Comment S’Ambiencer en Temps de Crise, Part Deux

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Protège ton pouvoir.
Conserve ton savoir.
Protège ton histoire.
Préserve ta mémoire.

(Protect your power.
Conserve your knowledge.
Protect your history.
Preserve your memory.)

—Marcus Gad, “Pouvoir”

Did you think that French Kiss, ou Comment S’Ambiencer en Temps de Crise was all there was? Au contraire, mon frère. Here are some more songs I recently discovered, with a few lessons on geography.

First up, some French reggae artists speaking truth to power.

French note: Marcus Gad is singing about his native New Caledonia, an archipelago in the South Pacific. The status and terminology for what used to be referred to as the DOM-TOM (French overseas departments and territories) is changing all the time, nowhere more than in la Nouvelle-Calédonie, which has seen various independence movements and related unrest since the 1970s. Most recently, in 2018, voters rejected full independence and New Caledonia is a Collectivité sui generis, or special collectivity of France, with its people holding French citizenship and having representation in the French Parliament.


Above, the lead singer of the Paris-based Danakil, a reggae band that often explicitly takes on human rights issues, sings with Natty Jean, a reggae singer from Dakar, capital of le Sénégal.

French note: Although Wolof, not French, is the lingua franca of Senegal, especially in and around Dakar, French remains the official language of the country. For this reason, along with its strong musical heritage, many Senegalese artists (Youssou N’Dour, MC Solaar) can be found singing in French on the world stage.


French note: The pop-up labels that appear above each person lip-syncing to this song about judging people based on their appearance are as follows: Ellen, phys ed teacher; Frank, banker; Mohammad, music conservatory student; and Mike, veterinarian.

Speaking of not judging a book by its cover, the two lead singers of I Woks are Savoyards, that is, from la Savoie (like my family originally!), a French departément in the Alps, known more for its cute ski villages than for reggae. However, in this video they are walking through Belleville, which, for simplicity’s sake, let’s call the Brooklyn of Paris.

On est venu danser, oublier que tout va mal.
(We came to dance, to forget everything’s going badly.)

—Tal, “Mondial”

And now for something completely different, a song I found while looking for stuff related to France winning the 2018 World Cup (le Mondial). Tal is actually one of the singers that Marina Sofia recommended in the comments in my previous post on recent French music. I hadn’t made the connection until I went back through some of the songs I had set aside for future use.

French note: I’m not sure where Tal is starting off on her road trip through France. Based on the timbered house (maison à colombages) in the background and the snow, it is likely in the northeastern part of the country, but these types of houses can also be found in Normandy, Brittany, and the Auvergne, so who knows. What I do know is that she makes a stop in Marseille to pick up Soprano, featured in French Kiss, ou Comment S’Ambiencer en Temps de Crise.

In a similar vein of brotherhood and common humanity, here is Soprano with Black M. Two years later, Black M would go on to write another song about brotherhood and working together, this time with Youssou N’Dour for the official song of Les Lions, the national soccer team of Senegal.

French note: In French, the suffix -ot is used as a diminutive. For example, Charlie Chaplin, aka the Little Tramp, is known in France as Charlot. So the term frérot indicates little brother, kid brother, or even bro (but without any of the negative connotations sometimes associated with this term in English).

Le petit Guinéen chante pour le Sénégal
C’est la même chose
Sénégal, Guinée, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire
On est ensembles, Afrique de l’Ouest

(The little Guinean is singing for Senegal
It’s the same thing
Senegal, Guinea, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire
We’re all together, West Africa)

—Black M, “Gainde (Les Lions)”

Speaking of the 2018 World Cup, because of the time difference, I watched most of the matches at the Alliance Française de San Francisco, which opened early on the days with French matches. Besides being conveniently located in my neighborhood, it provided the added bonus of a clearly pro-France crowd and broadcasting the games via TV5 with French announcers. To express my French pride, I usually wore the marinière my aunt bought me while we were traveling through Brittany.

French note: Originally worn by French sailors, or marins (hence the name), and generally associated with la Bretagne where many are made and sold, la marinière was first brought into regular play in the French fashion world by Coco Chanel. It re-emerged again in the 1960s with Yves Saint Laurent integrating the look into his haute couture collection and a number of other designers picking up the look, notably Jean-Paul Gaultier.

In any case, imagine my delight when I found a song dedicated to this most stereotypical of French garments, and one with excellent word play to boot. One example of this word play is “J’sais pas si t’es au courant”—a phrase that normally translates roughly as “I don’t know if you’re aware” but in this sense (following “L’océan nous emporte”), could be interpreted literally: “The ocean is carrying us away, (but) I don’t know if you are in the current.”

A “good” marinière is made of thick, tightly woven material. They are quite durable and last a long time and, in theory, could go from person to person as in the video. I don’t know if it is intentional, but at one point in the video we clearly see that this marinière is from Saint James, one of the best-known manufacturers of this type of shirt.

If Hoshi is more in the singer-songwriter tradition of Jacques Brel, Clara Luciani might be said to be carrying on the other great musical tradition of 1960s France: the pop-rock style known as Yé-Yé, popularized by the likes of Françoise Hardy and Sylvie Vartan. And, since what’s good for the gander is good for the goose, let’s hear a little about sisterhood, shall we?



And, to close, something else completely different. I have no idea what this song from Franco-Moroccan rapper Lartiste is saying (and not just because half of it is in Portuguese), but I think we can all agree that it’s a banger.

*Note to email subscribers, there is embedded video in this post that may not appear in your email. Please click through to the actual post to see the complete list of selections.

French Kiss, ou Comment S’Ambiancer en Temps de Crise

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Je suis français
Ils veulent pas que Marianne soit ma fiancée
Peut-être parce qu’ils me trouvent trop foncé
Laisse-moi juste l’inviter à danser
J’vais l’ambiancer…

I’m French (but)
They don’t want Marianne to be linked with me
Maybe because they think I’m too dark
Just let me invite her to dance
I’ll liven her up…

Black M, “Je suis chez moi”

Let me explain… No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

While I started out strong at the beginning of the year, 2020 soon became an epic clusterf*uck. Beyond the ongoing political nightmare, global pandemic, and civic unrest, what was supposed to be a relatively straightforward French gig quickly turned into something that could be a business school case study in how not to manage a project. It soon took over February and, after vowing not to have that happen again, I nevertheless found myself clocking in over 150 hours in the first two weeks of May. No, that is not a typo, or exaggeration. Of course, I’m thankful to have the work, but the added stress on top of everything else has really been too much to bear.

