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With: Armand Dranem, Félix Mayol, Renée Carl,
Written by: Louis Feuillade, Léonce Perret
Directed by: Alice Guy, Louis Feuillade, Léonce Perret
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 600
Date: 03/19/2013

Gaumont Treasures 1897-1913 (2009)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Raising Cinema

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This new three-disc DVD set from Kino unveils some of the least-known gems from one of the greatest studios in the silent era, putting a fresh new spin on cinema history. Léon Gaumont probably had no idea what was coming when he opened his motion picture studio in 1897 and probably little suspected that his secretary Alice Guy (1873-1968) would go on to hold a place in history as the world's first female director (and, frankly, one of its first directors, period). Today, Guy is probably best known for her run in the United States, but disc one of the new set gives us over 60 films from her early years, 1897 to 1907. Most of these are simple little one-shot films, such as Edison made in the United States, but perhaps with a bit more poetry. The highlight is Guy's 33-minute epic The Birth, the Life and the Death of Jesus Christ (1906).

The subject of the second disc, Louis Feuillade (1873-1925), is best known today as the maker of the exceptional serials Fantômas (1913), Les Vampires (1915) and Judex (1916), but as head of Gaumont, he went through many other stages of his career. He tried comedy (The Colonel's Account) and attempted to elevate the art of cinema with fantasy and visual effects (Spring). Later, he reversed that idea and ventured into "realism," directing a series called "Life As It Is," though many of these films today seem insufferably preachy and high-minded. He also found great success with a long series of lightweight entertainments featuring children stars, such as Bout de Zan.

The Defect (1911) is really rather remarkable, despite its simplistic moral haranguing. At 41 minutes, it's the longest film on the Feuillade disc, and the first thing many viewers will notice is that it could have been cut by at least half. But that's a mistake; rather, the film adheres to Feuillade's idea of realism by starting a scene before the action begins and continuing after it ends, and sometimes nothing happens for long chunks in the middle. In the opening scene, a man and a woman talk and there are no intertitles. It becomes clear that it's not important what they're saying, but merely that they're talking. All 13 of the Feuillade films on the DVD show him experimenting and learning the traits he would come to exhibit in his best-known works, and for that they're interesting, if not necessarily outstanding. The disc also comes with a short documentary about Feuillade's life and films.

The third disc focuses on a more curious name, Léonce Perret (1880-1935). He's virtually unknown in America today, but a short documentary on this disc argues that he was one of the most important and influential directors of the silent era, experimenting with striking visual ideas and post-modern themes some months before even D.W. Griffith did the same. He was famous as an actor, but his potential legacy lies with his feature film The Child of Paris (1914). That 124-minute film appears here (with a terrific new score), as well as Perret's 43-minute film The Mystery of the Rocks of Kador (1912).

Romeo Bosetti, Christiane Mandelys, Edmond Bréon, Léonce Perret, Luitz-Morat, Maurice Vinot, Paul Manson, René Navarre, Suzanne Grandais, René Poyen, Louis Leubas, Maurice Lagrenée, Émile Keppens, Marc Gérard, Henri Duval, Marie Dorly
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