Hollywood: A Celebration of the American Silent Film (Kevin Brownlow and David Gill, 1980)

Eclipse is a selection of lost, forgotten, or overshadowed classics in simple affordable editions. Each series is a brief cinematheque retrospective for the adventurous home viewer.

The award-winning team of David Gill and Kenneth Brownlow present a definitive and unparalleled look at the history of silent film in America with Hollywood: A Celebration of American Silent Film. Narrated by actor and silent film enthusiast James Mason, this 13-part series celebrates the birth of an industry and the town and people who made it happen. From the arrival of the filmmaking pioneers early at the dawn of a new century, through the outbreak of the First World War; from the rise of romance to the demise of the Old West; from when comedy was king until the advent of sound, this stunning television program surveys the enormous range of spectacular, innovative, and exciting films created by a business still inventing itself. Brilliantly edited and featuring a multitude of invaluable interviews by stars, directors, and below-line personnel, Hollywood is an irreplaceable document on cinema history and a loving tribute to those that made a legend out of a modest California town.

With notes by Kevin Brownlow.

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Manhatta (Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler, 1921)

I recently watched Redes (Emilio Gómez Mariel and Fred Zinnemann, 1936), from the first Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project box set, and Kent Jones’s visual essay which makes reference to Manhatta (1921), a documentary short made by photographer and Redes-cinematographer Paul Strand and painter Charles Sheeler. The short is not included in the WCP set (although it was included on the now OOP DVD set, Unseen Cinema), and so I thought I would share it here at MMC! The short is inspired by Walt Whitman’s poem “Mannahatta” and is considered the USA’s first experimental film. Strand and Sheeler link their respective art forms (painting and photography) to cinema by preferring dynamic angles and compositions over movement, using editing and intertitles to express a monumental day in Lower Manhattan. The result is a visually engaging and invaluable document of the time.

The Betrayal (Tokuzo Tanaka, 1966)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents The Betrayal.

criterion logoRaizô Ichikawa stars as a naïvely honorable samurai who protects his clan by taking the blame for a murder he did not commit and living as a fugitive for a year. Upon his return, he discovers that the promises to restore him to his former position will not be kept and that he remains falsely accused. Betrayed, hunted, and with nothing else to lose, the samurai must defend his life with deadly force, culminating in one of Japanese cinema’s most daring and brutal sword-fights! Tokuzô Tanaka’s The Betrayal stands among the director’s best works and is a classic example of the cruel jidai-geki film.

Disc Features:

  • New, high definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New interview with Japanese cinema scholar Isolde Standish
  • Orochi, Buntarô Futagara’s 1925 film starring Tsumasaburô Bandô that inspired The Betrayal
  • New and improved English subtitle translation
  • Plus: A new essay by critic Geoffrey O’Brien

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Beggars of Life (William A. Wellman, 1928)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Beggars of Life.

criterion logoFollowing his Best Picture win at the inaugural Academy Awards, William A. Wellman made Beggars for Life, an adaptation of Jim Tully’s best-selling classic of hobo literature.  This gripping drama casts cinema icon Louise Brooks as a girl on the lam after killing her lecherous adoptive father.  Dressed in boy’s clothes, she navigates through the dangerous tramp underworld with the help of a handsome and devoted drifter (Richard Arlen) and encounters the dangerous, but warm-hearted hobo legend Oklahoma Red (Wallace Beery).  Loaded with stunning visuals and empathetic performances, this dark, realistic drama is Brooks’ best American film, Paramount’s first foray into synchronized sound, and a masterpiece of late-silent era feature films.

Disc Features:

  • New digital restoration, created in collaboration with the George Eastman House
  • Four musical scores: a piano score by silent film accompanist Steve Sterner, a pan-temporal score by Daryl Fleming and the Public Domain, one by Neil Brand and skiffle band The Dodge Brothers and a Wurlitzer score by organist Jim Riggs, all presented as uncompressed stereo soundtracks on the Blu-ray edition
  • Introduction by documentary filmmaker Ken Burns
  • Audio commentary by film historian Richard Koszarski
  • Jim Tully: The Most Hated Man in Hollywood, a new interview program with Tully biographers Mark Dawidziak and Paul J. Bauer
  • New interview with William Wellman Jr. on his director father and the making of the film
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring new essays by film critic Mark Kermode and filmmaker John Sayles, a collection of reviews on the film’s release curated by Thomas Gladysz of the Louise Brooks Society, and Jim Tully’s original novel, reprinted specially for this release.

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The Romance of the Far Fur Country (H. M. Wyckoff, 1920)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents The Romance of the Far Fur Country.

criterion logoThe Romance of the Far Fur Country returns after being lost for more than 90 years.  Reconstructed thanks to efforts by the British Film Institute and the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, the film provides a rare glimpse at life connected to the HBC’s northern trading posts in the early 1900s, full of ice floes, dog sleds, trap lines, canoe rides, and spectacular Canadian geographies.  Director H. M. Wyckoff’s feature, an episodic documentary prepared to celebrate the HBC’s 250th anniversary and predating Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North by two years, puts aboriginal peoples front and centre as participants entwined in colonial commerce and documents the challenges and dangers of filming in such harsh environs.  Perhaps the most important document of northern life ever made, The Romance of the Far Country is as extraordinary travelogue of everyday adventures in unknown Canada.

Disc Features:

  • New high-definition digital restoration, created in collaboration with the British Film Institute and the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives
  • Traditional score inspired from research on the film’s exhibition and a contemporary score by Winnipeg-based musician Nathan Reimer (both presented as uncompressed stereo soundtracks on the Blu-ray edition)
  • Introduction by filmmaker Guy Maddin
  • Audio commentary by reconstructivist Kevin Nikkel and scholar Peter Geller
  • Short films derived from The Romance of the Far Fur Country footage – An Eskimotion PictureHBC PageantHides- and Go SeekHudson’s Bay Company Celebrates Its BirthA Tale of the Far Fur North, and The Trials and Tribulations of a Cameraman
  • Audio recording of Hudson’s Bay Talking Book, a commemorative gramophone record outlining the HBC’s history and provided as souvenirs to children during the Company’s 250th anniversary celebration
  • Adventures on the Bay, a collection of excerpts from silent archival footage from the HBC’s archives dating to the 1930s, including footage of the HBC’s Governor’s 1934 tour of Company outposts
  • This Film is Dangerous, Frank Phillips’ rare 1948 short film created for the British Navy and demonstrating the dangers of extremely flammable nitrate film
  • On the Trail of the Far Fur Country, Kevin Nikkel’s 75 minute documentary on the film, its reconstruction, and its screening for northern Canadian communities as part of a naming project
  • PLUS:  A booklet of essays by HBC archivist Judith Hudson Beattie and Canadian documentary film scholar Jim Leach, along with press releases and clippings on the film and the HBC’s 250th anniversary celebrations

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