Did I mention the shelter-in-place orders in both San Francisco and Los Angeles have meant that the Math Greek and I have been sharing my studio apartment for over two months? Well, I’m happy to report we haven’t yet killed each other, although we are now under curfew so I suppose there’s no telling what may happen. I hope wherever you are reading this you are doing your best to stay healthy, safe, and sane. It’s a challenge in the best of times to be sure.

In case you need a little motivation to get you through the next few days, weeks, or months, here is one good thing that came out of my long hours: I had to catch up on recent French music and discovered a few artists that have both something to say and a way of saying it that makes you want to get up and dance. They got me through more than a few all-nighters this month. As with Stromae, I can’t believe I’m only learning of them now (especially given that they have sung with, among others, Shakira and Sting), but if you are in the same boat, here are three favorite selections from each. Enjoy!

First up is Black M, or Black Mesrimes, a Parisian rapper and singer-songwriter whose real name (referenced in the first video) is Alpha Diallo.

French notes: Marianne is the symbol of the French Republic, notably featured in the Delacroix painting La Liberté guidant le peuple. The expression s’ambiancer comes from Francophone Africa and roughly translates as motivate, liven up—basically that you are getting ready to party.


French note: This song plays on the French game of effeuiller la marguerite, the original version of “he loves me, he loves me not” which uses the following text in rotation for each plucked petal: elle m’aime… / il m’aime… 1) un peu (a little), 2) beaucoup (a lot), 3) passionnément (passionately), 4) à la folie (madly), and 5) pas du tout (not at all).




Next up is Gandhi Bilel Djuna, better known as Maître Gims, or simply GIMS. He was born in Kinshasa, but grew up in Paris. Like Black M, he got his start as a member of the hip-hop collective Sexion d’Assaut.

French note: This song alludes to Jacques Brel, a Belgian singer-songwriter from the 1950s–1960s noted for his lyrical texts, whose “Ne me quitte pas” is referenced in an early hit by Maître Gims (“Bella”).

If you don’t speak French and are looking for something you can understand at least half of, the above song is a mix of French and English, with Sia singing the English lines.



And, finally, there is Soprano, né Saïd M’Roumbaba, who originally hails from Marseille (note the accent on the motivational coach in the first video) and is just brimming with positivity.

French note: The coach’s third step is called the accent circonflexe because that is the shape one’s arms make.

French note: Among other famous names, this song references the following French celebrities: soccer star Zinedine Zidane, actress Monica Bellucci, Olympic gold medalist Teddy Riner (judo), and actor Omar Sy.

And on that note… Je vous fais le coup du ninja!

*Note to email subscribers, there is embedded video in this post that may not appear in your email. Please click through to the actual post to see the complete list of selections.

Oscar Blitz: Wish Lists

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And the Oscar goes to…

After seeing all nine films nominated for Best Picture as well as most other nominees,* I hereby present my wish list for tonight’s awards. Even though I liked many of the nominated films, I have to say I’m really rooting for Parasite since it is the first time in perhaps ever that my favorite film of the year even has a chance of winning. As always, mostly I’m just hoping for one or two surprises, especially in the acting categories, which really seem set in stone this year.

With that said, and based on what I’ve seen, here is what or who the oddsmakers think will win tonight (as of last night), what or who I would like to see win, and, in some categories, those I feel should (or shouldn’t) have been nominated. As always, if I propose a “new” nomination, I take a current nominee off the list: This doesn’t necessarily mean the person or film is undeserving (though it can), but it’s easy to say that so-and-so should have been nominated when the reality is that there are only five slots to fill.

Best Picture
Will win: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Should win: Parasite
Should have been nominated: The Farewell, Hustlers
Shouldn’t have been nominated: Joker

This is really just a hunch. While 1917 is favored to win, with Parasite a close second and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood behind both of them, the Academy loves movies about making movies and both Brutally Honest Oscar Ballots in The Hollywood Reporter picked it as their fave. Really, I’m fine with any of the top three winning.

Directing
Will win: Bong Joon-ho for Parasite
Should win: Bong Joon-ho for Parasite
Should have been nominated: Taika Waititi for Jojo Rabbit
Shouldn’t have been nominated: Todd Phillips for Joker

Adapted Screenplay
Will win: Jojo Rabbit
Should win: Little Women
Should have been nominated: Transit
Shouldn’t have been nominated: Joker

Original Screenplay
Will win: Parasite
Should win: Knives Out

Actor in a Leading Role
Will win: Joaquin Phoenix for Joker
Should win: Joaquin Phoenix for Joker
Should have been nominated: Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems
Shouldn’t have been nominated: Jonathan Pryce for The Two Popes

Actress in a Leading Role
Will win: Renée Zellweger for Judy
Should win: Renée Zellweger for Judy
Should have been nominated: Lupita Nyong’o for Us
Shouldn’t have been nominated: Scarlett Johansson for Marriage Story

Actor in a Supporting Role
Will win: Brad Pitt for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Should win: Joe Pesci for The Irishman

Actress in a Supporting Role
Will win: Laura Dern for Marriage Story
Should win: Florence Pugh for Little Women
Should have been nominated: Park So-dam for Parasite
Shouldn’t have been nominated: Scarlett Johansson for Jojo Rabbit

Cinematography
Will win: 1917
Should win: 1917

Film Editing
Will win: Ford v Ferrari
Should win: Parasite

Original Score
Will win: Joker
Should win: 1917

Production Design
Will win: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Should win: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Costume Design
Will win: Little Women
Should win: Little Women
Should have been nominated: Dolemite Is My Name, Knives Out
Shouldn’t have been nominated: Jojo Rabbit, Joker

And with that, I think I’ve exhausted the categories I really care about, so I will just leave you with the odds-on favorites for the final few categories:

International Feature: Parasite
Makeup and Hairstyling: Bombshell
Original Song: “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” from Rocketman
Sound Editing: 1917
Sound Mixing: 1917
Visual Effects: 1917

Animated Feature: Toy Story 4 or Klaus
Animated Short Film: Hair Love
Live-Action Short Film: Brotherhood or The Neighbors’ Window
Documentary Feature: American Factory
Documentary Short Subject: Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)

Oscar Statues

Who would you like to see take home one of these golden boys?


