7 DVDs ? 20 Hours - 155 Classics of Avant Garde Cinema! "Unseen Cinema: Early American Avant-Garde Film 1894-1941" reveals hitherto unknown accomplishments of American filmmakers working in the United States and abroad fro... more »m the invention of cinema until World War II, and offers an innovative and often controversial view of experimental film as a product of avant-garde artists, of professional directors, and of amateur movie-makers working collectively and as individuals at all levels of film production. Many of the films have not been available since their creation, some have never been screened in public, and almost all have been unavailable in copies as good as these until now. Sixty of the world's leading film archive collections cooperated with Anthology Film Archives to bring this long-neglected period of film history back to life for modern audiences.« less
Massive Art-exhibition-in-a-box Collecfion of Avant-garde ti
Donald Rogers | Seattle, WA United States | 11/03/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The contents below are from unseen-cinema; they include the contents of a 160-page softcover Series Catalog, which is sold separately, but I think you would want. This is clearly a labor of love; though I can't imagine trying to watch all this in a month of Sundays, I could see dipping into it from time to time.
Disk 1: THE MECHANIZED EYE Experiments in Technique and Form
The dynamic qualities of motion pictures are explored by cameramen and filmmakers through novel experiments in technique and form. Early cinematographers James White, "Billy" Bitzer, and Frederick Armitage display experimental shooting styles that wowed audiences. Other independent companies further image manipulation through creative staging, editing, and printing, such as a stunning three-screen film that predates Gance's Napoleon. Experiments by photographer Walker Evans, painter Emlen Etting, musician Jerome Hill, and the film collectives Nykino and Artkino record the world in a continual process of flux. A most extreme approach is realized by Henwar Rodakiewicz with Portrait of a Young Man (1925-31), a monumental study of natural and abstract motions.
18 FILMS: 5 Paris Exposition Films (1900)-James White Eiffel Tower from Trocadero Palace (1900) Palace of Electricity (1900) Champs de Mars (1900) Panorama of Eiffel Tower (1900) Scene from Elevator Ascending Eiffel Tower (1900) Captain Nissen Going through Whirpool Rapids, Niagra Falls (1901)-creators unknown Down the Hudson (1903)-Frederick Armitage & A.E. Weed The Ghost Train (1903)-creators unknown Westinghouse Works, Panorama View Street Car Motor Room (1904)-G.W. "Billy" Bitzer In Youth, Beside the Lonely Sea (c. 1924-25)-creators unknown Melody on Parade (c. 1936)-creators unknown La Cartomancienne (The Fortune Teller) (1932)-Jerome Hill Pie in the Sky (1934-35)-Nykino: Elia Kazan, Ralph Steiner & Irving Lerner Travel Notes (1932)-Walker Evans Oil: A Symphony in Motion (1930-33)-Artkino: M.G. MacPherson & Jean Michelson Poem 8 (1932-33)-Emlen Etting Storm (1941-43)-Paul Burnford Portrait of a Young Man (1925-31)-Henwar Rodakiewicz
Disk 2: THE DEVIL'S PLAYTHING American Surrealism
Edwin S. Porter and other early filmmakers used bizarre sets, fantastic costumes, and magic lantern tricks to illuminate their fantasy films. American parody supplied Douglas Fairbanks with enough unusual material to produce the truly surreal When the Clouds Roll By (1919). The expressionistic Cabinet of Dr. Calagari (1919) influenced American sensibilities throughout the 1920s as seen in Beggar of Horseback (1925), The Life and Death of 9413-A Hollywood Extra (1927) and The Telltale Heart (1928). The emphasis shifted when amateurs J.S. Watson, Jr., Joseph Cornell, and Orson Welles crafted a unique variety of American surrealism on film unfettered by European concerns.
