Films of the Wilderness
Mr Peter G George | Ellon, Aberdeenshire United Kingdom | 05/14/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The two films included on this DVD, Back to God's Country and Something New, are interesting and unusual. The star of these films, the relatively obscure Nell Shipman, was certainly busy, for she not only wrote and produced both films, she also co-directed Something New. On the surface the two films seem very different. Back to God's Country is set in the wilds of Canada, including the frozen wastes around Baffin Island, while Something New is set in the Mexican desert. However, the stories have similar themes and action. In both films Shipman is threatened with rape, in both she has a faithful dog that aids her and in both there is a flight and chase across the wilderness. Something New, is thus not very new at all, but rather a semi-remake of the previous year's Back to God's Country. One has to somewhat question Shipman's writing ability when she reproduces herself so quickly, but really what makes these films interesting and worth watching is not so much the stories as the settings. The stories may be rather unoriginal and clichéd, but these films travelled to locations where few silent films dared go. They are filled with beautiful images of Canada and the Mojave Desert. These locations are used imaginatively so that they become integral parts of the story. This is especially the case with Something New, which includes some incredible stunts involving a car making its way across some very rough desert terrain. Even a modern day off-road vehicle would struggle with this landscape. It's hard to believe that a 1920 Maxwell Sedan could actually be driven in this way.The tinted prints used for this Image DVD have been restored by the National Archives of Canada. On the whole they are fairly good, but at the start of each film there are some brief moments of serious print decomposition. Back to God's Country has material from two prints and thus the quality varies slightly, but at times it looks stunning. Something New shows slight damage throughout and is in places a little dark, but none of the wear and tear on these films seriously harms the viewing experience. These films are great fun and most enjoyable."
Anyechka | Rensselaer, NY United States | 08/01/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The Canadian Nell Shipman was a true female pioneer in the film industry, writing, directing, producing, and starring in her own films in an industry dominated by men. It's a shame most of the powerful women in the film industry in this era are no longer household names, considering all they did not only for the infant film industry but also how they served as role models to other women by being as high-profile and intelligent as they were. Of these two films, I prefer the earlier one, 'Back to God's Country.' It's not one I'd recommend as an ideal first silent film, but it's still quite good, entertaining, and gripping. The plot itself is kind of cliché, Nell's honor being threatened yet unable to tell her injured husband how in danger their lives truly are, what the evil ship's captain wants with her, and how he knows her. The most driving appeal of this film is the Arctic setting, and prior to that the charming place Nell and her husband Peter have in the woods, among a menagerie of quite tame animals, including a cute bear cub named Cubby. Nell was also an animal trainer, which explains why all of these animals one would normally except to be wild are as tame and sweet as housecats or puppies.
The second film, 'Something New,' doesn't have much of a plot; it's so true what reviewers of the time said, that it's like an hour-long commercial for the Maxwell, the then-new brand of car that is the real star of the film. It's amazing how much abuse this poor tin box takes going over mountains, hills, and rock piles, still managing to keep on going, first as Nell's boyfriend is riding to rescue her from the evil cowboys who kidnapped her, and then as the two of them plus their faithful dog drive away from the cowboys hot on their trail. The shot of the "grave for the ages" when the cowboys are trapped under the pile of rocks is heart-stopping in the graphic horrific image it presents. Not essential films, but interesting to see the kinds of things that some women were doing at this time; not all female actors were playing flappers, virgins, or Vamps, but were rather strong independent women like Nell, in control of their own destiny as much as they could be for the times."
Silent Double Feature Of More Than Passing Interest.
Chip Kaufmann | Asheville, N.C. United States | 10/23/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"BACK TO GOD'S COUNTRY (1919) was one of the major successes of Canadian film pioneer Nell Shipman. It has the distinction of being the oldest surviving Canadian feature film and was also the subject of a great deal of controversy because of Shipman's nude outdoor bathing scene at the beginning. Based on a then well known Canadian story about a heroic dog (think THE CALL OF THE WILD), the movie was shot under extremely harrowing conditions. Much of the action takes place on ice flows and was shot at temperatures as low as 60 degrees below zero. One of the principal actors developed pneumonia and died during the shooting. Shipman was a virtual one woman show on this project. In addition to starring, she also wrote, co-produced, and co-directed without credit. The film was officially credited to a director named David Hartford.
The second feature SOMETHING NEW (1920) features a novel twist on the old Western theme of kidnapping and rescuing the damsel in distress. The hero, instead of riding a horse, drives a car. The film was primarily financed by the Maxwell Car Company (Jack Benny's car) and serves as a large scale ad for their product. The car goes over rugged terrain and along cliffs that no vehicle at the time would dream of doing. The result is a delightful spoof of traditional Westerns that manages to be exciting at the same time. This time Nell gets a directing credit. Originally available on VHS as part of Milestone Film's EQUAL TIME: THE WOMEN OF CINEMA - THE FILMMAKERS series."