The Great Primitives & D.W. Griffith's Biograph Films
In the beginning there were inventors, photographers, mechanics, showmen, magicians, actors and adventurers who with varying degrees of imagination and entrepreneurism were the pioneers of modern cinema, or as W.K. Everson in “American Silent Film” puts it: “laid the blueprints for the full flowering” of the cinema.
Tonight's program (running at least three hours) brings together a sampling of their works: films of actuality (the first documentaries), films of fantasy and comedy exploiting trick effects, early experiments with narrative (developing principles of editing) from France, England, Italy and the U.S. made between the years 1894 and 1914.
To mention but a few highlights, there is the charming hand-tinted Annabelle Dances (1894), made for Edison's Kinetoscope “Peep Show”; Lumiere films from 1895-98; George Melies' trick films including an exquisitely hand-colored fantasy, Palace of the Arabian Nights (1905), taken from a recently discovered and restored 35mm nitrate print; Edwin S. Porter's early western made for Edison & Co., The Great Train Robbery (1903), a tinted, toned and very selectively hand-colored print from a 35mm nitrate original; and a very rare Porter work, The “Teddy” Bears (1907), a new twist on “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” as well as a quietly political spoof on the then-current craze for “Teddy Bears,” significant for its impressive display of stop-motion animation. From England, Cecil Hepworth's Rescued by Rover (1905), exploring very basic editing principles to tell a story, but more rare: the films of the so-called Brighton School at the turn of the century, the work of three photographers and showmen, Esme Collings, G.A. Smith and James Williamson. From Italy, a lavish costume drama, precursor of the epic historical spectacle film for which the film factories of Turin and Rome were the first to become famous - Giovane Pastrone's Fall of Troy (1910); and a comedy by French actor/director Marcel Fabre entitled Amor Pedestre (1914) which used only medium and close shots of feet to tell a complete narrative.
The second part of tonight's program is devoted to a selection of one- and two-reelers by D.W. Griffith, from the years (1908-13) when he made some 450 films for the Biograph studio. In spite of this prolific output and his reputation, it has been extremely difficult to study the films of this period: as we go to press the Museum of Modern Art in New York is in the process of releasing quality prints made from their 35mm archival material and we will have the opportunity to select very fine prints, of both well known and rare films. We may indeed substantiate in part Griffith's own advertisement for himself in 1913: “Producer of all great Biograph successes, revolutionizing motion picture drama and founding the modern technique of the art.”