*Oscar-nominated features I’ve seen to date: Ad Astra, Avengers: Endgame, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, American Factory, Ford v Ferrari, Honeyland, The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Joker, Judy, Knives Out, The Lighthouse, The Lion King, Little Women, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, Marriage Story, 1917, Once upon a Time…in Hollywood, Parasite, The Two Popes

A Century+ of Cinema: The Early Silents, 1895–1909

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When I was first putting my Century+ project together, I hesitated over how to divide up the silent period, or whether even to divide it up at all. I ended up deciding to cover the first fifteen years of cinema history, from 1895 to 1909, as one “decade” and then look at the 1910s separately in February. Of course, that was when I thought this post would actually go up in January. Thank god we have one extra day in February this year.

In any case, this division seemed to make sense, since in my initial research it looked like the year 1909 served as a transitional year, when films shifted significantly in length, moving from being extremely short shorts (1–6 min), to more of a mid-length short (12–15 min). I have since realized that that is not exactly the case and the cut-off year for this decade is really just as arbitrary in terms of film content and style as any other decade.

Besides covering more than ten years of cinema production, this post will also be different from my other decade posts in months to come because it is really more about the industry than the films themselves. Because, while I enjoy watching (some of) these films, and would certainly consider many of them essential, they are not generally going to make anyone’s top ten list of all time.*

So, a bit of cinema history…

Birthplace(s) of Cinema

There are numerous national claims to being responsible for the first film, but any consideration of the early silent era basically comes down to two countries—France and the United States. In the United States, with the development of the Kinetograph and Kinetoscope in 1891–1893 by Thomas Edison and William Dickson, we see the first moving pictures, albeit in the form of a peepshow device available to only one person at a time. In France, with the Lumière brothers’ first projection of films for an audience in March 1895, and then a paying public in December of that same year, we see the birth of cinema, that is, the experience of watching films together in the dark.

French Industrialists and Innovators

We begin in France since it is developments there that are responsible for the spread of this technology and form of entertainment so quickly across the globe and French production companies dominate the industry until the early 1910s.

Auguste and Louis Lumière

The cinématographe, which gave its name to the new medium, was invented in Lyon, France, by Auguste and Louis Lumière, the two eldest sons of Charles-Antoine Lumière, a photographer by trade. When his sons were rather young, Charles-Antoine had opened a factory to produce photographic plates; however, he wasn’t very successful until his sons returned from technical school and essentially took it over. While still in his teens, Louis invented and patented a new type of photographic plate that reduced the need for darkroom development, essentially setting up the Lumière company (and families) for life. It was his father, however, who first saw moving pictures in a Kinetoscope and encouraged his sons to figure out a way to improve upon that invention.

Of course, the Lumière brothers were not the only inventors to be working on developing a mechanism to project moving pictures—other pioneers include Max Skladanowsky who debuted his invention in Berlin in late 1895—however, the brothers’ invention had three key advantages over its competitors: 1) the camera served as both a projector and film developer; 2) it was hand-cranked and illuminated by limelight and so did not rely on electric current; and 3) it was relatively light. This meant that the cinématographe was much more portable and adaptable than anything else on the market. The brothers further capitalized on these advantages by training twenty or so cameramen/projectionists to go out and make and show motion pictures on site throughout France and abroad. Not only did this put their incredible machines on display for a larger number of people, but it also provided a large supply of varied films.

The Lumière brothers referred to their films as actualités, which is a word used today for the news, and is usually translated as documentaries, but they are not what we think of as documentaries today. Rather, these films, which are all about fifty seconds long (because that’s how much film stock could fit in the camera), mostly document scenes and events of daily life: a train arriving at a train station, two parents feeding a baby, or simply workers leaving the Lumière factory. That is not to say these films don’t tell stories, one of the most famous Lumière films is L’Arroseur arrosé, a short comic play in which a boy plays a trick on a gardener, and which Louis filmed in three different versions, my favorite being Arroseur et arrosé (1897), where the gardener delivers a little payback.

In all these films, like most others of the early period, the camera remains in a fixed position, but, given the photography background of the brothers, these images display a strong command of black & white photography and sense of composition within the frame, often playing with diagonals and planes. Two of my favorite films of theirs do this: Lancement d’un navire (The Launching of a Ship), which use three planes of depth of field (the foreground of the crowd, the middle ground of the ship, and the background of the people on the other side as the ship slips away into the water) and Laveuses sur la rivière, which has three vertical planes of action. In many ways, the Lumière films are the “prettiest” of the early films. [Side note: I was wondering how the clip I picked out below was so much sharper than other versions I found online and then Ricky alerted me to this, so maybe the same thing was done here? Anyway, it was the composition choice I wanted to highlight.

Of course, for the first audiences, just seeing these everyday events depicted on screen was a visual spectacle in and of itself. Although, despite reports to the contrary, audiences did not flee in terror at the sight of the oncoming train in L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat.

Top Ten Lumière Films Ranked:
L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat (1896)
L’Arroseur arrosé (Tables Turned on the Gardener) (1895)
Laveuses sur la rivière (1897)
Lancement d’un navire (1896)
Barque sortant du port (1895)
Water-to-bogant (Montagnes russes sur l’eau) (1896)
Danse serpentine (1897)
Quai de l’Archevêché (1896)
Bataille de boules de neige (Snowball Fight) (1896)
Sortie d’usine (Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory) (1895)

Georges Méliès
Georges Méliès, a magician by trade, and one of the first to see the cinématographe in action, immediately saw the potential of this new invention. By 1896–97, he had established a production company and built his own studio just outside Paris. Of all the French film pioneers, Méliès was simultaneously the most interested in visual spectacle and theatrics while also remaining the most studio-bound, often relying on trick photography to create fantastical tableaux, similar to what he must have wanted to do on the stage as a magician. As a result, his work is very stagey and, to me, his early short works seem very repetitive. Let’s just say there are a lot of disembodied heads in Méliès.

This is not to say that his stop-motion effects aren’t cool—they are—but, much like Marvel movies, the films just all seem to blend into each other after a while. I can only see a devil (or a scantily clad lady) appear, do a dance, and disappear so many times. Still, some of his tableaux are really beautiful, especially the longer color-tinted ones, so you should seek out at least one or two to see how inventive he was for the technology available. If your taste runs more in a Jules Verne direction, check out Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon) or Le Voyage à travers l’impossible (The Impossible Voyage). If classic boys adventure is more your thing, try Les Aventures de Robinson Crusoé (Robinson Crusoe) or Le Voyage de Gulliver à Lilliput et chez les géants (Gulliver’s Travels). If fairy tales are to your liking, try Barbe-bleue (Bluebeard), Le Royaume de fées (The Kingdom of Fairies), or his 1912 version of Cinderella: Cendrillon, ou, la pantoufle merveilleuse.

