The home-video revolution has yielded a wealth of valuable compilations, but few are as miraculously definitive as The Movies Begin. Equally suited to home or classroom viewing, this authoritative five-volume set is a vita... more »l document of film history, providing a one-stop destination for anyone wishing to witness the first two decades of motion pictures. That period--from 1894 to 1913--saw movies develop at a breakneck pace, from the earliest "actualities" of the Lumière brothers in France to D.W. Griffith's audacious development of dramatic action in the Biograph shorts of the early 1910s. Sensibly organized into pivotal stages of technical and creative progress, each of these volumes represents the priceless value of film preservation; all 133 films in the set are presented in the finest condition available, from archival prints to complete restorations, and accompanied by music that perfectly captures the spirit of each film and the time of their creation. Under the expert guidance of film historian David Shepard, this collection is uniquely comprehensive, with fact, fiction, and fantasy represented in equal measure. All major figures are included; it's fitting that one volume is devoted to astonishing shorts by movie magician Georges Méliès, while other volumes serve as "greatest hits" compilations of movie innovations by Edwin S. Porter, Cecil Hepworth, Max Linder, Alice Guy Blanche, and many others. The breathtaking growth of movies is fully apparent by volume 5 ("Comedy, Spectacle, and New Horizons"); most viewers will find this the most entertaining, but each volume is a revelation, offering films that haven't been widely seen since they were first produced. To understand and appreciate the foundation upon which modern filmmaking is built, The Movies Begin is truly essential. --Jeff Shannon« less
Gwen Kramer | Sunny and not-so-sunny California | 11/14/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"To the casual movie viewer, the history of cinema begins in the 1930s, when silents were totally replaced with the new talkie medium. Beyond an occasional showing of The Phantom of the Opera or a few Keaton or Chaplin movies, silents- and especially early silents- are a part of the murky past. This collection is a real eye opener to either a movie fan who wants to broaden their knowledge or someone who, like me, is a silent movie fan who wants to see how it all began.This collection offers a broad variety. From early melodramas and comedies to newsreel footage and special effects vehicles. The two most famous early silents- The Great Train Robbery and A Trip to the Moon- are shown here but other, more unusual films such as the Golden Beetle and the Grass Widower are also allowed to shine. The picture quality is excellant especially considering the age of these films.The music by Robert Israel is wonderful, always appropriate and quite a bit less sober than most silent movie music. Even my mother, who likes silents but dislikes silent movie music enjoyed it. It should please both purists and casual fans.One fault I found with this collection is that some movies have narration whether you want it or not. It surely would not have been difficult to include an on/off function for the commentary track. Also, at points the sound is badly mixed so that the music drowns out the narrator. However, this fairly minor flaw did not ruin my enjoyment of the collection.I particularly enjoyed the pre-WWI French films, it is easy to see why the French imports could outshine much of the American output. They are beautifully produced, make no bones about their staginess and have an element of playful fantasy. The last disc has a film of the wonderful French comedian Max Linder, it's a shame that he never regained his pre-war popularity because his comedy is spurisingly modern and he has obvious charisma.The newsreels are also a highlight, Russia in the winter, various "working dogs", an english biscuit factory... all are valuable historically as well as very amusing.This set is cheap at the price and while not all of the films can be called masterpieces, they are all important in reconstructing a period of cinema history that is too often ignored. If you have any interest in the story of earlky cinema, I recommend this set without reservation."
Essential, but by no means perfect
K. Oleszczyk | Tarnowskie Gory, Poland | 08/10/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"There's no doubt that this is an essential purchase for anyone interested in early cinema: MOVIES BEGIN includes many of the landmarks, as well as some fascinating rarieties. There are tons of fun: classics by Cecil Hepworth, Edison, the Lumieres, and many others. There's no other such extenstive DVD compillation on the market and KINO ON VIDEO should be immensly praised.
