This is just about the most disappointing DVD purchase I've made. To say that is not to detract from the goal of preserving and presenting rarely seen, non-Hollywood projects. Most of the items in these eleven plus hours are passably interesting, and several are more than that. Still, the label "treasures" suggests a qualitative richness that simply isn't there, for the good reason that the selection criteria were obviously political, not aesthetic.
By "political" I mean that the goal clearly was to demonstrate the breadth (or, if you must, the "diversity") of American film culture, rather than presenting the best the participating archives had in their collections. So we get standard narratives, experimental shorts, home movies, propaganda, ethnic cinema, records of theatrical performances and documentaries, but what we for the most part do not get is a collection of outstanding films. You can practically feel the politically correct clerks checking off their demographic lists to be certain the collection is "inclusive." The bland results are the perfect bureaucratic solution: the discs won't offend anyone.
Some of the films are more famous than others, such as D.W. Griffith's short "The Lonedale Operator" or John Huston's "The Battle of San Pietro." Even these are not necessarily the filmmakers' best work, however, although it is nice to have copies of them for analytical purposes. The less well-known works vary widely in quality and interest. Many seem to have been included just because they are "rare." Rarity does not necessarily imply value, however. (Maybe I should apply for a National Endowment of the Arts grant to preserve *my* home movies.)
The navigation is simple, devoid of the gimmicks that can make DVDs more obnoxious than entertaining. With one major exception, the discs are well-produced and handsomely packaged. That exception is the musical accompaniment to most of the films. In small doses, it's passable, but if you watch more than a couple of the films at a time, the impersonal clackety-clack of the solo piano is enough to drive you mad. It makes Techno seem like Verdi by comparison.