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Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers
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In the early decades of cinema, some of the most innovative and celebrated filmmakers in America were women. Alice Guy-Blaché helped establish the basics of cinematic language, while others boldly continued its development: slapstick queen Mabel Normand (who taught Charlie Chaplin the craft of directing), action star Grace Cunard, and LGBTQ icon Alla Nazimova. Unafraid of controversy, filmmakers such as Lois Weber and Dorothy Davenport Reid tackled explosive issues such as birth control, abortion, and prostitution. This crucial chapter of film history comes alive through the presentation of a wide assortment of films, carefully curated, meticulously restored in 2K and 4K from archival sources, and presented with new musical scores.
Special Features: 80-page booklet with essays and photos | Interviews with historians and archivists | Audio commentaries for select films
- MPAA rating : NR (Not Rated)
- Product Dimensions : 6.75 x 5.25 x 1.5 inches; 15.2 Ounces
- Director : Ruth Ann Baldwin, Grace Cunard, Dorothy Davenport Reid, Alice Guy-Blaché, Zora Neale Hurston
- Media Format : NTSC, Subtitled
- Run time : 28 hours and 30 minutes
- Release date : November 20, 2018
- Subtitles: : English
- Studio : Kino Lorber
- ASIN : B07H5VTD5R
- Country of Origin : USA
- Number of discs : 6
- Best Sellers Rank: #40,592 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
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DISC 1 is devoted to the Solax films of Alice Guy-Blache'. There are 13 films in all including several new releases such as 3 remarkable releases from 1912, There's ALGIE THE MINER about a gay man becoming a cowboy, A FOOL & HIS MONEY featuring an all Black cast, and CANNED HARMONY which is about sound synchronizing. There's also a new version of her feature THE OCEAN WAIF (1916). Finally the disc includes Gene Gauntier's1911 film THE COLLEEN BAWN which was shot on location in Ireland.
DISC 2 is devoted to Lois Weber with the premiere of many of her mid-Teen features like THE ROSARY (1913), SUNSHINE MOLLY (1915), IDLE WIVES (1916), and the film that ended her independent career, WHAT DO MEN WANT? (1921). As mentioned earlier there is a vastly improved version of HYPOCRITES (1915) which restores the film's original order of scenes. The middle three are incomplete and there is serious nitrate damage on MOLLY.
DISC 3 focuses on serial queens Helen Holmes and Grace Cunard, genre pioneers Ruth Ann Baldwin & Cleo Madison, and comedienne Mabel Normand. There are 2 chapters of THE HAZARDS OF HELEN, 3 chapters of THE PURPLE MASK, w/Grace Cunard, Baldwin's feature Western 49-14, and a number of Keystone shorts now known to have been directed by Normand including one of Chaplin's best known early appearances in CAUGHT IN A CABARET.
The next 2 discs showcase films that are considered social commentary which is what distinguished the women filmmakers of the day from most of their male contemporaries. Disc 4 has Weber's 1916 abortion/birth control drama WHERE ARE MY CHILDREN?, Madison's HER DEFIANCE, an anti-racist short film WHEN LITTLE LINDY SANG and the first film made by and featuring Chinese-Americans. Disc 5 features fragments from Ida May Park, Alla Nazimova's startling 1923 version of Oscar Wilde's SALOME, and 2 Dorothy Davenport Reid Features, THE RED KIMONA (1925) which deals with prostitution, and the 1929 LINDA about a backwoods woman marrying a much older man. Last but not least is Lisa Lawrence's MOTHERHOOD: LIFE'S GREATEST MIRACLE (1925) which is self-explanatory.
The final disc has 4 feature films including another backwoods drama THE CALL OF THE CUMBERLANDS (1916) directed by Julia Crawford Ivers, Nell Shipman's BACK TO GOD'S COUNTRY, (1919), Ida May Park's BROADWAY LOVE (1918) which features a young Lon Chaney, and a very SHEIK like romance from 1923 with Norma Talmadge that was co-directed by Frances Marion.
5 of the 6 discs have special commentaries about the various filmmakers. They all run about 10 minutes and feature the same contributers. All the movies have new scores to accompany them and most are by women composers. They all work pretty well with the exception being those by the Chicago Modern Orchestra Project which seem completely independent of the movies they are accompanying.
FINAL VERDICT: Despite the fragmentary nature of some of the films, the irreversible nitrate decomposition and water damage in several of the titles plus the uneven quality of some of the musical scores, PIONEERS: FIRST WOMEN FILMMAKERS should be seen by every serious film enthusiast who is interested in a history of the movies. It should also be used as an educational tool to film students particularly women to show them what they had, what was lost, and what can and should be once again.
TCM did their own researched introductions with the producers of this Blu-ray set, giving us background on each woman filmmaker.
I can not say if these are the interviews with historians tha will bevon this set, thus I recorded the introductions to include with the set.
I can say that I have not seen most of the films here and they are well done. The restorations are not of Criterion quality, you will see dirt specs & lines here and there. However the images are sharp and clear, most coming from the Library of Congress. A few are previous Kino releases. Original color tints and hand-colored segments are retained here.
The film DREAM LADY is in the worst condition. The negative is damaged with white spots through out the entire film. It looks like it was snowing. True digital restoration is needed fir thus title.
SOMETHING NEW may be the first informercial. Over half of the 60 minute film isdemonstrating how well the Maxwell car climbs over rocky hills, frame bending and twisting. The heroine even hugs the car at the end for saving her. The picture looks great, but the soundtrack (I can’t quite call it music) is horrendous. It sounds like the technician accidentally encoded the recordings of a band tuning their instruments instead of the music intended for the film.
Some of films are a little heavy on the social commentary theme, several discs are devoted to this. But others are comedy and western themed and have no distinction as to the gender of the filmaker. Proof of equality.
The details are sparse here, so here is a listing from the press release.
DISC ONE: ALICE GUY-BLACHE
Mixed Pets [AM], Alice Guy Blaché, 1911, 14.1 min.
Tramp Strategy [AM], Alice Guy Blaché, 1911, 12 min.
Greater Love Hath No Man [AM], Alice Guy Blaché, 1911, 16.25 min.
Algie the Miner [AM], Alice Guy Blaché, 1912, 10 min.
Falling Leaves, Alice Guy Blaché, 1912, 11.75 min.
Little Rangers, The, Alice Guy Blaché, 1912, 11.5 min.
Canned Harmony, Alice Guy Blaché, 1912, 16 min.
Fool and His Money, A, Alice Guy Blaché, 1912, 10.75 min.
High Cost of Living, The, Alice Guy Blaché, 1912, 14.5 min.
* Coming of Sunbeam, The [AM], Alice Guy Blaché, 1913, 11.25 min.
* Burstup Homes' Murder Case, Alice Guy Blaché, 1913, 14.75 min.
* A House Divided, Alice Guy Blaché, 1913, 13.2 min.
Matrimony's Speed Limit / NYWIFT, Alice Guy Blaché, 1913, 14 min.
Ocean Waif, The, Alice Guy Blaché, 1916, 36.3 min.
Colleen Bawn, The, Gauntier, Gene (sc), 1911, 35 min.
On the Brink, Lois Weber, 1911, 12.5 min.
* Cricket, The, Wilson, Elsie Jane, 1917, 12 min.
Introduction to Series, approx 13 min.
Alice Guy-Blache documentary, approx 10 min.
About the Restorations, approx 7 min.
DISC TWO: LOIS WEBER
From Death to Life, Lois Weber, 1912, 13.75 min.
Fine Feathers, Lois Weber, 1912, 15 min.
Rosary, The, Lois Weber, 1913, 14.5 min.
Suspense, Lois Weber, 1913, 11.25 min.
Lost By a Hair, Lois Weber, 1914, 4 min.
