For the first time ever, America's film archives are joining forces to release their most exciting, unseen treasures on DVD. The 50 films in this four disc set have been meticulously preserved by eighteen of the nation's premiere archives, including the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian, the Museum of Modern Art, George Eastman House, UCLA, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Featuring numerous supplements and produced by the nonprofit National Film Preservation Foundation, "Treasures from American Film Archives" shows the amazing variety of films made from coast to coast over the last 100 years. With narration by Laurence Fishburne, this set is an absolute must for film collectors! Films include: Groucho Marx's home movies (1933, 2 min.), D.W. Griffith's "The Lonedale Operator" (1911, 17 min.), the earliest film version of "Snow White" (1916, 63 min.), "The Fall of the House of Usher" (1928, 13 min.), "Negro Leagues Baseball" (1946, 8 min.), "The Autobiography of a Jeep" (1943, 10 min.), Joseph Cornell's found footage film "Rose Hobart" (1936, 19 min.), "Returning on the Zeppelin Hindenburg" (1936, 7 min.), the early 2-color Technicolor feature "The Toll of the Sea" (1922, 54 min.), the William S. Hart western "Hell's Hinges" (1916, 64 min.), the first commercially-shown U.S. film "Blacksmithing Scene" (1893, 1 min.), plus silent features, documentaries and newsreels, avant-garde shorts, early animation and special effects films, home movies, and much more.
It may look like a grab bag at first--50 preserved films from 18 American archives spanning the years 1893 to 1985 and encompassing everything from documentaries and home movies to experimental films and animation--but this unprecedented collection has a clear focus. It celebrates the scope and wealth of cinema history's "orphans," the films abandoned by the marketplace and left to nonprofit organizations to rescue. This is the proof of their efforts, and only a tiny, tantalizing example of what has been preserved. The "stars" of the set are the features: the startlingly savage 1916 William S. Hart Western Hell's Hinges and the luscious 1922 two-strip Technicolor feature The Toll of the Sea with Anna May Wong. Also included are The Chechahcos from 1924 and the extravagant (if stagy) original 1916 Snow White. John Huston's stunning documentary The Battle of San Pietro and Joseph Cornell's obscure but entrancing 1936 surrealist classic Rose Hobart are further highlights.
But there are wonders to be found throughout the collection, from a trip through Interior New York Subway circa 1905, to the gorgeous avant-garde 1928 The Fall of the House of Usher, to the only film of Orson Welles's legendary 1936 Haiti-set stage production of Macbeth in the 1937 documentary We Work Again. The breadth of work is astounding and all of it is fascinating, whether it's a revealing glimpse of a forgotten social landscape in a home movie; the preservation of theater, dance, and concert recitals in one-of-a-kind records; or an ancient work of pioneering cinema.
The four-disc set is handsomely designed, with easy-to-navigate menus featuring extensive notes and short documentaries about each archive (narrated by Laurence Fishburne), and a detailed, informative 150-page booklet accompanies the set. It's a one-of-a-kind project and a true film treasure. --Sean Axmaker