17 FILMS: Jack and the Beanstalk (1902)-Edwin S. Porter Dream of a Rarebit Fiend (1906)-Edwin S. Porter The Thieving Hand (1907)-creator unknown, Vitagraph Impossible Convicts (1905)-G.W. "Billy" Bitzer When the Clouds Roll By (1919)-Douglas Fairbanks & Victor Fleming (excerpt) Beggar on Horseback (1925)-James Cruze (excerpt) The Fall of the House of Usher (1926-27)-J.S. Watson, Jr. & Melville Webber The Life and Death of 9413: A Hollywood Extra (1927)- Robert Florey & Slavko Vorkapich The Love of Zero (1928)-Robert Florey & William Cameron Menzies The Telltale Heart (1928)-Charles Klein Tomatos Another Day (1930/1933)-J.S. Watson, Jr. & Alec Wilder The Hearts of Age (1934)- William Vance & Orson Welles Unreal News Reels (c. 1926)-Weiss Artclass Comedies (excerpt) The Children's Jury (c. 1938)-attributed Joseph Cornell Thimble Theater (c. 1938)-Joseph Cornell Carousel: Animal Opera (c. 1938)-Joseph Cornell Jack's Dream (c. 1938)-Joseph Cornell
Disk 3: LIGHT RHYTHMS Music and Abstraction
The rhythmic elements of cinema are explored by artists and filmmakers fascinated by the abstract qualities of light. The American authors of avant-garde classics Le Retour á la raison (1923), Ballet mécanique (1923-24), Anémic cinéma (1926), and Une Nuit sur le Mont Chauve (1934), are finally acknowledged for their seminal artistic achievements made in Europe. Pioneer abstract films by Ralph Steiner, Mary Ellen Bute, Douglass Crockwell, Dwinnell Grant, and George Morris are compared and contrasted with Hollywood montages created by Ernst Lubitsch, Slavko Vorkapich, and Busby Berkeley. For the first time on video, composer George Antheil's original 1924 score accompanies Fernand Léger and Dudley Murphy's film Ballet mécanique, a truly avant-garde cacophony of image and sound.
29 FILMS: Le Retour à la raison (1923)-Man Ray Ballet mécanique (1923-24)-Fernand Léger & Dudley Murphy Anémic cinéma (1924-26)-Rrose Sélavy (Marcel Duchamp) Looney Lens: Anamorphic People (1927)-Al Brick Out of the Melting Pot (1927)-W.J. Ganz Studio H20 (1929)-Ralph Steiner Surf and Seaweed (1929-30)-Ralph Steiner 7 Vorkapich Montage Sequences (1928-37)-Slavko Vorkapich The Furies (1934) Skyline Dance (1928) Money Machine (1929) Prohibition (1929) The Firefly- Vorkapich edit (1937) The Firefly-MGM release version (1937) Maytime (1937) So This Is Paris (1926)-Ernst Lubitsch (excerpt) Light Rhythms (1930)-Francis Bruguière & Oswell Blakeston Une Nuit sur le Mont Chauve (Night on Bald Mountain) (1934)-Alexandre Alexeieff & Claire Parker Rhythm in Light (1934)-Mary Ellen Bute, Ted Nemeth & Melville Webber Synchromy No. 2 (1936)-Mary Ellen Bute & Ted Nemeth Parabola (1937)-Mary Ellen Bute & Ted Nemeth Footlight Parade - "By a Waterfall" (1933)-Busby Berkeley Glen Falls Sequence (1937-46)-Douglass Crockwell Simple Destiny Abstractions (1937-40)-Douglass Crockwell Abstract Movies (1937-47)-George L.K. Morris Scherzo (1939)-Norman McLaren Themis (1940)-Dwinell Grant Contrathemis (1941)-Dwinell Grant 1941 (1941)-Francis Lee Moods of the Sea (1940-42)-Slavko Vorkapich & John Hoffman
Disk 4: INVERTED NARRATIVES New Directions in Story-Telling
Early directors D.W. Griffith and Lois Weber develop the radical language of cinema narrative through audience-friendly melodramas made for nickelodeon theaters. Experimental fantasies are depicted in such independent productions as Moonland (c. 1926), Lullaby (1929), and The Bridge (1929-30). Depression era films by socially-conscious filmmakers reshape drama as demonstrated in Josef Berne's brooding Black Dawn (1933) and Strand and Hurwitz's biting Native Land (1937-41): each pictures a raw reality. Parody and satire find their mark in Theodore Huff's Little Geezer (1932) and Barlow, Hay and Le Roy's Even as You and I (1937). David Bradley's Sredni Vashtar by Saki (1940-43) boasts an inadvertent post-modern attitude.
