Sunday, October 9, 2005



There are 155 films in this seven-disc set, and it's an eclectic batch. What these films have in common is that they're rare -- some of them haven't been seen outside an archive in decades -- - and most, though not all, are the products of individual initiative, not studios. Of course, the rare-old-movie thing is not for everyone, and for those who don't get it, a brief explanation of the appeal is called for. It's this: When you look at some old, small movie that no one ever sees, you feel almost as if you're conferring immortality on the people in it. (Or, to be more precise, that you're consoling them for having died.) Each disc is arranged around a loose theme, and each viewer will find some more interesting than others. I have no use, for example, for early surrealism, so Disc 2 isn't my favorite. But I found fascinating Disc 5, "Picturing a Metropolis," showing the many ways in which New York City has been filmed, and Disc 6, "The Amateur as Auteur," which includes home movies and amateur films that give a picture of daily life in the early part of the past century. But all the discs have films to recommend them: Disc 1 deals with experiments in technique and form; Disc 3, with abstraction; Disc 4, with new directions in storytelling; and Disc 7, with dance on film. The digital transfers are excellent.

-- Mick LaSalle

Unseen Cinema: Early American Avant-Garde Film 1894-1941
Not Rated
Image Entertainment