However, if you consider it not for its educational values, but as a DVD edition per se, there are major flaws. First of all, commentary track (no matter how insightful) isn't optional, which is below any standards. Secondly, all the foriegn films have electronically imposed English subtitles which are impossible to reduce - it makes a bad ?old video tape" impression. Film notes included on the disc itself are very interesting, but the edition as a whole simply yields for a booklet which could accompany you while watching. Furthermore, there's no precise information on the sleeve notes about the exact duration of each separate movie, only enigmatic ?total running time", which makes it less comfortable to use e. g. during classes.
It may seem that I sneer at something very beautiful and indeed it is so - but every beautiful thing may be improved upon. In fact, the amazing recent edition of the Edison films also by KINO proves that they are learning.
Whatever are my complaints, this one remains a compulsory viewing.
Michal Oleszczyk, Tarnowskie Gory, Poland"
A Tremendous Collection
Mark Pollock | Davis, CA United States | 07/26/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This set contains over 100 films from the early days of the silent cinema - beginning with some of the early serial photography experiments by Edward Muybridge.We see the works of the Edison Studio, the early Lumiere Brothers films, and a great selection of Melies films. Most amazing to me were the tinted films from the Pathe Freres company. There are two films that are absolutely astounding, as every frame of the film was tinted by hand. The colors are vibrant and surprisingly consistent. Friends who have watched these films have come away simply shocked.The films presented here are not all interesting. There are quite a few films from the infancy of cinema, when the camera was used to create scenes that are really the equivalent of postcards, where a still camera would have produced the same effect. Many films are incomplete, a sad fact of cinema preservation, and often frustrating when you don't get to see the second half of the film! There are no Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, or Fatty Arbuckle films to be seen here, and only one D.W. Griffith film. (Griffith will be well represented in a future release put together by David Shepherd's "Film Preservation Associates" on Image DVD.)What is here are the true beginnings of an art form, the experiments that made film what it is now. There are also excellent program notes by Charles Musser, which really help explain what is being seen, especially when parts of a film are missing. Kudos to the Kino company for including these notes!If you are a cinema nut, and interested in the origins of film, then this set is highly recommended!"
An Amazing Piece of History
K. Oleszczyk | 05/10/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This 5 DVD set is not, by any stretch of the imagination, cheap, but if you have any interest in silent films, or the history of movie making, it is a must-have.
The 5 disks are organized, not chronologically, but, roughly, by theme. Within each disk, the films are organized by production company/director.
And the range of content is amazing. From 30 second, plotless snippets of action (a kiss, ocean waves, etc.), to full one-reel mini-features and hand-colored fantasy extravaganzas, this set offers it all.
Amazing too is the quality of the films. While a few are badly scratched or fuzzy (presumably the best quality prints available), most are crisp and pristine -- amazing both considering the age of the original prints themselves (some over a century old!), and the primitive equipment that was used to create the original films. Many of the films include early experiments with special effects -- often surprisingly convincing -- and, as mentioned earlier, some are even in color.
Comedy, drama, documentaries -- it's all here, even a little sex. (Though the 'peepshows' that are described as being of 'burlesque origin, intended for titillation and amusement', are pretty unerotic, even by late Victorian standards.)
Most of the films are accompanied by appropriate music. A few are preceeded by spoken commentary about the history of the film and/or its producer and, at least one (Trip to the Moon) has a spoken narration. I'm not certain if the movie originally had title cards which have been lost, or if it was intended to be narrated during viewing.
Even for silent film fans, silent features can sometimes try the patience a bit (you can't look away from the screen, or you lose track of the action), but these brief films can be viewed a few at at time, and fully enjoyed.
An extensive collection of earliest cinema
calvinnme | 01/05/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is an incredible collection of 133 complete films from the earliest days of cinema. The first 20 years of movies are covered, with numerous examples from many of the pioneers of the cinema. The condition of these old pieces of film is often less than stellar, but they are almost always fascinating as we see the development of cinema as it happens before us. The five-disc set is broken down by topic, with a certain unavoidable amount of overlap.