12 FILMS: The House with Closed Shutters (1910)-D.W. Griffith & G.W. "Billy" Bitzer Suspense (1913)-Lois Weber & Philips Smalley Moonland (c. 1926)-Neil McQuire & William A. O'Connor Lullaby (1929)-Boris Deutsch The Bridge (1929-30)-Charles Vidor Little Geezer (1932)-Theodore Huff Black Dawn (1933)-Josef Berne & Seymour Stern Native Land (1937-41)-Frontier Films: Leo Hurwitz & Paul Strand (excerpt) Black Legion (1936-7)-Nykino: Ralph Steiner & Willard Van Dyke Even As You and I (1937)-Roger Barlow, Harry Hay & Le Roy Robbins Object Lesson (1941)-Christoher Young "Sredni Vashtar" by Saki (1940-43)-David Bradley
Disk 5: PICTURING A METROPOLIS New York City Unveiled Only Unseen Cinema DVD released as a SINGLE
The DVD depicts dynamic images of New York City and scenes of New Yorkers among the skyscrapers, streets, and night life of America's greatest city during a half century of progress, while at the same time showing changes in film style and the history of cinema experiments. Avant-garde moments pop up in the most unlikely of places including turn-of-the-twentieth-century actualities, commercial and radical newsreels, and Busby Berkeley's "Lullaby of Broadway" from Gold Diggers of 1935. Included are spectacular prints of Charles Sheeler and Paul Strand's Manhatta (1921), Robert Flaherty's Twenty-four-Dollar Island (c. 1926), Robert Florey's Skyscraper Symphony (1929), Jay Leyda's A Bronx Morning (1931), and Rudy Burckhardt's Pursuit of Happiness (1940).
26 FILMS: The Blizzard (1899)-creators unknown Lower Broadway (1902)-Robert K. Bonine Beginning of a Skyscraper (1902)-Robert K. Bonine Panorama from Times Building, New York (1905)-Wallace McCutcheon Skyscrapers of NYC from North River (1903)-J.B. Smith Panorama from Tower of the Brooklyn Bridge (1903)-G.W. "Billy" Bitzer Building Up and Demolishing the Star Theatre (1902)-Frederick Armitage Coney Island at Night (1905)-Edwin S. Porter Interior New York Subway 14th Street to 42nd Street (1905)-G.W. "Billy" Bitzer Seeing New York by Yacht (1902)-Frederick Armitage & A.E. Weed 2 Looney Lens: Split Skyscrapers (1924) and Tenth Avenue, NYC (1924)-Al Brick 4 Scenes from Ford Educational Weekly (1916-24)-creators unknown Manhatta (1921)-Charles Sheeler & Paul Strand Twentyfour-Dollar Island (c. 1926)-Robert Flaherty Skyscraper Symphony (1929)-Robert Florey Manhattan Medley (1931)-Bonney Powell A Bronx Morning (1931)-Jay Leyda Footnote to Fact (1933)-Lewis Jacobs Seeing the World (1937)-Rudy Burckhardt Pursuit of Hapiness (1940)-Rudy Burckhardt Gold Diggers of 1935 - "Lullaby of Broadway" (1935)-Busby Berkeley (excerpt) Autumn Fire (1930-33)-Herman Weinberg
Disk 6: THE AMATEUR AS AUTEUR Discovering Paradise in Pictures
These home-made films incorporate avant-garde strategies and techniques to achieve a true sense of cinematic intimacy. Glimpses of life caught unawares are found in the home movies of Elizabeth Woodman Wright, Archie Stewart, Frank Stauffacher, and John C. Hecker. Poetic lyricism finds a voice in city symphonies: Lynn Riggs and James Hughes' A Day in Santa Fe (1931) and Rudy Burckhardt's Haiti (1938). Professionally minded films, like Theodore Case's sound tests (c. 1925) and Lewis Jacobs' Tree Trunk to Head (1938), operate from a similar home-spun perspective of sincerity. Joseph Cornell offers an enigmatic but lovely homage to childhood with Children's Trilogy (c. 1938).
