More Tresaures from American
As interest in silent film grows, archives are experimenting
with new ways to reach audiences around the world. DVD technology
provides an exciting approach. This screening celebrates the release
of the National Film Preservation Foundation’s second and
most recent DVD box set, More Treasures from American Film Archives,
50 Films, 1894-1931.
Like the NFPF’s earlier set released in 2000, More Treasures
takes as its starting point the preservation work of American film
archives. This new three-DVD, nine-and-one-half hour anthology with
printed catalog covers the years from 1894 through 1931, when the
motion picture grew from a peepshow curio to America’s fourth
largest industry. The period represented is also the one from which
fewest American films survive.
Five U.S. film archives have made it their mission to save what
remains from these formative years: the Academy of Motion Picture
Arts and Sciences, George Eastman House, the Library of Congress,
the Museum of Modern Art, and the UCLA Film and Television Archive.
The More Treasures anthology (funded in part through a
grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities) reproduces
their superb preservation work – fifty films followed by six
previews for lost features and serials. The set includes commentary
from seventeen historians, critics, and preservationists (many well
known to Giornate audiences), newly recorded music featuring piano
and instrumental ensembles, and a 208-page catalog by curator Scott
Simmon and music curator Martin Marks.
Pioneering filmmakers and exhibitors experimented with virtually
all the motion picture types still in use today – newsreels,
cartoons, political ads, animation, avant-garde works, social advocacy
films, folklife footage, sing-alongs, instructional shorts, product
promotions, industrial documentaries, and serials, as well as comedies
and dramas. Filmmakers also challenged film’s technical limitations,
exploring new equipment, photographic techniques, and presentation
formats. More Treasures includes a range of film types
invented in the cinema’s first four decades as well as technical
explorations in color, sound, special effects and animation, and
long-abandoned exhibition formats, such as kinetoscope, kinetophone,
In showcasing the breadth and creativity of American silent film
production, More Treasures celebrates the role of archives
in keeping silent film alive. Thousands more films await preservation
at these and other archives; the process continues only thanks to
public support.–Annette Melville
THE WONDERFUL WIZARD
OF OZ (Selig Polyscope Co., US, 1910).
Director/Writer: Otis Turner, from the novel The Wonderful Wizard
of Oz (1900) by L. Frank Baum and the stage musical The
Wizard of Oz (1902) by L. Frank Baum and Julian Mitchell, with
music by Paul Tietjens. Cast: Bebe Daniels (Dorothy), Hobart Bosworth
(Wizard of Oz?), Robert Z. Leonard (Tin Woodman?), Eugénie
Besserer (Aunt Em?), Winnifred Greenwood, Lillian Leighton, Olive
Cox, Alvin Wyckoff, Marcia Moore. 35mm. 13 minutes (18 fps). Preserved
by George Eastman House.
This first surviving film of L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful
Wizard of Oz is filled with characters and incidents that have
a primal familiarity – thanks to the 1939 MGM musical. Squeezed
into one reel are young Dorothy and her dog Toto in rural Kansas;
the cyclone that carries them to the land of Oz ruled by its “humbug”
Wizard; her faithful companions the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion,
and the Tin Woodman; the good witch Glinda and a Wicked Witch of
the West. Missing are the book’s munchkins and magic slippers,
but added are such comic touches as the unionized women workers
of Emerald City. As it survives, the film begins abruptly with a
glimpse of Aunt Em, Uncle Henry, and the Kansas farm.
Due mainly to a popular musical adaptation that had toured for eight
years, the Wizard of Oz story was so familiar by 1910 that
the film could be structured as somewhat disconnected scenes. The
film retains a charming theatricality as well as the stage version’s
dance-and-comedy team of the Scarecrow and the piccolo-playing Tin
Woodman. Dorothy is played by nine-year-old Bebe Daniels, and many
others in the cast would have long Hollywood careers.
This film was the first of several Selig one-reelers about Oz –
all but this one now lost. The sequel, Dorothy and the Scarecrow
in Oz, released three weeks later, showed our friends lulled
to sleep in the field of poppies and the good witch Glinda helping
Dorothy find her way back home.–Scott Simmon
INKLINGS, ISSUE 12 (Inkwell Studios/Red
Seal Pictures Corp., US, 1925). Director/Animator: Dave Fleischer.
35mm, 6 minutes (24 fps). Preserved by the Museum of Modern Art.
