The set showcases films, filmmakers, and genres that are often ignored, and many of the themes are socially relevant rather than pure entertainment. These are rather obscure works, many of which have been neglected for more than 80 years and are not lost altogether often by a whim of chance rather than by deliberate preservation. This set is currently out of print, so I am listing the detailed contents here in case you run across a used copy at a reasonable price somewhere and decide to purchase it. The total running time is about nine hours. The worst thing I can say about the set is that none of the films have running commentary. You have to look at the booklet that comes with the set if you want to know more about any of the films, so make sure if you get this used that the booklet is included, because it is the only context you have.
Disk I - African American Cinema
The Scar of Shame (1927) - 70 minute feature with an all black cast in which an educated young black musician marries a woman from a lower socioeconomic class to get her away from her abusive stepfather. Afterwards, he won't introduce his new wife to his mother since he knows mom will be disappointed with his choice.
Sissle and Blake (1923) - DeForest Phonofilm musical short featuring Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake. Yes, there were sound films prior to the Jazz Singer, but DeForest just couldn't interest any of the studios in his system.
Within Our Gates (1920) - The earliest surviving feature film (79 minutes) made by an African American and intended for an African American audience. The basic story is about a woman trying to raise money for a southern school for blacks to supplement the meager amount the state provides. However, the entire film is full of observations about racial issues and attitudes as they existed at the time in both the North and South.
Disk II - Part 1 - Origins of Animation
Includes 23 animations that range in year of production from 1900 to 1921. Included are a couple of Winsor McCay fragments, three Krazy Kat cartoons that also feature his mouse pal Ignatz, a Katzenjammer, and also a couple of animations that talk about World War I and its aftermath. There's a very novel stop-motion piece involving actual toys rather than clay figures. Also included is "The Dinosaur and the Missing Link: A Prehistoric Tragedy" (1917), which was created by Willis O'Brien for the Edison Company. You could see this as a prototype of what O'Brien does 15 years later in King Kong.
Disk II - Part 2 - Origins of the Fantasy Film
The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1914) - An 81 minute feature that is a simplified version of the Oz novel, written and directed by Frank Baum himself.
A Florida Enchantment (1914) - A 63 minute film in which a woman takes some pills that attract her to other women. However, to "get the girl" she must dress in men's clothing. Quite daring for 1914.
Disk III - Part 1 - America's First Woman Film Makers
Matrimony's Speed Limit (1913) - From Alice Guy Blaché, considered to be the world's first female film director. A man loses his fortune on Wall Street. He then learns he has inherited a fortune but he must be married by a certain time. This one has an interesting twist at the end that is usually not part of the other films that follow a similar line.
A House Divided (1913) - Also by Alice Guy Blaché. A 13 minute-long short that could be one of the first screwball comedies. Rather than divorce, a couple has decided to live legally separate, but physically under the same roof. They try to stay angry at each other but find it difficult.
Too Wise Wives (1921) - Directed by Lois Weber, the first woman to direct feature length films starting with "The Merchant of Venice" in 1914. This 80 minute feature really seems to drag at points. It's the story of two marriages that in the end seems to have the moral that wives should be willing to look beyond themselves and their self-perceived shortcomings and that husbands should be attentive enough to realize their wives' needs. The film features some interesting looks at everyday middle-class life in the 1920's.
How Men Propose (1913) - Another film by Lois Weber. Short comedy in which three men propose to the same woman. She uses the experience to write a magazine article.
Disk III - Part 2 - Origins of the Gangster Film
The Narrow Road (1912) - A 17-minute D.W. Griffith short that is an early gangster film involving a gangster, recently released from prison, who wants to go straight, his wife (Mary Pickford), and his friend who is not ready to give up crime.
Alias Jimmy Valentine (1915) - A 50 minute early gangster film in which the gangster is a complex character who is capable of reform and self-sacrifice. Unusual in the age of moustache-twirling villains.
This set was originally released in 2001. I don't know if any improvement is possible in the video quality, but 2001 is practically ancient history in terms of DVD technology. Therefore you might want to wait and see if Image Entertainment re-releases this set some time in the future.