20 FILMS: 7 Case Sound Tests (c. 1924-25)-Theodore Case & Earl Sponable Windy Ledge Farm (c. 1929-34)-Elizabeth Woodman Wright A Day in Santa Fe (1931)-Lynn Riggs & James Hughes 4 Stewart Family Home Movies (c. 1935-39)-Archie Stewart Children's Party (c. 1938)-Joseph Cornell Cotillion (c. 1938)-Joseph Cornell The Midnight Party (c. 1938)-Joseph Cornell Haiti (1938)-Rudy Burckhardt Tree Trunk to Head (1938)-Lewis Jacobs Bicycle Polo at San Mateo (1940-42)-Frank Stauffacher 1126 Dewey Avenue, Apt. 207 (1939)-John C. Hecker
Disk 7: VIVA LA DANCE The Beginnings of Ciné-Dance
Dance and film have shared the aspiration to creatively sculpt motion and time. Some of the first films ever made featured Annabelle's skirt dance, hand-painted in glowing colors. Isadora Duncan and Ruth St. Denis' innovations found their way into Diana the Huntress (1916) and The Soul of the Cypress (1920). Highly cinematic renditions of dance evolved in Stella Simon's Hände (1928), Hector Hoppin's Joie de vivre (1934), and Busby Berkeley's "Don't Say Goodnight" from Wonder Bar (1934). In counterpoint, ciné-dances by Mary Ellen Bute, Douglass Crockwell, Oskar Fischinger, Norman McLaren, Ralph Steiner, and Slavko Vorkapich dispensed with actual dancers in favor of color, shape, line, and form choreographed into abstract light-play.
33 FILMS: 7 Annabelle Dances and Dances (1894-1897)-W.K.L. Dickson, William Heise & James White Davy Jones' Locker (1900)-Frederick Armitage Neptune's Daughters (1900)-Frederick Armitage A Nymph of the Waves (1900)-Frederick Armitage Diana the Huntress (1916)-Charles Allen & Francis Trevelyan Miller (excerpt) The Soul of the Cypress (1920)-Dudley Murphy Looney Lens: Pas de deux (1924)-Al Brick Hände: Das Leben und die Liebe eines Zärtlichen Geschlechts (Hands: The Life and Loves of the Gentler Sex) (1928)-Stella Simon & Miklos Bandy Mechanical Principles (1930)-Ralph Steiner Tilly Losch in Her Dance of the Hands (c. 1930-33)-Norman Bel Geddes 2 Eisenstein's Mexican Footage (1931)-Sergei Eisenstein (excerpts) Oramunde (1933)-Emlen Etting Hands (1934)-Ralph Steiner & Willard Van Dyke Joie de vivre (1934)-Anthony Gross & Hector Hoppin Wonder Bar: "Don't Say Goodnight" (1934)-Busby Berkeley (excerpt) Dada (1936)-Mary Ellen Bute & Ted Nemeth Escape (1938)-Mary Ellen Bute & Ted Nemeth An Optical Poem (1938)-Oskar Fischinger Abstract Experiment in Kodachrome (c. 1940s)-Slavko Vorpapich NBC Valentine Greeting (1939-40)-Norman McLaren Stars and Stripes (1940)-Norman McLaren Tarantella (1940)-Mary Ellen Bute, Ted Nemeth & Norman McLaren Spook Sport (1940)-Mary Ellen Bute, Ted Nemeth & Norman McLaren Danse Macabre (1922)-Dudley Murphy Peer Gynt (1941)-David Bradley, starring Charlton Heston (excerpt) Introspection (1941/46)-Sara Kathryn Arledge
SERIES CATALOG "Unseen Cinema: Early American Avant-Garde Film 1893-1941"
Unseen Cinema catalog features 30 essays, articles, and documents and 65 annotated photographs. Authors are scholars, critics, and filmmakers whose knowledge of the early avant-garde derives from either direct experience as a participant or years of scholarly research. Many hard-to-find photographs and sources detail the first decades of American experimental cinema in the United States and abroad.
