Tuesday, January 1, 2008

DVD: Discovering Cinema -- January 1, 2008

This boxed set from Flicker Alley (http://www.flickeralley.com/) includes two French-made documentaries, "Learning to Talk" and "Movies Dream in color, and a broad selection of extras that illustrate attempts to create sound films and color films. Each documentary and set of extras is organized into three streams that ran in parallel. For sound films, they were live sound, sound on disk, and sound on film. For color films, they were applied color (hand-painting, stenciling, tinting and toning), additive color, and subtractive color. I think this was an excellent choice. The talking heads, mostly dubbed, were informative. I noticed that most of them had Italian family names, but spoke fluent French. The documentaries could not go into depth in the time allowed, but they explained the various processes clearly and included many excellent examples.

The extras were almost better than the documentaries. The sound examples included an excerpt from a strange 1920 movie called "The Chamber Mystery." Most of the time the characters spoke in balloons that popped up on the screen, but a few lines of dialogue were on conventional subtitles. Two movies showed unidentified actors miming to Caruso records. The synchronization was excellent. I was happy to see Edison's 1913 "Nursery Favorites," which I have been anxious to see since I read Walter Kerr's The Silent Clowns. It was not as bad as I expected. The Queen of the Fairies did not sound like Barry White. The last sound extra was the only part-talkie short subject I have ever seen, an episode of Universal's "The Collegians". I didn't see how they decided when the talking should stop and the subtitles should start.

The sound on disk extras reminded me of when I made Super 8 movies in high school. I had a hard time persuading my friends that we could not make talkies by recording the sound on my cassette player.

The color extras included some Lumiere films that had been hand-colored. The contrast between the jumping color of those films and the later stencilled films was clear. There was an eleven-minute Kinemacolor film showing the dedication of the campanile in Venice. Ironically, only a few shots showed the campanile. I was impressed that the many shots taken from a boat did not seem to show fringing. Another film was a test of the Lumicolor process, which was an adaption of Lumiere's Autochrome, using particles of brewer's yeast instead of rice grains. It was a bit grainy, but the colors were good. The restored version of "La Cucaracha," the first live action production in three-color Technicolor, was pretty to look at, but fast-moving characters looked smeared. This may have been because of problems in transferring the video from PAL.

I wanted to recreate Kinemacolor in Super 8, but I could never figure out how to get the filter wheel to synchronize.

My thanks to Serge Bromberg of Lobster Films and the many others who created this set. I recommend it highly.

No comments: