Unboxing the Silents: Early Women Filmmakers, an International Anthology from Flicker Alley

The film industry’s gender gap behind the camera is in the news a fair bit these days. Campaigns like #52FilmsByWomen are shining a spotlight on the talents of female directors and while it is wonderful to celebrate modern women with megaphones, let’s not forget their ancestresses.

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Unboxing the Silents: Accidentally Preserved Vol. 4 (9.5mm prints!!!)

A few years back, silent film accompanist Ben Model successfully crowdfunded a DVD release of silent films that are only known to exist as 16mm home theater editions. The release proved to be so successful that it spawned sequels and this is the fourth volume in the series. And there’s a twist! Instead of 16mm, the films in this collection are preserved in the European 9.5mm format.

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Unboxing the Silents: Fantomas (1913-1914) on Blu-ray

Director Louis Feuillade is most famous for his stylish, anarchic serials featurig criminal masterminds, caped superheroes and crusading reporters. One of his most famous titles is Fantomas, which involves the titular supervillain and the intrepid policeman who pursues him. In celebration of the film’s 100th anniversary, it was given a 4K restoration. That restoration is finally available in North America. As always, thanks to Kino Lorber for the review copy.

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Unboxing the Silents: The House of Mystery

The House of Mystery is one of the most exciting silent film releases to come along in ages. This serial has been knocking ’em dead on the film festival circuit for a while but this is the first time it has been available to the general public since its release over ninety years ago. And don’t let the word “serial” put you off. Instead, think of The House of Mystery as a very fine miniseries, the kind that sweeps award shows.

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Unboxing the Silents: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari on Blu-Ray

Caligari Cover

I am pretty excited about this new restoration, let me tell you. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is an astonishing film, a revered classic that more than lives up to its reputation. Yet, let’s be honest, the home media releases for this film have not been exactly pristine.

Availability

Available on DVD & Blu-ray.

Battered prints, marred by dust, streaks and lines have been the rule for bargain and more expensive releases. Even the best prints released have been a bit shabby and they have long been the only available ways to see this movie. I don’t mean to be a complainer but I have always felt that Caligari deserved better.

Fortunately, I was not the only one wishing for a restored film.

Our friends in Europe have been hard at work restoring an original camera negative (with 35mm prints filling in the gaps) of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and it is finally getting a U.S. release on Blu-ray, courtesy of Kino Lorber. (The restoration is also available on DVD but I will be focusing on the HD version in this review.)

I dare say that most film buffs have seen this film but never before in this quality.

Oh, and I am reviewing the new disc release, not the film itself. For my review of the film’s artistic merit (spoiler: I like it) please check out my movie review here.

Just take a gander at this trailer!

Very nice!

The Look

The introduction states that the first reel of the camera negative was missing and the lost material was restored using release prints. As no German distribution prints exist, the tinting was based on Latin American prints, believed to be the earliest surviving material. Here is what the first reel looks like:

The opening scene
The opening scene

Pretty darn good.

And here is the restored camera negative:

The carnival
The carnival
What is in the cabinet?
What is in the cabinet?
Obligatory Conrad Veidt close-up
Obligatory Conrad Veidt close-up

Oooo!

The Music

The release comes with your choice of two scores. There is the orchestral version performed by the Studio For Film Music at the University of Music, Freiburg. You can hear a taste in the preview clip. I loved the score. Caligari scores too often head in a discordant direction but this one manages to have a smart blend of melody and dissonance.

The other score is a trippy, almost perky, electronic affair from Paul D. Miller, aka DJ Spooky. I tend to like non-traditional scores but I definitely prefer the main score in this release. However, I do appreciate being given a choice.

Extras

The biggest extra is the 52-minute documentary, Caligari: How Horror Came to Cinema. I also rather enjoyed the two sets of comparison clips included to show how the restored Caligari compared to original footage and previous restorations.

Before and after
Before and after
Restoration comparison
Restoration comparison

Buy?

Yes, this is easily the best home media release for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. I cannot recommend it enough. Buy it for yourself or the film buff who has everything. I am also pleased that Kino Lorber made this restoration available in both standard and HD formats, ensuring that almost everyone can enjoy this pristine experience.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a copy of this film for free for the purpose of reviewing it on my blog. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Unboxing the Silents: Verdun, Looking at History

Even if you have never heard of Verdun, visions d’histoire, chances are you have seen clips of it. The epic French retelling of the Battle of Verdun was so accurate and so dramatically filmed that footage has been used repeatedly in documentaries of the First World War– sometimes even being presented as actual war footage!

Availability

Available on DVD.

It’s not surprising, really. Verdun was designed to recreate history using the very latest motion picture technique and technology. Accuracy was paramount. Real locations were used. Real soldiers were used as extras. Military commanders reprised their roles of a decade before. Though militarily accurate, the film is not jingoistic. It has a pacifist message: the Germans were human too.

Like so many other silent films, only a truncated version survived. The recovery of the complete print of Verdun is fascinating tale in itself. The film had been seized by the Germans during the Second World War but was then captured by the Russians when they entered Berlin. It was taken back to Moscow where it waited in a vault before a copy was obtained by the modern French rights holder.

Restored in 2006, the film has finally been released on home media in time for the centennial year of the start of WWI.