Table of Contents Foreword-Jan-Christopher Horak Words and Pictures-annotated photographs 1. The Grand Experiment-Bruce Posner 2. Hollywood Extras: One Tradition of `Avant-Garde' Film in Los Angeles- David James 3. Emlen Etting: Three Films-R. Bruce Elder 4. The Attraction of Nature in Early Cinema-Scott MacDonald 5. "Le Retour á la raison": Hidden Meaning-Deke Dusinberre 6. Music for "Ballet Mécanique": 90s Technology Realizes a 20s Vision-Paul D. Lehrman 7. Sara Kathryn Arledge: "Introspection"-Terry Cannon 8. Busby Berkeley and America's Pioneer Abstract Filmmakers-Cecile Starr 9. Joseph Cornell: An Exploration of Sources-Lynda Roscoe Hartigan 10. Discussing D.W. Griffith-Jay Leyda 11. Maurice Tourneur and "The Bluebird"-Jan-Christopher Horak 12. Diva of Decadence: "Salome"-Kenneth Anger 13. W.K.L. Dickson: Pioneer Filmmaker-Paul Spehr 14. Elizabeth Woodman Wright: "Windy Ledge Farm"-Karan Sheldon & Bruce Posner 15. Robert Florey and the Hollywood Avant-Garde-Brian Taves 16. Working on "The City"-Henwar Rodakiewicz 17. Warren Newcombe: "The Enchanted City"-Stephen J. Schneider 18. My Films-J.S. Watson, Jr. 19. J.S. Watson, Jr.: "Nass River Indians"-Lynda Jessup 20. ...And Melville Webber-Dale Davis 21. Making "Twenty-four Dollar Island"-Robert Flaherty 22. Avant-Garde Production in America-Lewis Jacobs (excerpts) 23. Rutherford Boyd and "Parabola"-Douglas Dreishpoon 24. Notes on New Cinema of 1929 and 1930-Harry Alan Potamkin 25. Herman G. Weinberg: "Autumn Fire"-Robert A. Haller 26. Unanswered Questions: Eisenstein's "Qué Viva México!"-Herman G. Weinberg 27. My First Movie and "The Hearts of Age"-Orson Welles interviewed by Peter Bogdanovich 28. Highway 66: Montage Notes for a Documentary Film-Lewis Jacobs 29. The American Vanguard: Flux and Experience-R. Bruce Elder 30. New Artistic Process-Claire Parker and Alexandre Alexeieff
Awesome -- must be seen
Flipper Campbell | Miami Florida | 11/21/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Old weird Americana takes a bow in the sprawling and richly rewarding DVD set "Unseen Cinema." Running almost 20 hours, the collection provides ample evidence that bold experimental filmmaking thrived in the early days of moving pictures -- decades before the avant-garde torch-bearer "Un Chien Andalou" seared its way onto screens in 1929.
"Unseen" curator Bruce Posner says his goal was to "provide the broadest possible spectrum of experimental films produced between the 1890s and 1940s" -- roughly, the period from Thomas Edison to WWII. And so we have everything from home movies to lavish production numbers; wispy dance performances to strident union propaganda; gothic horror to languid studies of life on a farm. Many of these films have not been seen in decades and some were never screened for the public. Others, surprisingly, were products of the Hollywood studios.
The best of the early works are triumphs of the imagination over technical limits and creaky acting -- in quite a few, the wow factor remains potent. Watching the many bits of fantasy and cinematic sleights of hand, it's easy to draw a loopy line to the works of cinematic descendants such as Ray Harryhausen, Tim Burton and George Lucas.
Plenty of big names are represented in "Unseen" -- Welles, Sergei Eisnenstein, Ernst Lubitsch, Charles Vidor, Victor Fleming, Douglas Fairbanks, Busby Berkeley, Elia Kazan -- but the set shows that much of the heavy lifting in cinema's toddling years was done by inspired amateurs and free-thinking artists known for their work in other media.
