Film

[DVD Spotlight]

Gaumont Treasures: 1897-1913

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Jeffrey M. Anderson

This three-disc DVD set highlights three major French silent-era directors from Gaumont’s legendary studio, and in each case, sheds a bit of new light on film history. Former secretary Alice Guy (1873-1968) would go on to hold a place in history as the world’s first female director (and, frankly, one of its first directors, period). Today, Guy is probably best known for her work in the United States, but Disc 1 of the new set gives us over 60 films from her early years, 1897-1907.

The Details

Gaumont Treasures: 1897-1913
Four stars

Most of these are simple little one-shot films, similar to the films made by Thomas Edison and his crew, but perhaps with a bit more poetry. Louis Feuillade (1873-1925) is celebrated as the maker of the exceptional serials Fantômas (1913), Les Vampires (1915) and Judex (1917), but he went through many other career stages, including attempts at comedy and fantasy and a “realistic” series entitled Life As It Is, as well as a series of light entertainments featuring child stars (Bout de Zan Steals an Elephant is included here). The third disc focuses on Léonce Perret (1880-1935), who is virtually unknown in America today.

A short documentary on this disc argues that he was one of the most important and influential directors of the silent era, experimenting with striking visual ideas and postmodern themes well before D.W. Griffith. This disc includes his feature film The Child of Paris (1914) as well as the 43-minute The Mystery of the Rocks of Kador (1912).

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