Occasionally Méliès did stray from the realm of sci fi-fantasy and present straight historical subjects, such as his nine-part series on the Dreyfus Affair and his Jeanne d’Arc, each about ten minutes total and these are well worth watching at least once. My favorite of his purely trick films is probably Le Bourreau turc (The Terrible Turkish Executioner), which was rather disturbing, but made me laugh anyway. Really, you have to give him props for showing what was possible so quickly. However, given his emphasis on special effects, it is perhaps not surprising that when the film industry begins to transition at the end of this period towards a more narrative-based medium, his type of novelty film quickly fell out of favor and his Star Film Company was bankrupt by 1913.

Top Ten Méliès Films Ranked:
Le Royaume de fées (The Kingdom of Fairies) (1903)
Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon) (1902)
Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc) (1900)
Cendrillon, ou, la pantoufle merveilleuse (Cinderella) (1912)
Le Voyage à travers l’impossible (The Impossible Voyage) (1904)
Barbe-bleue (Bluebeard) (1901)
Le Bourreau turc (The Terrible Turkish Executioner) (1904)
Cendrillon (Cinderella) (1899)
L’Affaire Dreyfus (1899)
Le Mélomane (The Melomaniac) (1903)

Alice Guy
I’ve written at length about Alice Guy-Blaché (The Great Unseen 1: Matinée Idle) so I won’t go into detail about her career here, but suffice it to say that after watching a whole slew of films in this era (before Guy married and moved with her husband to the United States), I remain absolutely committed to the idea that she fully belongs alongside the Lumière brothers and Georges Méliès in the French pantheon. In fact, of the three, only Guy breaks into the 1910s in any lasting way. Not only was she one of the very first to make a narrative fiction film (La Fée au choux, of which only later remakes survive), but she conducted early sound experiments with Gaumont’s Chronophone sync-sound system and, in 1906, made a big-budget religious epic with La Naissance, la vie et la mort du Christ, which used three hundred extras.

Guy’s work during this period also represents a nice bridge between the actualités of the Lumière brothers and the fantasy films of Méliès. She really does it all: comedy (Chez le photographe), drama (Sur la barricade), dance (Danse serpentine and Le Tango), fairy tales (La Fée aux choux), epics (La Naissance, la vie et la mort du Christ), social satire (Les Résultats du féminisme), travelogues (Spain), and even trick films (Comment Monsieur prend son bain). If you want to learn more about Guy and her work, I highly recommend last year’s documentary on her, Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché, available on Kanopy.

Top Ten Guy Films Ranked (1897–1907 only):
Les Résultats du féminisme (The Consequences of Feminism) (1906)
Danse serpentine (Serpentine Dance by Mme. Bob Walter) (1897)
La Naissance, la vie et la mort du Christ (The Birth, Life and Death of Christ) (1906)
La Fée aux choux (The Cabbage Fairy) (1900)
Chez le photographe (At the photographer’s) (1900)
L’Espagne (Spain) (1905)
Comment Monsieur prend son bain (How Monsieur Takes His Bath) (1903)
Saharet, Boléro (Saharet Performs the Bolero) (1905)
Sur la barricade (On the Barricade) (1907)
Le Matelas épileptique (The Drunken Mattress) (1906)

Gaumont and Pathé-Frères
Alice Guy worked as head of production for Gaumont, a newly established company of photographic equipment that quickly moved into film production after the debut of the cinématographe. When Guy married and moved to the United States in 1907, she was replaced by her protégé, Louis Feuillade, who would work for the company until 1918. It was while working at Gaumont that Feuillade made the serials he is best known for: Fantômas (5 episodes, 1913–14), Les Vampires (The Vampires) (10 episodes, 1915), and Judex (12 episodes, 1916), at least one of which I will try to watch in February. In this period, I particularly enjoyed his Le Récit du colonel (The Colonel’s Account) (1907), in which an old colonel reenacts the Franco-Prussian war for his dinner guests, and Une Dame vraiment bien (A Very Fine Lady) (1908), which uses ten different shots edited together to make it seem like the camera is following a young woman’s walk through the city, where she is constantly distracting men (carrying firehoses, guns, ladders, etc.) so they trip over themselves or otherwise cause injury to themselves or others.

The other major French company to emerge in the 1890s was Pathé-Frères. Pathé was founded in 1896 as a maker of phonograph equipment and a network of recording studios. Pathé immediately made a place for itself in the film industry by an aggressive system of acquisition, expansion, and exportation. The company acquired the Lumière patents in 1902 and the Méliès company just before World War I. They were often the only company to have a presence in developing countries and the Pathé rooster quickly became an international cinematic emblem. This market domination did not exclude the United States. By 1908, Pathé distributed twice as many films in the U.S. than all American companies combined. This is likely a key reason for the consolidation and monopolization of the industry engineered by Edison at the same time. Pathé’s roster of directors included head of production Ferdinand Zecca, Albert Capellani, Louis J. Gasnier, Max Linder, Gaston Velle, and cinematographer Segundo de Chomón, who would go on to photograph Giovanni Pastrone’s Cabiria (1914).

If you watched the first episode of The Story of Film, as I recommended in my post on silent film resources, you’ve seen at least one Pathé film, Le Cheval emballé (The Runaway Horse), which demonstrates both intercutting and parallel editing to advance two stories at once. This film is a key example of the strides made in the transitional period from 1902 to 1907 where cinema moves firmly into the realm of multi-shot fiction narratives. Though the director of this film is somewhat disputed, the company itself is solidly represented in my list of essentials, with six films on the list.

Both Gaumont and Pathé remain working in film production to this day.

Top Ten Pathé Films Ranked:
Le Médecin du château (A Narrow Escape) (1908)
Vive la vie de garçon (Troubles of a Grass Widower) (1908)
Premier prix de violoncelle (1907)
Ali Baba et les quarantes voleurs (Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves) (1902)
Le Cheval emballé (The Runaway Horse) (1907)
Aladin ou la lampe merveilleuse (Aladin, or the Wonderful Lamp) (1906)
La Poule aux œufs d’or (The Hen That Laid the Golden Eggs) (1905)
Pied de mouton (The Talisman) (1907)
Par le trou de la serrure (Peeping Tom) (1901)
Histoire d’un crime (The Story of a Crime) (1901)

British Pioneers

Since I was aware of much of the above history from my graduate school days, the real discovery of this period for me were the British film pioneers, which, in comparison to the work going on in both France and the U.S. just seems remarkably refined in terms of technique and storytelling. In my research, three names stand out, George Albert Smith, James Williamson, and R.W. Paul. Smith and Williamson were both part of what would later be termed the Brighton School, which pioneered the use of film editing and close-ups, while Smith was a London electrical engineer who took advantage of the fact that Edison didn’t patent his Kinetograph abroad to make his own camera. When Edison cut off the supply of films, Paul went into production for himself.