The individual discs are arranged by theme, with titles such as "The Devil's Plaything" (surrealism and fantasy), "The Amateur as Auteur" (home movies) and "Inverted Narratives" (storytelling). New York City merits its own disc, with 29 films set in the metropolis (this fascinating time capsule is available separately, retail $24.99).
For orientation, there are informal but to-the-point on-screen notes before the films. The lack of commentaries undercuts the set's many obvious academic applications -- even so, it's a mind-expanding film course in a box. For extra credit, filmographies and biographical information can be accessed via DVD-ROM.
Some of the 155 shorts and excerpts have new recordings of their original music, some have newly written scores and others remain totally silent. In the case of the mind-bending "Ballet mecanique" (1923-24) the complex original score wasn't recorded as the filmmaker intended until five years ago. The DVD set's audio tracks sound as if they came from the same shop, cutting down on jarring transitions and smoothing the way for extended viewing.
The source materials -- rounded up from 60 or so archival collections around the globe -- were restored from 35mm and 16mm prints. The full-screen images are often surprisingly good but quality proves case-by-case, of course."
Rare Film Festival in a Box!
Antonia G. Carey | 01/18/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"As a Cinephile who travels literally thousands of miles a year in search of amazing old films at classic film festivals & conventions, it is my opinion this is the best box set of films I've ever seen. Whether you're a new film fan or an old one looking for new kicks, this is the set for you. From the surreal dream sequence in Douglas Fairbanks 1919 masterpiece "When the Clouds Roll By" to Neil McGuire & William A. O'Connor's dreamy short "Moonland", you'll see where Hollywood has gone to steal ideas for some of its best (and most well-loved) sequences. I've personally paid more than the cost of this set on a 16mm film print of just one of the short films it contains. If I could have only one collection of these films on dvd, it would be this all-encompassing box set. I've never written a review before but really wanted you true film fans out there to know about this amazing set. It is my opinion that you won't be sorry you bought it. Good Luck and Happy Filmwatching!"
A great collection for anyone seriously interested in film
Thorkell Agust Ottarsson | Norway | 09/24/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Unseen Cinema is a fascinating collection of films, that shows the development of (and the experiment with) the film language in America from its beginning there and half a century onward.
It's title is a little misleading. Many of the films are not really Avant Garde, unless sound testing and family films showing children opening Christmas gifts is Avant Garde. The goal of the collectors is to prove that there was an Avant Garde film making from the beginning of cinema in America (America meaning films made by Americans anywhere in the world and films made by foreigners in America). They say that this was a needle-in-a-haystack search and I have to admit that sometimes I felt that they mistook the hay for a needle. So if you want to get to know early Avant Garde film making (in general) then I rather recommend "Avant Garde - Experimental Cinema of the 1920s & 1930s". It has many of the best bits from this collections plus others not found here.
But if you are interested in film history and it's language then this is your thing. There are many fantastic films here, some of them not available anywhere else (to the best of my knowledge), such as The Telltale Heart (Charles Klein: 1928), Portrait of a Young Man in Three Movements (Henwar Rodakiewicz: 1931) and Footnote to Fact (1933: Lewis Jacobs). Portrait of a Young Man in Three Movements (54 min) is one of the greatest cinema poems I have ever seen, a must see.
There are also some great classics, here, like: Autumn Fire (1930-33)-Herman Weinberg (a 22 min. version!). The Fall of the House of Usher (1926-27)-J.S. Watson, Jr. & Melville Webber The Life and Death of 9413: A Hollywood Extra (1927)- Robert Florey & Slavko Vorkapich The Love of Zero (1928)-Robert Florey & William Cameron Menzies H20 (1929)-Ralph Steiner
The collection is on 7 disks, some of them more interesting than others. I liked best the first four of them. The New York disc is probably interesting to people who live there or have been there. It did little for me and I think that the Amateur disk was a waste of time.
The transfer is quite good, often surprisingly good. The music varies. Some of it is quite fitting while others are just tiring. I for one liked the music on "Avant Garde - Experimental Cinema of the 1920s & 1930s" better (comparing the films that both of the collections share).