The pun in the title Inklings – suggesting both
simple drawings and emerging ideas – matches the witty
optical illusions in the films themselves. The director and lead
animator of the series, Dave Fleischer, had a contentious relationship
with his older brother Max, who received more credit for their celebrated
Out of the Inkwell collaborations. Inklings was an effort
by Dave to go it alone. Only three issues of this forgotten but
brilliantly inventive series are known to survive, all preserved
by the Museum of Modern Art.
In this twelfth issue, a painting of a bearded man inverts into
the then-familiar image of Rin-Tin-Tin, ink drawings of children
grow into unexpected adults, and a black panel is cut by knife to
discover the characters literally within “The House That Jack
Built”—a favorite children’s rhyme since the eighteenth
century. The segments are introduced by the artist’s hand,
animating and itself animated.
This Inklings screening will also feature a performance of the new
score created by celebrated film and television composer Fred Steiner
especially for the More Treasures from American Film Archives
DVD set.–Scott Simmon
From C-V NEWS [Filming
GREED in Death Valley] (Vanderbilt Newspapers, Inc., US,
1923). Director unknown. 35mm, 4 minutes (16fps). Preserved by the
UCLA Film and Television Archive.
The second piece is a tantalizing glimpse of a legendary moment
in location filmmaking—Erich von Stroheim’s shooting
of Greed in Death Valley—documented in a brief segment
from the now-forgotten newsreel series C-V News. In addition
to national newsreels, American movie programs in the twenties often
included local stories reported by regionally distributed newsreels,
such as CV-News. Known only through a few surviving fragments, it
appears to have been a short-lived Southern California newsreel
from the Vanderbilt tabloid newspaper chain.
To recreate the final pages of Frank Norris’s McTeague
with complete realism, Stroheim chose to shoot in Death Valley during
the blinding heat of mid-summer. The men on horseback shown packing
equipment also played the posse that trail McTeague after he murders
his wife. The most revealing shots follow the intertitle “Countless
hardships met with good grace by the company of thirty nine men
and one lone woman over a period of thirty seven days.” Stroheim,
wearing long white headgear, can be just glimpsed from behind, gesticulating
as he walks backward in front of the camera car. Next to him is
the “one lone woman,” Eve Bessette, his longtime script
clerk. Photographed on horseback is Jean Hersholt as Marcus, who
pursues McTeague, played by Gibson Gowland, who is seen (after a
jump cut) leading his mule. This footage reveals another fascinating
detail. Music was performed regularly on locations in the 1920s
to help actors find the right moods, but who would have expected
to see a violin and piano duo in the Death Valley summer?–Scott
(New York Motion Picture Co., US, 1912). Producer: Thomas H. Ince.
Director: Francis Ford and/or Thomas H. Ince. Writer: C. Gardner
Cast: Francis Ford (Colonel James Bryson, the cavalry commandant),
Ethel Grandin (his daughter), Anna Little (Sky Star), Art Acord
(telegraph operator), Ray Myers, Luther Standing Bear and other
unidentified Oglala Sioux. 35mm, 3 reels, 41 minutes (18fps). Preserved
by the Library of Congress.
Thomas Ince’s The Invaders is one of the first great
Westerns, a broken-treaty tale whose power owes much to its Native
American actors. At three reels its portrayal of reluctant U.S.
Cavalry troops forced to battle Sioux and Cheyenne was an epic in
1912, when most films still squeezed their stories into a single
The change from earlier Westerns was partly in the scale of production.
Soon after Ince arrived in Los Angeles in 1911 to take over the
New York Motion Picture Company’s Westerns, the company made
a deal with “The Miller Bros. 101 Ranch Real Wild West Show”
to employ its performers, and leased twenty-eight square miles above
Santa Monica. The impressive location—soon known as “Inceville”—could
pass for the Dakotas when the camera was pointed away from the surf.
Among the 101 Ranch employees were some fifty Oglala Sioux from
the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
The Invaders allots equal time for personal dramas among the Native
Americans, and is structured through parallel plots within the cavalry
post and Sioux village: In each a father must approve a suitor for
his daughter. The simple story derives some of its force by combining
the two key American fables of self-sacrifice on the frontier: A
Custer story (a contingent of the Seventh Cavalry is again slaughtered)
is joined to a Pocahontas story (a chief’s daughter again
saves a white community).
For all the conventionality in The Invaders’ portrait
of Indians—who are ultimately both savage and sentimentalized—the
film retains surprises. Audiences might presume its title will refer
to some rampaging redskins, but it is the Eastern surveyors for
the transcontinental railroad, laughing off cavalry protection and
treaty terms, who will prove to be “the invaders.”–Scott