Smith, who originally worked on stage as a hypnotist and psychic, made extremely innovative films including A Kiss in the Tunnel, a scene made to be edited into a “phantom ride” film (a popular genre in the early 1900s whereby the camera was mounted on the front of a train), The Sick Kitten, which featured a close-up of a kitten on a little girl’s lap being fed medicine from a spoon, and Santa Claus, likely the first Christmas movie, which uses double exposure to show Santa Claus visiting a house on Christmas Eve. My favorite film of his is Mary Jane’s Mishap; or, Don’t Fool with the Paraffin, a comedy in which a kitchen maid causes an explosion by putting paraffin on the stove. After she is blown up through the chimney with her remains scattering on the ground, we cut to a cemetery and her ghost rising from a grave marked “Rest in Pieces” to seek out her beloved paraffin can before going to her final reward.

Williamson, who is best known for The Big Swallow—a trick film whose innovative use of extreme close-up represents an ingenious meta commentary on the subject-spectator relationship—was also perhaps the first action director. With the films Fire! and Stop Thief!, he enacted multiple-shot narratives containing chase sequences, comedic and dramatic elements, and a remarkable amount of suspense. It is truly incredible that all three of these films were made as early as 1901.

R.W. Paul was extraordinarily clever in both the way he shot films and the tricks he learned. See, for example, the framing of A Chess Dispute or the trick photography of Extraordinary Cab Accident (both in the second volume of The Movies Begin: A Treasury of Early Cinema, 1894–1914). Paul’s engineering background also led him to innovate when it came to the camera itself, using a double Maltese cross system to advance the film in his camera, reverse cranking to allow for multiple exposures, and rudimentary panning and dollying mechanisms. He also produced Scrooge, or Marley’s Ghost, the oldest known adaptation of A Christmas Carol, a remarkable condensation of the story and the first known use of intertitles.

Top Ten British Films Ranked:
A Photographic Contortion (The Big Swallow) (1901)
Mary Jane’s Mishap; or, Don’t Fool with the Paraffin (1903)
Stop Thief! (1901)
Scrooge, or Marley’s Ghost (1901)
Sick Kitten (1903)
Fire! (1901)
A Chess Dispute (1903)
Santa Claus (1898)
Extraordinary Cab Accident (1903)
An Interesting Story (1905)

American Inventors and Storytellers
As noted above, France dominates the film industry throughout this period. However, Edison’s contributions, or rather the contributions of people who worked for Edison, especially William Dickson and Edwin S. Porter, cannot be discounted.

William Kennedy Dickson

William Dickson is the person who shared the patent for the Kinetograph, built the “Black Maria” studio in New Jersey, and directed the first films shown in the Kinetoscope parlors of New York. Of course, this didn’t stop Edison from claiming the cinema was his invention, even though for him the cinema seemed to mostly be about profit and litigation and he would be the main driving force in the attempt to consolidate the industry through patent control by forming the conglomerate commonly known as the Edison Trust in 1908. This, combined with the fact that the United States has almost always been the single greatest market for films, would result in the United States eventually taking over the industry through a vigorous export policy, new techniques and inventions, and industry consolidation. With the move to Hollywood in the early 1910s, and then the advent of World War I, this shift was complete.

As in France, the first subjects of the Kinetograph weren’t really narratives but rather focused on simply capturing something, anything, on camera—for example, Fred Ott’s Sneeze in 1894, or The John C. Rice-May Irwin Kiss in 1896. In the case of Edison, this mostly meant New York vaudeville and other performers whose acts were captured in his New Jersey studio. After Dickson left Edison to work with the Latham brothers (What is it with brothers and the early film industry anyway?) and help invent the Latham loop, a projection system that would allow for longer strips of film, motion pictures could become more focused on narrative. One of the first was Rip Van Winkle (1896), starring venerated actor Joseph Jefferson (Remember him?). Dickson is also one of the founders of Biograph, which would become the first home of director D.W. Griffith. Despite Dickson’s incredible achievements in getting motion pictures off the ground, he was really more inventor than storyteller and it was another key director working for Edison who would go on to create the films we think of as representing the best of American early silents.

Edwin S. Porter

Originally a projectionist and exhibitor, Edwin S. Porter made trick films in the style of Méliès as well as documentaries in the style of the Lumière brothers, but his two best-known films fall into neither camp: Life of an American Fireman depicts the full sequence of a fire and rescue, from the close up on a fire alarm box to the life-saving actions of a fire crew, and The Great Train Robbery is considered both the first action film and the first western, using multiple locations and cross-cutting to show action happening simultaneously. The Great Train Robbery famously ends with one of the robbers turning the gun on the audience.

Porter also directed a version of The Night Before Christmas and A Winter Straw Ride, both of which appear in the A Christmas Past collection on Kanopy, and Dream of a Rarebit Fiend, based on the well-known comic strip by Winsor McCay, who would go on to make animated films in the 1910s. However, my absolute favorite Porter film is The “Teddy” Bears, made with cinematographer Wallace McCutcheon. The film tells the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears and features, among other things, a “teddy bear” belonging to Baby Bear—seen through a keyhole in a humorous stop-motion animated sequence that took Porter a full week to photograph—and a chase sequence that ends in a scene of dark political satire with Teddy Roosevelt as a hunter.

D.W. Griffith and the Transition from the Early Silent Period

After the initial development of Edison’s Kinestoscope and the first narratives of Edwin S. Porter, we sort of hit a fallow period. This is likely just the result of the fact that more than ninety percent of the silent films of this period are now lost. However, it is clear that by the latter part of the decade change was in the air. Films started to move away from being strictly a novelty item and toward a longer narrative format that depicted more realistic stories of daily life.

