Early Film

If your library is across the street from a university with a film studies program and down the road from a large local media arts center, you just might have an unusually high demand for early films. And here in the Film & Audio Department, we’re all about meeting demand.

Of course we have Luis Bunuel’s surrealist classic Un Chien Andalou, which has been turning stomachs since 1929. Please don’t watch it if the thought of eyeballs and razors makes you uncomfortable.

We also have A Trip to the Moon and many other films by Georges Melies, one of the first people to experiment with special effects. When you’re watching this one, keep in mind that it was filmed in 1902. Amazing!

If you’re interested in early films by women, try the works of Maya Deren. This clip is from At Land, from 1944.

The National Film Preservation Foundation has so far produced four wonderful collections of American films. Each set contains three or four DVDs, so make sure you have a free afternoon and a comfortable couch.

Collections with more dramatic titles include Saved from the flames: 54 rare and restored films, 1896-1944 (originally filmed on nitrate stock) and Unseen cinema : early American avant-garde film, 1894-1941 (this one contains a whopping 155 films on seven DVDs).

If you’re tired of Americans, try The European pioneers and Cinema Europe: the other Hollywood. There’s also the charmingly titled Electric Edwardians, which is apparently a collection of films about normal everyday English people doing normal everyday English things.

If you’re tired of both Americans and DVDs, be sure to check out the online archive of Europa Film Treasures – though I warn you, the Saucy Chambermaid of 1908 is not terribly saucy by modern standards. I’m not including the link; you’ll have to find her on your own!

Still not enough for you? Try the Landmarks of Early Film series, which has movies produced as far back as 1886! Volume one contains many works from the Edison Manufacturing Company. Thomas Edison even had Edwin Porter (the man behind The Great Train Robbery, shown below) working for him for a while.

And finally, for something a little different, check out Lumiere & company to see a collection of one minute films made by contemporary directors using a restored Lumiere brothers camera.


– Amy

This post is dedicated to Teresa Foley, who in five days taught me more about the history of filmmaking than I had ever learned before. Without her influence and expertise, this library wouldn’t have the excellent early film collection that it does today. Thanks, Teresa!

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One response to “Early Film

  1. Bobbie

    For a great read about the early motion picture industry and the life of the first real movie star, Florence Lawrence, try The Biograph Girl
    It combines true biography with a mystery. What if Lawrence didn’t really kill herself with ant paste in 1938? Is she really the 106 year old woman in a Buffalo nursing home 60 years later?

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