Edison - The Invention of the Movies: 1891-1918
DVD | Box Set
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An Interactive History of the Edison Company and the Invention of the Motion Picture. An unprecedented collection from Kino International and the Film/Media Department of The Museum of Modern Art together with the Library of Congress
Edison - The Invention of the Movies is a four-disc treasure trove of 140 of the first moving pictures ever seen, spanning the birth of cinema from 1891-1918. The collaboration between Kino Video and the Museum of Modern Art includes 14-second-long camera tests, early special effects, street scenes, humorous shorts, and "The Great Train Robbery," widely considered the world's first blockbuster. Arranged chronologically, the films gradually improve in technical sophistication and narrative complexity while providing riveting glimpses of American culture 100 years ago. Highlights include the slyly edited "The Gay Shoe Clerk," the phantasmagoric "Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend," and a film of social justice called "The Kleptomaniac." Contemporary sensibilities will be challenged by persistent racial stereotypes in a number of the films, as well as by a horrific short showing the electrocution of an elephant. The educational possibilities represented in this set are vast.
If Kino Video and MoMA had simply released these restored films on DVD, it would still be one of the notable releases of the year, but they have gone further by filling out the set with over two hours of interviews with scholars and archivists. The films can be watched with or without these explanatory interviews, which lend the kind of historical context and thoughtful analysis one finds on the best museum tours. We learn that Edison's first studio was a tar-papered contraption called "Black Maria" that could be rotated to take advantage of available sunlight. Patrick Loughney of The Library of Congress details how many of Edison's films survive on printed paper reels submitted to a copyright office that at the time had no way of cataloging film. Author Michelle Wallace provides insight on how the films represented--and perpetuated-- the stereotypes of the era. If viewers have any energy left after this erudite festival of moving images, there are more than 200 still images from MoMA's Edison Collection to browse. The film history buff's collection is simply not complete without this set. --Ryan Boudinot
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The set pretty much goes forward chronologically in time from disc one through four. Disc one has Edison's earliest films including his experiments with sound on film. Edison, in fact, underestimated the problems involved and originally predicted that movies with synchronized sound could be accomplished by 1910. Discs two and three have the more popular Edison films on them, and even show director Edwin S. Porter as emerging with a unique directorial style. Disc four was not as much fun for me as the first three, since it largely documents the decline and fall of the Edison Company, and the films on that disc demonstrate why. As directors such as D.W. Griffith were turning feature films into an artform, the Edison Company was largely making movies about industry and even some campaign films. This is really essential viewing for anyone who wants the details on Edison's place in motion picture history.
Thomas A. Edison invented many of the processes that made motion pictures as we understand them possible. From his earliest, very brief test films made in his miniature studio the Black Maria, to the full-lenth feature "The Unbeliever" about a privileged man's education in the trenches in World War I, you can watch Edison's work become steadily more professional and entertaining.
Among the short films shown, one especially, a comedy called "Black Eyes," fascinated me, as I am a big Laurel and Hardy fan. Watching "Black Eyes" I can see where Stan and Ollie got the basic idea for several of their movies, including their best feature, "Sons of the Desert."
There are more than 16 hours of unique entertainment beginning in the early 1890s here; they're well worth the price.
Most recent customer reviews
The picture quality is a bit rough, that hadn't been cleaned up (not that I expected it to be-and even "The Unbeliever"-1918- is 98...Read more