This is when D.W. Griffith comes on the scene. I will have a lot to say about this director in my next post, but one can see already in 1909 that Griffith is a great story teller. Of course, from a film history perspective he also had the good fortune to work at Biograph, which deposited film prints on paper for copyright at the Library of Congress and whose nitrate negatives were rescued by MOMA’s film department in the late 1930s. Because over four hundred of Griffith’s films survive, many early film histories credit him with inventing almost everything (from close-ups, backlighting, and masking, to parallel editing, the dolly shot, and changing camera angles) and this has been repeated ad nauseum over the years. We now know that Griffith was not really a great innovator, but could certainly use the medium well to wring the most out of any drama.

And what drama! From Corner in Wheat, an adaptation of Frank Norris’s The Pit, to The Sealed Room (1909), an extremely melodramatic Balzac adaptation about a French king walling in his wife and her lover, to The Country Doctor (1909), where a doctor chooses to leave his sick daughter to treat a poor child instead, someone always seems to be dying a horrible death. Even the somewhat comic A Trap for Santa (1909) starts off by focusing on a family so impoverished that the unemployed alcoholic father leaves because the family will be better off without him. The only pure comedy by Griffith I saw from this period was Those Awful Hats, a shorter film featuring a parade of women in comically large hats looking for seats in a theater.

One of the many Griffith deaths I witnessed, this time in Corner in Wheat

Top Ten American Films Ranked:
The “Teddy” Bears (1907)
Corner in Wheat (1909)
Life of an American Fireman (1903)
From Leadville to Aspen: A Hold-Up in the Rockies (1906)
The Great Train Robbery (1903)
A Trap for Santa (1909)
Those Awful Hats (1909)
Jack and the Beanstalk (1902)
The Country Doctor (1909)
The Kiss (The John C. Rice-May Irwin Kiss) (1896)

To close out an already ridiculously long post, a word on the “essentials” for this period. I realized while catching up with the new-to-me films on my list that this era was far richer in innovation than I ever would have given it credit for and that I should therefore expand my list of “essential” films for these early decades from twenty to twenty-five. In addition, I ended up removing five films from my original list to make way for other films. Sadly, this meant removing a number of perfectly fine examples of the art—Panorama du Grand Canal vu d’un bateau (1896) by Alexandre Promio (the first traveling shot), Le Départ d’Arlequin et de Pierrette (Pierrette’s Escapades) (1900) by Alice Guy-Blaché, Aladin ou La Lampe Merveilleuse (1906) by Albert Capellani, the hilarious Premier prix du violoncelle (First Prize for Cello (1907), and A Trap for Santa Claus (1909) by D.W. Griffith—but resulting in a more diverse selection of films and filmmakers.

My final proposed list is as follows:

Essential Films of the 1890s–1900s
L’Arroseur arrosé (Tables Turned on the Gardener), Louis Lumière, 1895
L’Arrivée d’un train à La Ciotat, Louis Lumière, 1896
La Fée aux choux (The Cabbage Fairy), Alice Guy, 1900
Danse Serpentine, Auguste Lumière & Louis Lumière, 1897
Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc), Georges Méliès, 1900
Barbe-bleue (Bluebeard), Georges Méliès, 1901
Fire!, James Williamson, 1901
Histoire d’un crime (History of a Crime), Ferdinand Zecca, 1901
A Photographic Contortion (The Big Swallow), James Williamson, 1901
Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon), Georges Méliès, 1902
Le Royaume des fées (The Kingdom of Fairies), Georges Méliès, 1903
Life of an American Fireman, Edwin S. Porter & George S. Fleming, 1903
The Great Train Robbery, Edwin S. Porter, 1903
Mary Jane’s Mishap; or, Don’t Fool with the Paraffin, George Albert Smith, 1903
The Sick Kitten, George Albert Smith, 1903
La Poule aux œufs d’or (The Hen That Laid the Golden Eggs), Gaston Velle, 1905
La Naissance, la vie et la mort du Christ (The Birth, Life, and Death of Christ), Alice Guy, 1906
Les Résultats du feminisme (The Consequences of Feminism), Alice Guy, 1906
Pied du mouton (The Talisman, or Sheep’s Foot), Albert Capellani, 1907
The “Teddy” Bears, Wallace McCutcheon & Edwin S. Porter, 1907
Le Cheval emballé (The Runaway Horse), Louis J. Gasnier, 1907–1908
Le Médecin du château (A Narrow Escape), 1908
Vive la vie de garçon (Troubles of a Grass Widower), Max Linder, 1908
Une Dame vraiment bien (A Very Fine Lady), Louis Feuillade, 1908
Corner in Wheat, D.W. Griffith, 1909

For those that took up my Century+ challenge, are there any essentials you think I have missed? Let me know in the comments.

*Though it should be noted that Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon) by Georges Méliès does appear in the Sight & Sound Top 250.

Note to email subscribers, there is embedded video in this post that may not appear in your email. Please click through to the actual post to see the complete list of selections.

Film 101—A Century+ Silent Film Resources

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Olga Petrova and George Irving on the set of Daughter of Destiny

For those taking up my Century+ Challenge, or who just want to explore the first decade of cinema history, I thought it might be helpful to talk about resources you might turn to in your quest to view early silent films.

The essential films for the period from 1895 to 1909 are generally quite short, ranging from 1 minute to 15 minutes. While I imagine most could be found on YouTube, personally, I hate to watch videos on YouTube. For starters, I try to avoid using Google products whenever possible. Also, it can be a pain to look for dozens of very short films there and the quality of these free versions sometimes leaves a lot to be desired.

Luckily, a number of these films have been collected into various boxed sets for purchase, but also may be available to borrow at your local library or streaming on Kanopy. Note: Kanopy also has a number of standalone silents from the 1910s and 1920s that I haven’t be able to find elsewhere so it will likely come in handy for February and March viewing as well. If you can access Kanopy through your local library or a university account, I highly recommend it. And it’s free! [For more on streaming services, see I Wake Up Streaming.]

General Collections

The Story of Film: An Odyssey (2011)

For an overview of film history it is hard to beat The Story of Film, a 15-hour documentary by Mark Cousins, which covers a century of cinema in fifteen episodes. The narration style will not be to everyone’s taste, but I appreciate his effort to look at cinema in a broad, inclusive way while also covering key industry developments and major figures. The first episode is the one that most immediately concerns us; it covers the years 1895–1918. The entire DVD set may be available at your local library, but episodes are also available streaming on Hulu and on Kanopy.

The Movies Begin: A Treasury of Early Cinema, 1894–1914 (Kino International)

This anthology is perhaps the best set to get if you want a general overview of the various types of films made in the early silent period. It is organized vaguely thematically in five volumes on 5 DVDs of varying lengths from about 60 minutes to 100 minutes.