(Please note that I am just reviewing the DVD release of the film, I will be reviewing the actual film in detail later.)

What’s included?

The disc includes the restored print of the 1928 film Verdun, visions d’histoire. In addition, there is a featurette on the restoration process, the film itself and a short film about Verdun edited from archive footage by the Film Department of the French Army.

The haunting images of Verdun.
The haunting images of Verdun.

Verdun is the main event, of course. The restoration looks great (though small flaws remain in the film, scratches and dust, etc.) and the picture is accompanied by a piano score by Hakim Bentchouala Golobitch.

verdun disc  (9)

The intertitles are in the original French with optional subtitles in English, German, Spanish and Japanese.

verdun disc  (5)

Restoring Verdun is a 14-minute short detailing the process of recovering and restoring the film. While not heavy on technical detail, it concisely shows the challenges of taking on a restoration project of this scale.

Restoring Verdun
Restoring Verdun

It is in French with optional subtitles in English only.

Visions of Verdun is another 14-minute short. It details how the film came to be and its modern appeal, as well as background on the director, Leon Poirier.

verdun disc  (13)
Visions of Verdun

Again, the featurette is in French with optional English subtitles.

Finally, there is the little-known film The French take their revenge in Verdun. It provides a fascinating contrast between the real archive footage and the recreated battles in Verdun. Unfortunately, ECPAD, which holds the print, found it necessary to have their watermark in the upper left corner of the entire film. This is highly distracting.

Really, guys?
Really, guys?

The navigation page is simple and easy to get around. (Thank goodness crazy elaborate menu screens in general have gone the way of the dodo.)

Buy?

Verdun is not for everyone. It is intense, heavy and deep. However, it is really essential viewing for students of war history and anyone interested in the evolution of war on film. A masterpiece that was well ahead of its time, we are fortunate to be able to enjoy it in the comfort of our own homes.

Verdun, Looking At History has been released on DVD by Carlotta Films in association with Kino Lorber.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a copy of this film for free for the purpose of reviewing it on my blog. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Unboxing the Silents: The Max Linder Collection

max-linder-cover

The popular narrative regarding film comedy is that funny movies started out with coarse slapstick and slowly evolved into something a little more refined. Well, that’s all poppycock and my evidence is Max Linder, a sophisticated French comedian who has just received a spiffy new collection as part of Kino Classics’ ongoing Slapstick Symposium series.

Availability

DVD release on May 27, 2014.

For those of you who are unacquainted with Max, I will allow Charlie Chaplin to introduce him:

“The one and only Max, The Professor, From his Disciple, Charlie Chaplin.”

-Inscription on a photo presented to Linder.

Linder is witty, his films are so light that they practically float, he is both mad and charming. While other sets focus on Linder’s career in France, this disc is all about his work in America.

The Films

While this collection is just a single disc, it is packed with three complete Linder features and one of his shorts.

All of the features run about an hour in length, making them good choices as an opener for a silent movie night. These pictures are from Linder’s time in America, not his pre-war work in France.

Screen cap from "The Three Must-Get-Theres"
Screen cap from “The Three Must-Get-Theres”

The Three Must-Get-Theres is a send-up of The Three Musketeers. The punny title works better if you say it with a bad French accent. The film has been released on DVD before but its source print was extremely battered. This release makes use of a very nice tinted print, making this a huge upgrade in quality.

Screen cap from"Be My Wife"
Screen cap from”Be My Wife”

Without a doubt, the highlight for silent film collectors is the complete version of the feature film Be My Wife. A very funny excerpt was included in the Slapstick Encyclopedia box set and our appetites were thoroughly whetted. Well, here is the entire film, newly restored.

The mirror gag from "Seven Years Bad Luck"
The mirror gag from “Seven Years Bad Luck”

Seven Years Bad Luck is probably Linder’s most famous and most widely available feature. It contains the mirror gag that the Marx Brothers would make legendary in Duck Soup.

Screen cap from "Max Wants a Divorce"
Screen cap from “Max Wants a Divorce”

Max Wants a Divorce is the lone title on the disc that comes from Max’s 1916-1917 tenure at Essanay, where he was treated as a kind of Chaplin replacement. It is interesting in that it features the unfortunate Martha Mansfield, who was killed in a freak accident on the set of The Warrens of Virginia in 1923.

With all four films, the print quality ranges from good to excellent.

Music

As usual, one of the main reasons to recommend a name brand silent film release is the quality of its music.

The Three Must-Get-Theres has a spunky and humorous score composed by Maud Nelissen.

Be My Wife has a sprightly piano score by Eric Le Guen.

Seven Years Bad Luck‘s score is arranged by the marvelous Robert Israel.

Max Wants a Divorce has an enthusiastic piano score by Donald Sosin.

All of the scores are enjoyable, appropriate and add considerably to the charm of these comedies.

Packaging

Standard DVD case.

Navigation

Main Menu
Main Menu
Film selection
Film selection

Keeps things simple. Play All or select the film of your choice. No problems here.

Buy?

Yes, the complete version of Be My Wife and the high-quality of The Three Must-Get-Theres makes this must-buy for Linder fans.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a copy of this film for free for the purpose of reviewing it on my blog. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”