Edison: The Invention Of The Movies (1889 - 1918)
Genre: Documentary Shorts
Starring: The directorial works of early masters including Edwin S. Porter (The Great Train Robbery; Dream Of A Rarebit Fiend)
Currated by: Steve Higgins and Charles Musser
Overview: An archive of the Edison company's first movies, this 4-Disk collection includes the first screen and sound tests ever made through to the last feature film the Edison kinetoscope company ever produced.
Acting: It's an interesting thing watching people act in the early days. Months ago, when I began my study of early film, I quickly looked forward to the 20s Silents, as those made earlier suffered from a distinct lack of talent. Often the actors weren't actors at all, never having set foot on the stage. Audiences were still reeling from the novelty I suppose, since the acting was certainly not what they were coming for. Still, there's an interesting feeling you get when watching it in this way, like appreciating kitsch.
Cinematography: As you watch, you notice how the one-scene trompe l'oeil sets begin to withdraw from a stage atmosphere and film evolves into multi-shot location shoots. This evolution is what you will appreciate, seeing innovations for the first time, like split-screening and double exposures. These things will dazzle you, but as you continue to watch into the later, less inspired years, you'll find that things don't change nearly quickly enough.
Script: It's an interesting thing watching people act without the use of intertitles that speak for them. In the early days of film, the idea of using cards that represented a character's quote was still unused. Film used an unpolished 'overall' approach to a scene's description. For example: "The Bishop explains good deeds", would show a man in a priest's outfit moving his lips for a few seconds. As a cultural study of the evolution of the 'Intertitle', it's interesting, but talk about unrefined. As time goes by, we see its importance grow, but individually, they really were too basic. Not only that but some films had to be flat-out explained by the experts because they were so vague.
Plot: Disk One was the most amazing of them all, a true study of the experiment (logical-scientific rather than creative-artistic) that is film. This is watching a new invention being born. Disk Two shows that this became one of the burgeoning entertainment options of a people, now more about storytelling. By Disk Three, we have established that short film is here to stay and the often-weak stories show a progress of the artistic innovations of the directors. Disk Four is disappointing as it was more an archive of 'era films' from a company that was slowly going under.
Mood: This is a documentary, and the rare interviews are a great follow-up to a particular film as the experts range from archivists to African-American Studies professors. Most of these films are fantastic examples of 'The Invention Of The Movies', but there were too many boring ones in the end. Even the curator mentions that they weren't because they were the best choices, or even good choices, they were just a random selection from the vaults. Ignoring the last disk, you will be stunned at this exploration of the birth of film. It's neat seeing Edison right there, moving in front of you. We owe the man a lot.
Overall Rating: 68% (A Great Invention, But Not Picky Enough In Its Selection)
Aftertaste: There is nothing cooler than seeing the world's first films, especially when they're only five seconds long. It's like being there for the first Wright Brothers flight test, it's just awesome. This boxed set is quite extensive in length, and if you get a chance just to watch the first disk, don't miss it. I hear that the 7-disk Unseen Cinema set is full of interesting stuff from the birth of Film, focussing on the Avant-Garde. *Sigh* I guess I'll have to see that too, I suppose.