Volume 1 (Disc 1): The Great Train Robbery and Other Primary Works includes films by Edwin S. Porter, Thomas A. Edison, Auguste and Louis Lumière, Georges Méliès, and Ferdinand Zecca. Two films on this disc are absolutely essential viewing, namely A Trip to the Moon by Georges Méliès and The Great Train Robbery by Edwin S. Porter. However, these films pop up in a number of collections and are generally easy to find; so, if you watch only one DVD in this set, I’d opt for Volume 2. Beyond the two essentials, other interesting films in this volume are The Kiss (Edison), Transformation by Hats, Comic View (Lumière), The Whole Dam Family and the Dam Dog (Porter), and The Golden Beetle (Pathé). For those interested in glimpses of U.S. cities, there is footage of trains going over the Brooklyn Bridge as well as images of the fires and destruction in the aftermath of San Francisco earthquake. There are also some “blue” movies from American Mutoscope & Biograph, which were essentially mechanized burlesque peep shows.

Volume 2 (Disc 2): The European Pioneers features formative works by the Lumière brothers and key British pioneers, among others. As I note above, if you watch only one DVD in this set, make it this one. This volume has a better selection of Lumière films—including the classics L’Arrivée d’un train à La Ciotat (The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat), L’Arroseur arrosé (Tables Turned on the Gardener), Repas de bébé (Feeding the Baby), and Sortie d’usine (Workers Leaving the Factory)—as well as the work of R.W. Paul (A Chess Dispute, Extraordinary Cab Accident), G.A. Smith (Mary Jane’s Mishap; or, Don’t Fool with the Paraffin, Sick Kitten) and James Williamson (The Big Swallow, Fire!, Stop Thief!). A word of warning: the brief audio commentary is somewhat frustrating since it is not a separate track and is very hard to hear once the music of the film starts.

Volume 3 (Disc 3): Experimentation and Discovery includes a number of important Pathé Frères films including Aladin ou la lampe merveilleuse (Aladin, or the Wonderful Lamp), Ali Baba et les quarantes voleurs (Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves), Le Cheval emballé (The Runaway Horse), (L’Histoire d’un crime) (History of a Crime), Le Médecin du château (A Narrow Escape), and Par le trou de la serrure (Peeping Tom). These Pathé films represent important benchmarks in the development of film as a narrative form.

Volume 4 (Disc 4): The Magic of Méliès has fifteen fantastic works including La Sirène (The Mermaid), L’Éclipse du soleil en pleine lune (The Eclipse), Le Voyage à travers l’impossible (The Impossible Voyage), and the documentary Georges Méliès: Cinema Magician. Personally I’m not a huge fan of Méliès overall, but these aren’t even my favorite films of his, so I wouldn’t recommend this volume. Rather, if you like his stuff, get your hands on the Georges Méliès: First Wizard of Cinema or Méliès: Fairy Tales in Color collections listed below.

Volume 5 (Disc 5): Comedy, Spectacle, and New Horizons presents cinematic milestones by Winsor McCay, Max Linder, and Alice Guy-Blaché. However, most of these films are from the 1910s and not of particular interest. One exception is Max Linder’s Vive la vie de garçon (Troubles of a Grass Widower), which I added to my list of essential films once I saw it because it serves as a great example of Linder’s comic style and a perfect companion piece to Alice Guy-Blaché’s The Consequences of Feminism, an essential film in the Gaumont collection below.

Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers (Kino Lorber)

A six-disc set that mostly covers the 1910s, including Alice Guy-Blaché’s work in the United States. Key films include Alice Guy-Blaché’s Falling Leaves (1912) and The Ocean Waif (1916), Lois Weber’s Suspense (1913) and Where Are My Children? (1916), and Mabel Normand’s Caught in a Cabaret (1914). Some of the films in this collection can be found on Netflix.

Early Women Filmmakers: An International Anthology (Flicker Alley)

Another six-disc set, but one that covers a larger time frame than the set above, with twenty-five films spanning the years 1902–1943. Key films include Alice Guy-Blaché’s Falling Leaves (1912) and Making an American Citizen (1912), Lois Weber’s Suspense (1913) and The Blot (1921), Mabel Normand’s Mabel’s Strange Predicament (1914), Germaine Dulac’s La Cigarette (1919) and La Souriante Mme. Beudet (The Similing Madame Beudet) (1922), three of Lotte Reiniger’s animated films, and Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon (1943).

French Early Silents

The Lumière Brothers’ First Films (Kino Video)

This is a collection of films that I bought back in my grad school days. I believe it is out of print now and rather expensive, but you may be able to find it at the library. Although you can see the most well-known films in the Movies Begin collection above, or in the collection of twenty Lumière films (Lumière’s First Picture Shows) on Kanopy, this contains eighty-five Lumière films from the years 1895–1897. If you have any interest in photography, I highly recommend seeking this collection out. Coming from a photography background, the Lumière films are all about composition within the frame and some of their most stunning films in this regard are little known, films like Lancement d’un navire (1896), Quai de l’Archevêché (1896), and Laveuses sur la rivière (1897).

Georges Méliès: First Wizard of Cinema 1896–1913 (Flicker Alley)

There are a number of sets that feature the work of Georges Méliès. The most complete is Georges Méliès: First Wizard of Cinema 18961913, a five disc set with over 150 films. I borrowed this from my local library. Personally, I find his work very repetitive so I don’t necessarily recommend completism with this set. Focus on the essential films, or stop and check something out when a title takes your fancy. [Side note: I’ve heard many mispronunciations of this name in the past year. The best way to approximate it in English is MELL-YES.]

Disc 1 = 60 films (1896–1901)
My favorite films on this disc are Un homme de tête (The four troublesome heads) (1898), L’Affaire Dreyfus (The Dreyfus Affair) (9 parts) (1899), Cendrillon (Cinderella) (1899), Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc) (1900), and Barbe-bleue (Bluebeard) (1901).

Disc 2 = 48 films (1902–1904)
Favorite films on this disc are Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon) (1902), Le Voyage de Gulliver à Lilliput et chez les géants (Gulliver’s Travels among the Lilliputians and the Giants) (1902), Le Mélomane (The Melomaniac) (1903), and Le Bourreau turc (The terrible Turkish Executioner) (1904).

Disc 3 = 25 films (1904–1906)
Key films on this disc are Le Voyage à travers l’impossible (The Impossible Voyage) (1904), Les Cartes vivantes (The Living Playing Cards) (1905), and Le Diable noir (The Black Imp) (1905).

