelogue, part slapstick comedy and part chase film. The adventure was produced for railroad car theaters.

"The 'Teddy' Bears": Edwin S. Porter's 1907 adaptation of the Goldilocks tale features elaborate painted sets and early stop-motion animation. But the ending, which turns into a political satire, is truly bizarre.

"Gus Visser and His Singing Duck": This hysterically funny 1925 talkie stars vaudeville performer Visser singing "Ma, He's Making Eyes at Me" while the duck he's holding in his arm quacks the chorus.

"A Bronx Morning": Jay Leyda's avant-garde 1931 documentary offers a quaint historical look at the New York borough as its inhabitants welcome the day.

Program 3 Highlights

"Rip Van Winkle": Stage star Joseph Jefferson plays Washington Irving's sleepy hero in this static four-minute 1896 adaptation.

"Life of an American Filmmaker": Edwin S. Porter directed this 1903 semi-documentary about a firehouse squad called to extinguish a house fire in nearby East Orange, N.J., and save its occupants.

"Westinghouse Works": Three short actualities from 1904 were shot in Pittsburgh at the world's largest factory.

"Falling Leaves": This 1912 melodrama is one of the few surviving films directed by Alice Guy Blache, who began directing in her native France in the mid- 1890s.

"Lady Windermere's Fan": Ernst Lubitsch's delectable 1925 adaptation of Oscar Wilde's play stars a young Ronald Colman.

"Zora Neal Hurston's Fieldword Footage": Scenes of the rural South were filmed by the famed African American novelist in 1928.

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