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Origins of Film

DVD | Box Set

4.6 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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(Mar 13, 2001)
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$449.99 $299.98

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

These remarkable silent films are among the first examples of the unique and enduring contribution that Americans have made in the genres of gangster films, fantasy films, and animation art, as well as highlighting the works of early African American and women filmmakers. These timeless classics have been meticulously restored, given new scores and are being offered to the public for the first time on DVD. "The African American Cinema I" - Oscar Micheaux's "Within Our Gates" is the earliest surviving feature directed by an African American. However, the startling film, unseen for 75 years, is far more than a historic curiosity, it is a passionate social history that confronts racism head on. "The African American Cinema II" - "The Scar of Shame" is a rare surviving silent example of what the film industry once labeled "race movies": films with African American casts intended for African American audiences. Also included is an early experimental musical short documenting the team of Nobel Sissle (on vocals) and Eubie Blake (on piano). "Origins of American Animation" - This collection of twenty-one complete films showcases the best of the Library of Congress' animated cartoons from the first decades of the Twentieth century, an era full of surprises and experimentation. "Origins of the Fantasy Feature" - Two rare features from 1914 bring to the screen an imaginative freedom and comic verve rarely duplicated since. Novelist L. Frank Baum himself produced "The Patchwork Girl of Oz," and "A Florida Enchantment" is a wonderful gender-bending comedy of manners. "American's First Women Filmmakers" - Before the consolidation of Hollywood's studio system, women were among the most prominent film directors in America. This program collects four complete works from the silent era's two most accomplished and successful women directors, Lois Weber and Alice Guy-Blache. "Origins of the Gangster" - Long before the James Cagney/ Edward G. Robinson era, American directors and audiences were finding suspense and thrills in the gangster film. Includes "Alias Jimmy Valentine" from 1915 and D.W. Griffith's "The Narrow Road" starring Mary Pickford.


The Origins of Film doesn't encompass as much as the title might suggest. The 10-hour program showcases some of the first works by African American and women directors as well as early ventures into the genres of animation, fantasy, and gangster cinema from the silent era. It's not so much a definitive look at the origins of film as it is a survey of pioneering works by often overlooked artists and genres, and on those terms it's an invaluable, astounding set.

Divided into six programs on three discs, the set features a handful of landmark features along with collections of shorts. Oscar Michaux's groundbreaking 1919 mixed-race drama Within Our Walls is a powerful portrait of the racism and injustice faced by disenfranchised African America citizens of the time, at times a tangled story but never less than startling and sobering. Maurice Tourneur's assured Alias Jimmy Valentine is a striking 1915 gangster feature with a melodramatic plot (reused in the Disney comedy No Deposit, No Return!), handsome sets, and a graceful, gripping style. Alice Guy-Blache's hilarious and energetic 1913 shorts Matrimony's Speed Limits and A House Divided and Lois Weber's droll 1921 social satire Too Wise Wives are accomplished, sophisticated satires that wryly comment on the relations between men and women. Frank L. Baum himself wrote and produced the whimsical 1914 feature The Patchwork Girl of Oz, an inventive, deftly directed fantasy with delightful costumes and storybook images. Among the other highlights: a brief survey of American animation from primitive proto-cartoons of 1900, some unusually graceful examples of Windsor McCay's work from 1921, D.W. Griffith's 1912 gangster drama The Narrow Road with Mary Pickford, and a 1923 sound short featuring singer Noble Sissle and jazz legend Eubie Blake.

The boxed set comes with a modest but informative 12-page booklet with historical background and preservation notes. All films are accompanied by simple but appropriate piano scores. A welcome complement to the ambitious Treasures from American Film Archives, this more modest set sheds light on cinematic invention and silent film creativity often ignored in the official record. --Sean Axmaker

Special Features


Product details

  • Actors: Violet MacMillan, Frank Moore, Evelyn Preer, Flo Clements, James D. Ruffin
  • Directors: Alice Guy, Arthur Ripley, Charles R. Bowers, D.W. Griffith, Earl Hurd
  • Format: Box set, Black & White, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 3
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Image Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: March 13, 2001
  • Run Time: 560 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000059H8O
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #268,291 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
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  • Learn more about "Origins of Film" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

HALL OF FAMEon July 21, 2007
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on August 31, 2004
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on July 20, 2001
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