The multitude of short films presented on this disc are ones that the viewer can just watch over and over again. With so much going on, one can literally watch them scores of times and catch something new every time. Short as they are, I love these films of everyday people and things from the 1890s and early and mid-Aughts. The films on this collection in particular span the years 1900 to 1906, covering the early Edwardian period (and the very end of the Victorian era, as Queen Victoria died in 1901). Unlike the films produced by Thomas Edison and the Lumière brothers, however, Sagar Mitchell and James Kenyon actively encouraged these people they were filming to interact with the camera. The majority of the people in these films were from the working masses (sadly, quite a few of them were child laborers), the main audience for films in the medium's infancy, and they got a real kick out of seeing themselves onscreen. In many instances, these films were shown the very day they were shot, sometimes under 4 hours afterwards. Watching these films is like a time capsule, what with the horse-drawn transportation, early automobiles, clothing styles, store signs, and early amusement parks. It's also haunting to realise that all of the people in these films (but for maybe a few very young children here and there) are long dead, and that many of these little boys and teenage boys would, not that many years down the road, be sacrified on the altar of WWI, capturing this lost generation before their world changed forever. One also can't help but wonder what these people's hopes and dreams were, what went on in their lives after they stopped waving at the cameras and went home, what it was really like to live in that long-ago world.
Extras include a featurette on how this treasure trove came to be discovered and the painstaking process of restoration, several extra films, an interview with Vanessa Toulmin, one of the restorers, audio commentary by Ms. Toulmin, and an essay read by Tom Gunning, accompanied by images from several more films. This really is an invaluable resource for discovering how people really lived in the Edwardian era and for learning more about early film and how fast it changed. This type of film was no longer popular by the end of the decade because people now preferred narrative storylines with real actors, not seeing themselves or other ordinary people on the screen. And even though one usually thinks of films from the Aughts as being like this, in actual fact movies were no longer seen as a novelty or something experimental and faddish by 1900, and there were more and more films with a narrative structure being made at the same time as these people in Ireland and the United Kingdom thrilled to seeing themselves on the screen. The films included here are just the tip of the iceberg; over 100 Mitchell and Kenyon films are known to survive, and all of them restored from their original negatives. Hopefully there will be more volumes just like this one!