Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Kino Video

A Christmas Past (1901-1925, 2001)

Christmas PastWorldcat link for Inter-Library Loan: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/48798726

This DVD release from Kino has been the source of all of the “seasonal” movies I’ve reviewed in the past month, and now I want to take a moment to review the DVD itself. It is a surprisingly good quality disc, although with few features or bonuses. It includes the eight movies I reviewed, and also the 1925 two-reeler “Santa Claus,” which was shot in Alaska and is also well worth seeing. The chapter menu includes thumbnail video to show you what you’ll see, and each one includes music by Al Kryszak that seems well chosen for the mood, if somewhat simplistic and at times redundant.

Night_Before_Christmas_1905What I found especially interesting about the collection is what it says about the relationship between the media and Christmas. When I recently heard Lou Lumenick speak at a screening of “Miracle on 34th Street,” he said that it was the first instance of a “secular Christmas” movie being made, but this disc proves that thesis wrong. None of these movies has an overtly religious theme, and the closest we come to actual moralizing or overt spirituality is the adaptation of Charles Dickens’s 19th Century “A Christmas Carol.” In general, it seems to me that filmmakers, including such luminaries as D.W. Griffith and Edwin S. Porter, realized from an early time that Christmas movies needed to appeal to a broad audience and to emphasize childhood innocence and family rather than divisive religious questions. Santa Claus is a common theme in these movies, and whether he is portrayed as “real” or not, he represents an inclusive concept of love and generosity, not a specifically Christian Saint Nicholas, much as seen in “Miracle” thirty years later.

Trap_for_Santa_ClausAlthough the movies themselves varied for me in terms of enjoyment and interest, the whole package is a good historical examination of a theme that often goes overlooked in standard film histories. I suspect that this disc will remain a holiday tradition at my house for some time to come.

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Richard III (Kino Video DVD, 1912, 2001)

richardIII-kinoDVDWorldcat Link: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/49274041

I recently reviewed the feature-length film, but I wanted to also post a few words about the DVD. I bought my copy direct from Kino Video, but it appears that quite a few libraries still carry it, for those interested in pursuing Interlibrary Loan.

Unlike many of the DVDs I’ve reviewed, this is not a collection, but simply a single film released as a DVD with some features. I wish they had managed to include a few other short samples of silent Shakespeare movies, but there are some compensating features. The case is attractive and includes all the basic information you need, and there is a one-page insert with the chapter list on one side, and a brief essay by Douglas Brode explaining the significance of the film on the other. The disc includes a seventeen-minute documentary discussing the preservation and discovery of “Richard III,” a bit of history of Shakespeare on the silent and talkie screen, and some of the available production information about this film. There is also a reproduction of a short (written) interview with Frederick Warde on the disc, which, for once, I was able to read on my screen. I still wish they had reproduced this text in a booklet instead of digitally, but it works.

The movie itself is nicely preserved and restored, with tinting clear and visible, and many good sharp images. Perhaps the biggest feature is the new score, by Ennio Morricone, the fellow who gave us the unforgettable music from “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly,” and many other great films. Morricone took the movie very seriously, and adds a decidedly dark tone, even to scenes where the ominous situation might not be clear to the audience. Often, he anticipates events, as when Richard visits the aging king in his cell. The actors give no sign of the danger this brings, but the score clearly highlights it from the moment Richard enters the Tower. Some may find this heavy-handed, but I thought that Morricone’s score added greatly to the experience. Richard III is a dark play, after all, and his score keeps that as a focus, where many silent film scores will lapse into jaunty rhythms unexpectedly, disturbing the mood of a movie.

D. W. Griffith’s Biograph Shorts (1908-1913, 2002)

DW Griffiths Biograph Shorts

Worldcat Link: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/51260287

At the beginning of this project, I reviewed two other Griffith collections without spending much time on the specific movies therein. Since this collection largely overlaps with those two, and I’ve given each of the films a review now, I’m fairly well caught up on Griffith and can move on to other things soon. But first, I thought I’d discuss this set as a collection. It’s put out by Kino, who generally hold a high standard for prints and audio, which this collection lives up to. Most of the films are in very good condition, with a few understandably less perfect, but in general the image is better than what you get by following my “free” links. The music has been specifically written and timed to the movies, and there’s quite a bit of variety among them, which I think makes it easier to watch a lengthy collection of silent movies, including solo piano scores, organ, and pieces for several instruments.

The collection was produced and edited by David Shepard, a film preservationist with a strong background in film history, who I know has done several other DVDs I’ve seen, though I can’t recall them offhand. I was a bit disappointed, however, at the lack of commentary and contextual materials. There’s a short essay on the back cover, which gives a tantalizing hint of Shepard’s erudition, but no booklet or other written materials. The formatting of the discs is odd, also. The movies are roughly in chronological order, up to a point, but each disc divides them between two sections, with “Bonus Shorts” tucked in a separate area from the main films, although there’s no apparent reason to divide them. There’s no menu to allow you to navigate all the movies, either, so you have to dial through one at a time if you’re looking for a particular one. Each movie does have a nice “splash page” with a dummied-up poster made to look contemporary and with thumbnail previews – this was nice, but it still would have been nicer to have easier navigation.

On the whole, I think I’d recommend “Years of Discovery” more strongly for someone looking to get a sample of early Griffith, but this collection is a good one for completists or scholars who need to find good quality prints of specific films.