DVD1: Alice Guy
Yes, yes, very, well, ...interesting... I am sure that those of you who absolutely love silent films of all kinds and film history in particular will be wild about this Gaumont volume, and especially this first DVD in the set. Historically, it is a highly desirable release. But if you are looking for entertainment, you must know that Alice Guy just does not have the snap and verve, the panache, of a George Melies, nor his amazing artistic drawings and backgrounds, and his sharp sense of humour. Also missing is the continuity of having a recognizable troupe of actors and a strong sense of directorial style. Since Melies actually plays a character (if not the main character) in so many of his own films, part of the fun of the Flicker Alley release of Melies DVDs ("George Melies: First Wizard of Cinema") is watching him develop a cinematic presence out of his already highly-honed stage personae. He also develops a certain style of directing his films so that later in his oeuvres you can really tell when he stops directing his "Star" films and someone else is handling things, because the style of direction changes drastically. Alice Guy's films don't seem to develop much of anything until about 1906, when she does seem to "come into her own".
By 1905, Melies had completed his "Trip to the Moon" and other fantastic and enchanting featurettes. But according to this collection, Alice Guy is still doing exclusively short, cheapie and fake-looking substitution-shot trick films (at best). Her indoor sets look primitive in comparison to Melies', and in her outdoor settings the films often have a flavor of being a home movie, or an amateur production. In 1905 she does do some little sound films, an area which Melies never ventured into; but... there is no magic to them, in any sense of the word. The singers have little to no charisma, sometimes not even opening their eyes; the little "phonoscenes" are hopelessly static and boring to all but film-historians. If you're in love with film history, you'll enjoy these--the rest of us... probably not so much. I did not find the Alice Guy movies to be particularly engaging until reaching the year 1906, which had a couple of good ones.
This is not to say Alice Guy's filmmaking is unimportant. I'm just being honest and telling you that I personally did not find her movies that appealing. Whereas I show movies from my Melies DVD set to my friends and family all the time, there are only a couple of films by Alice Guy that I feel I would like to share, because most of them are just not entertaining. You may or may not want to consider this before purchasing. "A Sticky Woman" is one exception, being pretty entertaining; "The Consequences of Feminism" is amazing, and a few of the films from late 1906 and 1907, although with a lower budget, have an almost Jean Durand frenzy to them, which is endearing.
It does seem to me that better care could have been taken in choosing which of Guy's many films would be in this compilation. For instance, the film, "Cook & Rilly's Trained Rooster" is a total waste of time just showing a rooster sitting on a perch and doing nothing. Surely there were more interesting films they could have selected to take up space on this DVD. There are 60 films on the Alice Guy DVD, but the films are so short (except the one about Christ) that you're through it pretty quickly. If other Alice films of any interest at all are available, they should have been included. Of course the inclusion of even the worst films would be requisite if this was supposed to be a comprehensive set of early Alice Guy films, but that was not the intention here.
The musical accompaniments for the Alice Guy films are mostly quite good, although some of the music is repeated from film to film. After watching the Jean Durand films on Gaumont volume 2, I was worried about this, since so many of his films have ill-fitting musical accompaniment that kills the movies. But here I was pleased that the music seemed completely appropriate and satisfactory for almost every Alice Guy movie ("The Gamekeeper's Son" is an exception, with a terrible mis-matching musical score; there are a couple of other miscalulations).
The image quality of these films is neither very good nor horrendous. A lot of them are surprisingly free from scratches, but generally the image quality is variously soft and hazy, fuzzy or bleached out, and there are sometimes missing frames just when the story requires some explanation, as in "The Magicians Alms", which is a pretty good film but has missing a critical section right at the denouement. The Life of Christ movie would be good in color; in black and white as it is here, it's a long series of rather dreary tableaus (not without motion), accompanied by perhaps appropriately dreary music. Pixelation interferes with clarity on all films in this Gaumont DVD set.
I do wish that Gaumont volumes 1 and 2 had been combined by having both Alice Guy films and Jean Durand films in the same volume. After the Jean Durand, all the other movies of the Gaumont volume 2 just bored me to death, except the Emile Cohl animations, which unfortunately have such atrocious and inappropriate soundtracks that it was a struggle to watch them all. Ultimately, I was not converted to a Cohl fan.)
DVD2: Louis Feuillade
I can't say too much; these are very good films, but I'm not crazy about slow, straight drama in the silent era, unless the movie has engaging visuals such as in the 1927 film "Sunrise", or unflagging action AND interesting visuals such as with Melies' "A Desperate Crime" (a dramatic "reenactment"). The music is well synchronized to a few of these movies, such as "Spring", which is absolutely delightful thanks to Patrick Laviosa's enticing music; but I do object to having the exact same music repeated unsynchronized to later films, as is done here. In fact much of this music is repeated not only in this DVD, but, even less effectively, in volume 2's Jean Durand movies. "The Agony of Byzance" is an astounding high-budget film, and would be truly spectacular in color; the music by Laviosa is well synchronized and effective, if at times a little repetitious. It's much better than his music for volume 2's Jean Durand movies. Maybe he's more attuned to drama than comedy, although his light music for "Spring" is exemplary. I don't know why his music for many of the Durand movies is so gloomy! The image for "The Agony..." is excellent; you'd never guess by the film quality that it was made in 1913. "Bout de Zan Steals an Elephant" is very charming, and I would have liked to have had a lot more of this series and Feuillade's `Bebe' movies on this DVD. "The Colonel's Account" is quite funny making me wish this DVD had more of Feuillade's comedies, but that's just my taste. You may prefer the dramas and the spectacles, of which this DVD has plenty.
DVD3: Leonce Perret
The two films on this DVD are truly modern films in the sense that all the basic techniques we expect to see are there. Including being way, WAY too long. These films are miles and miles and miles ahead of Melies in the use of lighting, scene dissection, close ups, realistic settings, and more. Yet, I'll watch Melies' "Conquest of the Pole" over and over whereas I will never watch these two Perret films again. If you are really, really interested in film history, have a LOT of patience, can be captivated by leisurely paced dramatic storytelling, and don't mind the lifeless music (or watch in silence), you will probably like these films. Personally, I wish they had given us more short films and released a separate Gaumont Treasures volume with all the dramatic films of volumes 1 and 2. Maybe combined all the short films of Alice Guy and Jean Durand, and added the short comedies of Feuillade and Perret for volume 1, then volume 2 could have been the dramas and the long films.
This DVD set boasts "More than Ten Hours of Films", but because of my taste in movies, and I READILY admit that I am a Melies/Durand/Keaton/Chaplin enthusiast, I only found exactly 65:30 minutes of films that I care to see again. Considering that this is an $80 purchase, I have to wonder if I made a smart buy.
The image quality of the Perret films is excellent, the "L'Enfant de Paris" being particularly clear and clean. However, in both Gaumont volumes the pixilation is very disturbing. VERY disturbing. All vintage films with their common use of far-shots require high-definition reproduction, and Kino should offer this. Higher definition does NOT require Blu-Ray, by the way; I have a Laughsmith Entertainment set of Roscoe Arbuckle films that is not Blu-Ray, yet has sharp, clear images with no problem with pixelation. Also the Flicker Alley set of "Chaplin at Keystone" offers clear unpixilated pictures on a regular DVD.