Disc One: The Great Train Robbery and Other Primary Works
The motion picture had its beginnings in the sequential photography of Eadweard Muybridge. In a short film, about ten of Muybridge's sequences are presented in real time, providing the illusion of movement. That led to the kinetoscope of Edison, and a number of his kinetoscopes from the late 1890s are included. Among these are "The Kiss" and "Feeding the Doves". The next important development came with the work of the Lumiére brothers in Paris. They first developed a way to project motion pictures, and a number of their 50-foot films of such items as a day at the zoo, the beach, babies fighting and other slices of life, such as workmen loading a boiler, make up their 15 works presented on this disc.
While the movies were a popular novelty, two works of 1902 and 1903, Georges Mèliés' "A Trip to the Moon" and Edwin S. Porter's "The Great Train Robbery", paved the way for the motion picture industry we know now. Each used a greater length to tell an extended story and, in Mèliés' film, we find the importance of special effects and lavish set design made clear. While somewhat awkward and peculiar to modern eyes, it's clear to see how "Trip to the Moon" became the first blockbuster motion picture hit. The Great Train Robbery still manages to generate plenty of excitement in its nonstop action and gunplay.
A number of "actualities" make up the next segment, and these feature the skyscrapers of New York City which were then only 15 or so stories high, the aftermath of the San Francisco earthquake and fire, various train rides and the like. Those with a bent toward history will find these to be quite fascinating. Some of the early American Biograph blue films are presented here, though they are racier in title than in content. An extremely funny one involves an enormously obese woman attempting to put on a corset with the aid of her much smaller husband. Nothing beyond a glimpse of limb is presented here, but they were surely seen as naughty in their day. A set of shorts from the early 1900s wraps up this disc. The double entendres of "The Whole Dam Family" and "The Dam Dog" will still bring a smile. "The Golden Beetle" has some attractive hand coloring and makes great use of stopped-camera effects to cause visual transformations.
Disc Two: The European Pioneers
The second disc, compiled by the British Film Institute, features the European groundbreakers in motion pictures. You again see the Lumiéres here, with 13 more of their 50-foot marvels. These include the famous shot of workers leaving their factory, arrival of a train and demolition of a wall. "Come Along, Do!" (1898), gives us the first film carrying action from one shot to another. In "Countryman and the Cinematograph" (1901), the first film-within-a-film appears, and in "A Chess Dispute" (1903), there the innovation of using the frame to suggest action rather than show it. G.A. Smith's "The Kiss in the Tunnel" (1899) demonstrates an early use of editing to help tell the story, and "Grandma's Reading Glass" (1900) demonstrates both POV shots and masking. "Sick Kitten" (1903) intersperses closeups into the action. Perhaps the most intriguing of the British pioneers is James Williamson, who produced a series of imaginative shorts such as "The Big Swallow" (1901) and "An Interesting Story" (1905). The latter seems to be the first instance of a steamroller-running-over a person gag, and manages to be highly entertaining nearly a hundred years later. There is one short which is a Lumiére piece on a boat leaving port contained in the program but not listed on the insert. There are also eleven shorts that are provided as Easter Eggs and are discussed in Extras.
Disc Three: Experimentation and Discovery
This third volume takes us into somewhat more accomplished filmmaking. The pictures of Hepworth Manufacturing have a number of innovative features, including the earliest known use of intertitles in "How it Feels to Be Run Over" (1901). They also produced one of the seminal dog-rescue pictures, "Rescued by Rover" (1905), which plays upon the common fears at the time of theft of infants by gypsies. "That Fatal Sneeze" shows many of the conventions of slapstick film being established as a trick with sneezing powder backfires.
Several documentaries are also included. The first is a lengthy Visit to Peek Frean & Co. Biscuit Works from 1907, which not only includes much footage of the cookie-making process, but manages to fit in a firefighting sequence as well. Fire rescue films were hugely popular with early audiences and was probably needed to spice the picture up a bit. A second documentary is "A Day in the Life of a Coalminer", which glosses over the hardships of the miner and instead focuses on the positive results of his labors. Not surprisingly, this picture was financed by a railroad company - some things haven't changed at all.
