Before Hollywood There Was Fort Lee, N.J. (1912-1917, 1964, 2003)

by popegrutch

Worldcat Link:

This DVD collection is named for the 1964 documentary that heads it off, a nice early attempt at displaying the legacy of East Coast silent film production for a previous generation. The documentary is very American-centric, and gets several facts wrong, including calling “The Great Train Robbery” the “first narrative film” (!!!!). It also presents a few early movies with voice-over narration to explain the action, mostly as clips, but I believe the entirety of “The Lonely Villa” is embedded in the documentary. I wouldn’t choose to see it with the narrator, but it may work for some, and it’s reminiscent of the Japanese tradition of using a benshi to explain the movie to an audience. The narrator is eager to point out the proximity of shots and studios to the current location of the George Washington Bridge. In 1964, of course, the 19-teens were still living memory for some, and some stars they featured, like Gloria Swanson, were still living and acting. An essay included with the DVD covers much of the same ground, without the errors.

Apart from this, there are three films presented as features in the DVD. They are “The New York Hat” and “The Wishing Ring,” which I’ve reviewed separately, and “A Girl’s Folly,” which is from 1917 so hasn’t become a Century Film Yet. Evidently, it and the documentary are “abridged,” and incomplete, so they shouldn’t be the main reason for getting this. The two movies I have reviewed are presented in very high-quality remastered prints with good music scores added that clearly are timed to the movies. The main reason for this collection, as far as I’m concerned is “The Wishing Ring,” which should have been played up more by the distributors, but the other materials on here are of some interest as well.