Tuesday, February 8, 2011

DVD: Gaumont Treasures -- February 8,

It took me a while to get through it but I recently finished watching the three discs of Gaumont Treasures. Gaumont and Pathé are the oldest surviving motion picture production companies in the world. Taking pride in its heritage, Gaumont sponsored the restoration of several of its historic pre-World War One movies. I have heard that this box is a subset of a larger set issued in Europe.

The first disc features movies directed by Alice Guy from 1897 to 1907. She was head of production for the company. There are more movies on the disc than I could count, ranging from actualities and one of the many serpentine dances recorded by different companies in 1897, to single-scene comic bits and vaudeville turns, to 1905 sound-on-disc Chronophones to a 1906 33 minute life of Christ, to developed dramatic stories. Alice Guy married Herbert Blaché and moved to America, where she directed for Gaumont, then started her own company, Solax.

I noticed on this disc that the menu by year did not include all of the movies for a given year. I had to refer to back of the box and go to the alphabetical index to find many movies.

The second disc features movies directed by artistic director Louis Feuillade. I'm grateful for a short documentary, which finally allowed me to learn how to pronounce his family name. The movies include short comedy sketches, fantasies, historic tragedies, from his series "Le film esthétique", and modern-day soap operas, from his series "La Vie telle qu'elle est (Life As It Is)". There is only one series comedy, "Bout de Zan Steals an Elephant", but it is a good one. My family enjoyed it very much. Most of the longer movies are made up from a series of scenes each done in a single shot, but the staging keeps them interesting.

The third disc features movies directed by Feuillade's successor as artistic director, Leonce Perret. I had heard of Perret as a comedian and had often read about The Child of Paris, but I had never seen his work. The disc has a short documentary and only two movies directed by Perret, the featurette "Le Mystere des roches de Kador" and the feature L'Enfant de Paris. Perret wrote, directed, and played the villain in Kador, in which a psychologist tries to cure a demented woman by making a movie that reenacts the event that traumatized her. The Child of Paris is the most complex film in the whole set. The action moves from Paris to Nice and includes many beautiful exterior. Both movies features wonderful lighting effects. I hope to see more of his work.

In general, the music was appropriate and enjoyable. Sometimes it felt repetitious, and I often became aware of themes that were used to accompany more than one movie.

The set is worth the money and the time.

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