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Treasures from American Film Archives: 50 Preserved Films

4.2 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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(Oct 03, 2000)
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

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

Special Features

  • 4-disc Box Set
  • Includes a 150-page Book of Program Notes

Product Details

  • Actors: Laurence Fishburne, William S. Hart, John Bunny
  • Directors: John Huston, D.W. Griffith
  • Format: Box set, Black & White, Color, Full Screen, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono), English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo)
  • Dubbed: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 4
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: National Film Preservation Foundation
  • DVD Release Date: October 3, 2000
  • Run Time: 642 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00004Y2QQ
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #176,644 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Treasures from American Film Archives: 50 Preserved Films" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD
The majority of this deluxe boxed set is devoted to early silent films. I do not consider myself a particular fan of silent films, and yet most of these I found to be wonderful. While the four feature films were fine, I especially enjoyed the shorts, which commonly consider everyday life at the turn of the century. These silents have a spirit of joy and excitement, and a genuine sincerity, that I've never seen in film before. With only a few exceptions, these silents are in an excellent state of preservation, often offering an amazingly clear window on the past. The main exception is an early version of "Snow White," the one that inspired the famous Disney version. All copies were once believed lost; however, a below-average quality but still quite watchable print was found only a few years ago. The musical accompaniment, custom produced for these DVDs, adds immeasurably to the experience. These silents are highly recommended to anyone interested in the history of film or history in general. I am unaware of any other source of silent shorts on DVD, certainly not of this quality or extent.
Besides the silents, the set also offers several other categories of films, including those produced for the government, commercial and promotional films, home movies, and art shorts. These are generally oldish but not antique, none more recent than 1985. The offerings in the last three categories are generally weak. The art shorts, especially, with their emphasis on the abstract and modern, had little appeal for me. Even though many of them are relatively recent, they have been rarely shown, and with good reason.
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Format: DVD
I had high hopes for this set, and it actually surpassed my expectations. I worked in a film archive for 10 years and have seen a lot of movies, but quite a few of the items in this set were new to me; others were old favorites that have never been widely available before now, like Joseph Cornell's beautiful and goofy Rose Hobart. Sometimes the attempt to represent the enormous range of material preserved in American archives starts to feel a little strained, but the remarkable freshness of so many of these films--especially the more ephemeral shorts--overcomes any sense of historical tokenism. The accompanying book is far superior to the average DVD liner notes, providing scholarly and informative program notes by Scott Simmon along with background information on the preservation of each film & explanations of the musical accompaniment for the silent titles. Overall I found this set not only praiseworthy but highly entertaining--only the "about the archives" essays narrated by Laurence Fishburne are tinged with institutional dullness. Buy the set now--if it goes out of print (and I fear this is just the kind of "specialty" item that won't stay in print very long), you'll regret not owning it.
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Format: DVD
This original set of films from the American Film Archives is interesting to students of cinema history and history in general, but it is not that entertaining in the ordinary sense. The first set I bought, "More Treasures from the American Film Archives" seemed to do a better job of mixing pure entertainment with films that had a social or historical significance than this one. That set included one or two silent feature films including an early Ernst Lubitsch, a Rin Tin Tin silent, and a very early gangster film, on each DVD along with the short subjects. That being said, this is a unique and interesting set of films that I found very worthwhile. However, if you are uncertain, start with the "More Treasures from the American Film Archives" set first. If you don't like that set I am almost sure you will not like this one. Nobody else bothered to list all of the films on this set and their descriptions, so I do that next:

1. Luis Martinetti, Contortionist (1894, 1 minute), kinetoscope of the Italian acrobat made by the Edison Co.
2. Caicedo, King of the Slack Wire (1894, 1 minute), the first film shot outdoors at the Edison Studios.
3. The Original Movie (1922, 8 minutes), silhouette animation satire on commercial filmmaking, by puppeteer Tony Sarg.
4. League Baseball (1946, 8 minutes), footage featuring Reece "Goose" Tatum, the Indianapolis Clowns, and the Kansas City Monarchs.

5. The Chechahcos (1924, 86 minutes), first feature shot entirely on location in Alaska. This is a melodrama set during the Alaska gold rush with some great scenery included.

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Format: DVD
In my opinion, this is the single greatest group of items ever restored and made available to the American public. For years many companies, such as Kino, Milestone, and Zeitgeist, have been restoring and making some of the greatest features and shorts available to new generations of film viewers. This new collection spans the galaxy, covering all kinds of films which have been impossible to see on video - or in any other way. Hollywood has always been mined for its masterpieces, especially since cable tv exploded. Now, traveling the entire vast country, gems from little known collections such as the Minnesota Historical Society and West Virginia's Archives and History collection will be made available to millions of people who never knew they existed. As a film exhibitor, librarian, restorer, critic, etc. for almost 30 years, I would give this collection SIX STARS as the single greatest gift ever from America's film archives to its citizens.
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