Hypocrites, Lois Weber, 1915, 51.5 min.
Sunshine Molly, Lois Weber, 1915, 31.5 min.
Idle Wives, Lois Weber, 1916, 23.5 min.
* Too Wise Wives, Lois Weber, 1921, 69.5 min.
What Do Men Want?, Lois Weber, 1921, 40.75 min.
Lois Weber documentary, approx 12 min.
DISC 3: GENRE PIONEERS
* Hazards of Helen Ep. 09: Leap From the Water Tower, Helen Holmes, 1915, 11 min.
Hazards of Helen Ep.13: The Escape on the Fast Freight*, Helen Holmes, 1915, 11.25 min.
Hazards of Helen Ep. 26: Wild Engine, The, Helen Holmes, 1915, 10.5 min.
* Purple Mask, The; Episode 5, Part 1, Grace Cunard, 1917, 13 min.
Purple Mask, The: Episode 12 (Vault of Mystery), Grace Cunard, 1917, 19.5 min.
Purple Mask, The; Episode 13, Part 1 (The Leap), Grace Cunard, 1917, 10.5 min.
A Daughter of "The Law", Grace Cunard, 1921, 21.75 min.
Eleanor's Catch, Madison, Cleo, 1916, 13.25 min.
49 - '17, Baldwin, Ruth Ann, 1917, 70.25 min.
Caught in a Cabaret, Mabel Normand, 1914, 23.5 min.
Mabel's Blunder, Mabel Normand, 1914, 16.5 min.
Mabel and Fatty's Wash Day, Mabel Normand, 1916, 13 min.
* Mabel Lost and Won, Mabel Normand, 1915, 13.5 min.
That Ice Ticket, Gibson, Angela Murray, 1923, 10 min.
Ethnographic Films, Hurston, Zora Neale, 1929, 12.5 min.
Mabel Normand documentary, approx 7 min.
Serial Queens documentary, approx 7 min.
DISC 4: SOCIAL COMMENTARY 1
Where Are My Children?, Lois Weber, 1916, 65 min.
Her Defiance, Madison, Cleo, 1916, 21 min.
When Little Lindy Sang, Warrenton, Lule, 1916, 10.25 min.
Curse of Quon Gwon: When the Far East Mingle with the West, Wong, Marion E., 1916, 35 min.
Scandal (aka Scandal Mongers), Lois Weber, 1916, 35.5 min.
Dream Lady, The, Wilson, Elsie Jane, 1918, 53.75 min.
* Something New, Shipman, Nell, 1920, 56.75 min.
Social Commentary, approx 12 min.
DISC 5: SOCIAL COMMENTARY 2
Risky Road, The, Park, Ida May, 1918, 2 min.
Bread, Park, Ida May, 1918, 16 min.
Salome, Nazimova, Alla, 1923, 71.5 min.
Red Kimona , Davenport Reid, Dorothy, 1925, 77 min.
* Motherhood: Life's Greatest Miracle, Lawrence, Lita, 1925, 59.25 min.
Linda, Davenport Reid, Dorothy, 1929, 73.25 min.
DISC 6: THE FEATURE FILM
Call of the Cumberlands, The, Ivers, Julia Crawford, 1916, 64 min.
* Broadway Love, Park, Ida May, 1918, 61 min.
Back to God's Country, Shipman, Nell, 1919, 73.5 min.
Song of Love, The, Marion, Frances, 1923, 81 min.
The End of an Era, approx 10 min.
Top reviews from other countries
***Make sure to buy the Blu-Ray version as it contains several more hours of film/video. It doesn’t make sense to buy the DVD collection.***
I haven’t seen all 23 hours of film just yet but the journey thus far has been rewarding. I am a big fan of silent film and own a lot of titles. I’ve seen a few titles in this collection already (on screens in theatres) but there remain so many titles completely unfamiliar to me. This box set is an absolute gem and I can’t say enough about how impressed I am with both quality and content.