Okay, this one is a little different, and my first recommendation of DVDs outside those I talked about in my post on “Understanding the Middle East.” If you aren’t interested in stretching your mind, if you aren’t comfortable with the unusual or eccentric, you might just skip this one.
Today we are overwhelmed with videos of all sorts: short clips, long clips, old clips, new clips, stupid clips, inspiring clips, ugly clips, beautiful clips. I recently saw the most wonderful little genuinely global music video, which you can see here: http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=2539741. The huge technological gains of recent years mean that shooting high definition video is within the reach of millions of people worldwide. The little flip cameras are selling like hotcakes, and we are capturing everything – from crime to punishment. As for myself, I have been shooting video since the first VHS units became available – originally the camera was a separate device from the recorder – and today shoot in high definition and burn to Blu-ray. My own “specialty” is time lapse video which I shoot all over the world, and which I hope to present on hooversworld at some future point.
But all this experimentation and creativity is not new. It is just easier. Think back to the very earliest days of the film industry and art – from the 1890’s through the 1930’s – and how much heavy equipment and laborious development processes were required. Those men and women really had to be dedicated. Led by such people as Thomas Edison, D.W. Griffith, Sergei Eisenstein, and the French George Melies and Lumiere Brothers, people around the world were trying new ideas and experiments. The edgiest of this cinema is referred to as “avant-garde.” Some of this stuff is edgy even by today’s standards. I can only imagine how eccentric it must have seemed 100 years ago.
If you dig around amazon or other DVD websites, you can find some excellent collections of this early experimental film. I can think of no better place to start than Unseen Cinema: Early American Avant-Garde Film 1894-1941 (Image Entertainment, 2005). This amazing set consists of 155 films of varying lengths, totaling 19 hours, on 7 DVDs, all in a very attractive case with a nice descriptive booklet and plentiful notes and background information. Several of the films have new sound recordings to match the classic silent imagery.
The best way to understand the set is to study the titles of the 7 DVDs: (1) The mechanized eye: experiments in technique and form; (2) The devil’s plaything: American surrealism; (3) Light rhythms: music and abstraction; (4) Inverted narratives: new directions in storytelling; (5) Picturing a metropolis: New York City unveiled; (6) The amateur as auteur: discovering paradise in pictures; and (7) Viva la dance: the beginnings of cine-dance.
My own favorite, so far, has to be the New York City disc. Including some of the very first films ever shot, this disc also includes the wonderful 1921 Manhatta, by artists/photographers Charles Sheeler and Paul Strand. But each of the 29 short films on this disc gives you a different view of the world’s greatest city in the years in which it rose to global prominence, from 1899 to 1940.
The films of Paris and the Eiffel Tower in 1900, the amazing 1924 Ballet Mecanique with original score by George Antheil, and the experimental fantasies on “Inverted narratives” are equally stunning.
At about $85, this is not the least expensive video set you will find, but for the cost of a couple of seasons of your favorite TV series, you will learn a tremendous amount about cinema history and stretch your imagination to the edges.