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The Origins of Film: "America's First Women Filmmakers" & "Origins of the Gangster Film" back to product details

Mostly irrelevant, but one gem
written by AKrizman February 7, 2003 - 9:43 AM PST
4 out of 4 members found this review helpful
Instead of being a documentary that shows clips from dozens of silent movies while a narrator explains their relevance, The Origins of Film series shows a handful of obscure films from the silent era in their entirety with only introductory title cards provided for explanation.

Volume 1
"America's First Women Filmmakers" includes the following films:

How Men Propose (1913) 6 min.
A short comedy skit wherein three men propose to the same woman. Stylistically very different from Too Wise Wives, Lois Weber's other feature on this disc.

Matrimony's Speed Limit (1913) 14 min.
A House Divided (1913) 13 min.
Both of these films are Slapstick comedy shorts directed by Alice Guy starring Fraunie Fraunholz and Marian Swayne. In Speed Limit, a man has 12 minutes to get married or he'll lose a fortune. In A House Divided, a married couple try to remain separated while living in the same house. Both films are pleasant enough, and at the time their now-trite premises must have seemed fresh, but 90 years of movie comedies and 60 years of tv sitcoms have rendered these irrelevant. Alice Guy is considered the first female movie director, but it would seem that she is more a pioneer for the Nora Ephrons than the Mary Harrons.

Too Wise Wives (1921) 80 min.
Director Lois Weber effectively captures the minutiae of domestic hell in this story of two wives. Mrs. Graham (the good wife) begins to suspect that her husband is still carrying a torch for former flame Mrs. Daly (the bad wife). Gender attitudes have evolved considerably in the 80+ years since this film was made and it has aged gracelessly, but somehow the film is rendered more intriguing because of it. Mrs. Graham's Martyr act comes across as pitiful and ironically selfish by today's standards, and Mrs. Daly's schemes make her seem empowered and refreshingly autonomous.

"Origins of the Gangster Film" includes the following films:

The Narrow Road (1912) 18 min.
Mary Pickford stars in this D.W. Griffith short about a former convict trying to go straight. His former accomplice constantly tries to convince him to return to his counterfeiting scheme, while the suspicious detective, convinced that convicts can't reform, is relentlessly trying to find him guilty of something. This would set the stage for a very intriguing ethical suspense drama, if the former convict were forced to wrestle with his dedication to the straight life. Unfortunately, his conversion is complete and unwavering, undermining any suspense the film might have had.

Alias Jimmy Valentine (1915) 65 min.
Like the previous film, this film is about a former convict who goes straight overnight for the love of a woman. This one has the same flaw as the previous one too; it's moral absolutism undermines potential ethical suspense. Combine this with the obvious and ironic ending that you would expect from a an O. Henry story, and you've got the kind of movie that only Frank Darabont could redeem. Fortunately, director Maurice Tourneur is up to the challenge. Thanks to two exceptional and suspenseful set pieces (The opening bank robbery, and the aforementioned predictable ending), this movie transforms from the hackneyed pap it should have been, to the remarkably entertaining gem that it is. This film is easily the highlight of this volume.

Origins of Film Collection (Disc 2 of 3)
Origins of Film Collection (Disc 3 of 3)

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