Disc 4 = 30 films (1907–1908)
Key films on this disc are Le Tunnel sous la manche ou Le Cauchemar franco-anglais (Tunneling the English Channel) (1907) and L’Éclipse du soleil en pleine lune (The Eclipse) (1907).

Disc 5 = 10 films (1908–1913)
Key films on this disc are Le locataire diabolique (The Diabolic Tenant) (1909), Les hallucinations du Baron de Münchausen (Baron Munchausen’s Dream) (1911), À la conquête du pôle (The Conquest of the Pole) (1912), and Cendrillon, ou, La pantoufle merveilleuse (Cinderella) (1912).

Méliès: Fairy Tales in Color (1899–1909) (Blackhawk Films/Flicker Alley)

If you want to get a taste of Méliès at his most glorious, get your hands on this set of newly restored Méliès works in color, including A Trip to the Moon, which was originally released in both black & white and hand-tinted color versions. This set also includes Joan of Arc, Robinson Crusoe, The Impossible Voyage, The Diabolic Tenant, and The Witch. These films have been newly scored and feature English narration based on Méliès’s original narration scripts.

Gaumont Treasures, 1897–1913 (Kino International)

For the work of early pioneer Alice Guy, the first head of production at Gaumont, turn to this three-disc collection, which features her work on the first disc. (Disc 2 covers the work of Louis Feuillade and Disc 3 that of Léonce Perret.) Favorite early Guy films included here are Mrs. Bob Walter, Danse serpentine (Serpentine Dance by Mme. Bob Walter) (1897), Chapellerie et charcuterie automatiques (Automated Hat-Maker and Sausage-Grinder) (1900), Les Fredaines de Pierette (Pierrette’s Escapades) (1900), La Fée aux choux (The Cabbage-Patch Fairy) (1900) (a remake of an earlier lost film), Saharet, Boléro (Saharet Performs the Bolero) (1905), the 35-minute La Naissance, la vie et la mort du Christ (The Birth, the Life and the Death of Christ) (1906), Une femme collante (A Sticky Woman) (1906), Une histoire roulante (A Story Well Spun) (1906), Le Matelas épeliptique (The Drunken Mattress) (1906), Les Résultats du féminisme (The Consequences of Feminism) (1906), and Sur la barricade (On the Barricade) (1907). For Guy’s later work, after she moved to the United States with her husband Herbert Blaché, see the Pioneers set above.

American Early Silents

Treasures from American Film Archives: 50 Preserved Films (NFPF)

This set is an anthology of films from American film archives. There are fifty films on 4 discs including silent features, avant-garde works, documentaries and newsreels, cartoons and experimental animation, home movies and travel films, training films from the 1920s and political ads from the 1930s. The most important disc for our purposes is the first one, which includes selected early films from the Edison Company, the western feature Hell’s Hinges (1916), and the horror short The Fall of the House of Usher (1928).

More Treasures from American Film Archives, 1894–1931: 50 Films (NFPF)

This set is a second anthology of films from American film archives. There are fifty films on 3 discs including rare silent features, avant-garde shorts, documentaries and newsreels, cartoons and animation, and ethnographic footage. There are also six previews for lost features and serials. Personally, I thought this collection was far more interesting than the previous one. Highlights include the Dickson experimental sound film, The Country Doctor, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Thomas Ince’s The Invaders, Gretchen the Greenhorn, From Leadville to Aspen, The “Teddy” Bears, Gus Visser and his singing duck, Rip Van Winkle, The Life of an American Fireman, Falling Leaves, and Lady Windermere’s Fan.

Lost & Found: American treasures from the New Zealand Film Archive (NFPF)

This collection is presented on 1 disc and includes lost works not seen in decades and a variety of industrial films, news stories, cartoons, travelogues, serial episodes, previews, and comedies. Highlights include the short films Lyman H. Howe’s Famous Ride on a Runaway Train (1921) and Mabel Normand’s Won in a Cupboard (1914), a 60-minute feature by John Ford entitled Upstream (1927), and The White Shadow (1923), an uncredited Alfred Hitchcock film.

Edison: The Invention of the Movies (Kino Video)

For more Edison films than you may know what to do with, this collection, put out by Kino International, contains all 140 complete films produced by the Edison Company between 1889 and 1918 on 4 discs. All films have been restored and re-mastered with new musical scores. Highlights include the Edison kinetoscopic record of a sneeze, the Dickson experimental sound film, the John C. Rice-May Irwin kiss, and Edwin S. Porter’s The Life of an American Fireman and The Great Train Robbery.

Unseen Cinema: Early American Avant-Garde Film, 1894-1941 (Image)

A mammoth seven-disc collection that contains 155 avant-garde films of American filmmakers working in the United States and abroad. A scattershot collection that includes a lot of documentary and experimental footage. Each disc is broken up into multiple playlists for viewing on Kanopy.

Disc 1. The mechanized eye: experiments in technique and form
Disc 2. The devil’s plaything: American surrealism
Disc 3. Light rhythms: music and abstraction
Disc 4. Inverted narratives: new directions in storytelling
Disc 5. Picturing a metropolis: New York City unveiled
Disc 6. The amateur as auteur: discovering paradise in pictures
Disc 7. Viva la dance: the beginnings of cine-dance

Griffith Masterworks (Kino Video)

A seven DVD set that includes four feature films (The Birth of a Nation, Intolerance, Broken Blossoms, and Orphans of the Storm) as well as twenty-three of Griffith’s Biograph shorts, made from 1909 to 1913. The shorts can also be found on Kanopy in two volumes under the heading D.W. Griffith: Years of Discovery 1909–1913 from Flicker Alley.

Finally, if you want to see some comic shorts, I recommend Chaplin’s Mutual Comedies (1916–1917) from Blackhawk Films/Flicker Alley, which includes The Immigrant, The Rink, and One A.M., among others, and Kino Lorber’s Buster Keaton: The Shorts Collection 1917–1923 or The Art of Buster Keaton, which includes eleven features and twenty-one shorts.

[ETA: I have since found and watched a number of works in the Chaplin at Keystone collection, which includes films directed by both Mabel Normand and Mack Sennett. I highly recommend that collection if you want to see Chaplin’s earliest film work and first appearance of The Tramp on screen.]

Well, that should tide you over for some time, or at least until a week from today, when I summarize the years 1895–1909 and see who managed to complete my Century+ January challenge.