The real downside to this collection is the extra material. The notes at the beginning of the films are way to short and the extra information on the PDF files are not so great either. I would like to see a better bio with filmography, and some commentaries would have been nice.
So this is a great collection for anyone seriously interested in film history and it's language. Others might want to stay away. "
A collection of films you'll find nowhere else for the serio
calvinnme | 12/12/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If I was getting a gift for TCM host and film historian Robert Osborne, and I knew he didn't already have this DVD set I would (a) be very surprised and (b) buy it for him. This DVD set is for film buffs who aren't satisfied with the essentials that everyone knows about - "Birth of a Nation", "The Jazz Singer", "Frankenstein", etc., which are great films, but don't tell the whole story of early cinema. The set was organized by Bruce Posner and runs to some nineteen hours, and is an astonishing achievement. The set consists of seven discs each of which explore a different aspect of early cinema.
Among the films included are Douglass Crockwell's "Simple Destiny Abstractions", plus some animations with some very good detail on the level of Windsor McCay. The 1928 version of "The Fall of the House of Usher" focuses more on displaying some complex optical work than the story, reducing Poe's tale to only ten minutes in length. "Night on Bald Mountain" is an example of pinboard animation, in which a film is made completely using shadows from a pin screen. This technique continued to be used for decades. Suspense - a 1913 melodrama in which a housewife and her baby are nearly attacked by a knife-wielding drifter - is included because of its split-screen techniques. However, it is also interesting as the beginnings of what became the psycho-thrillers that exist to this day.
For the budget conscious, the disc entitled "PICTURING A METROPOLIS, New York City Unveiled" is the only disc available for individual purchase. This particular disc is great for history buffs as well as film buffs for all of its views of New York City life during the period from 1890-1940. The New York City disc moves from early footage of the city, including the Edison Company's famous and poetic Coney Island at Night, to Charles Sheeler and Paul Strand's well-known Manhattan, to some work by Rudy Burckhardt, the film-maker, photographer, and painter who was also one of de Kooning's earliest friends in New York.
There are also some films financed by the depression-era WPA. Among them, Elia Kazan makes an appearance in a rather odd socialist movie about the poor of New York. There are some pictures sponsored by Labor Unions that offer 'alternative newsreels' that expose illegal business thuggery and a reactionary murder cult known as The Black Legion. Entertainment figures that are later blacklisted for their political beliefs and actions also make an appearance here - most notably, Paul Robeson, an actor often forgotten because of this. Robeson can be seen narrating a film on organized labor in this collection.
The disc entitled "The Beginnings of Ciné-Dance" has quite a bit of variety, but is still clearly delimited, opening with Annabelle Moore's "Butterfly Dance" and offering near its end David Bradley's Peer Gynt of 1941, starring a teenage Charlton Heston.
Some of the best material on the set is from Hollywood, probably due to the larger budgets involved. Included in this category would be some of the original montages of Slavko Vorkapich that were done for some MGM movies. This includes a bit of film in which the entire Napoleanic war appears to play out in just two minutes. Also included is Vorkapich's opening montage to "Crime Without Passion" in which three banshees fly about and terrorize the streets of Manhattan. The Ernst Lubitsch "touch" also apparently includes montages, and there is an excerpt from 1926's "So This is Paris" that shows a flapper dance in montage. It does a good job of conveying the wildness of the place at that time, which is part of the central theme of the movie. Also included are Busby Berkeley's numbers "Lullaby of Broadway" and "By a Waterfall", which are light compared to the other pieces with their more hidden deeper meanings.
I could go on forever describing the contents of this DVD set, but these were the pieces that stood out the most to me, anyway. The label of "Avant Garde" does not really fit this collection as we know the meaning of the term today. After all, there is work here by the Edison Company, D.W. Griffith, and a host of other people who have secure places in mainstream motion picture history. The "Avant Garde" label is more of an indication that film as an artform during the time period covered was inherently avant-garde just because it was new. The quality of the video is quite good considering the probable shape of the originals. I personally love this set and think it is well worth the price."