About half of the program is devoted to the Pathé brothers and their studio, which featured stencil-coloring prominently in its films. Among the eight shorts here are their notable fantasies, "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves" (1906) and "Aladdin and the Marvelous Lamp" (1907). Among the other intriguing material here is "Revolution in Russia", a 1905 recounting of the Potemkin riots in Odessa that same year, later made into the classic "Battleship Potemkin" by Sergei Eisenstein. Wrapping up disc three are several shorts from the Edison studios, including the oldest surviving advertising film, an 1898 bit for Dewar's Scotch. The final short is Edwin S. Porter's adaptation of the Winsor McCay comic, "Dream of the Rarebit Fiend". This picture is window-boxed, because much of the action goes to the very edge of the frame. Plenty of special effects and a wild sense of abandon make this one highly enjoyable even today.
Disc Four: The Magic of Méliès
Trained in stage magic, George Méliès quickly seized upon the motion picture camera and its capabilities for providing a magical experience not possible on any stage. This disc includes fifteen of Méliès' later works, after he had made a sensation with A Trip to the Moon. Many of these pictures take the form of a magic show, such as "Tchin-Chao, the Chinese Conjurer", "The Mermaid", "The Living Playing Cards" and "The Enchanted Sedan Chair". Others involve pictures that come to life, such as "Long Distance Wireless Photography", an incredibly early satire on television. Fantasy is still one of Méliès' strong points, noted in "The Impossible Voyage" (1904). Unfortunately, this short suffers from poor narration. "The Eclipse" features a blatantly erotic encounter between the sun and the moon. "The Black Imp" features one of the many demonic impersonations that Méliès favored throughout his early films. Méliès was not above knockdown farce, anticipating endlessly reused Three Stooges schtick in "Good Glue Sticks" (1907).
Disc Five: Comedy, Spectacle and New Horizons
Wrapping up the package are eight fairly mature shorts from the very end of the nickelodeon era. Slapstick comedy gets a workout in The" Policemen's Little Run" (1907), "Bangville Police" (1913), "Troubles of a Grass Widower" (1908) and "Onésime, Clock-Maker" (1912).
With the Italian one-reel "Nero and the Fall of Rome" (1909), we see what will clearly become the epics of a few years later. Even though the sets here are clearly just painted scenery, the characters already are dwarfed by the scale and there is nonetheless an epic feel behind the proceedings. In an odd choice most of this picture is tinted emerald green. It switches to red as Nero goes mad. In a more modern tone is Alice Guyy-Blaché's "The Making of an American Citizen" (1912). Ivan Orloff (Lee Beggs), a Russian immigrant, treats his wife worse than he would cattle. He even has her pulling his cart while he whips her. He is advised in none too pleasant terms that this is not acceptable in America, leading to a derisively optimistic transformation.
This set provides an excellent example of his D.W. Griffith's late work at Biograph. "The Girl and Her Trust" (1912) features Dorothy Bernard as one of a long line of plucky Griffith telegraph operators trying desperately to save the payroll. This is one of Griffith's wild 'race to the rescue' films, and it's quite breathtaking. The pursuit is via speeding locomotive, with the camera also speeding along. Griffith uses rapid cuts to build the suspense far beyond what the trivial melodrama really deserves. "Bangville Police" (1913) wraps things up. Young Grace (Mabel Normand) thinks she's in danger, and the Keystone Kops, alas, come to her rescue. Unfortunately, the only source of danger is the Kops themselves. Where Griffith supplies tension by his editing, Keystone provides humor. Despite melodramatic touches, these pictures both hold up well even 90 years later.
This is a great boxed set for film history buffs that will provide hours of entertainment and exploration. I highly recommend it."