The Library’s Video Collection Features Pioneering Films that Inspire the Digital Age

The Oscars have been awarded; fans no doubt are discussing the merits of the winners and losers, perhaps asking questions about the future growth and development of the movies. It’s a discussion that’s been going on since the movies began. Now, the Library offers a front row seat for all that history. Early films can be streamed over Virgo from Kanopy, free to anyone with a valid University ID; and the Library continues to offer DVDs and blu-ray discs in the Clemons Library home video collection, and even laserdiscs from the Clemons vault and Ivy Stacks, unplayable anywhere except on equipment maintained in Clemons Library.

The Library collection includes films from as far back as Edison’s The Kiss (1894) and Frenchman George Méliès’s elaborate fantasies featured in Martin Scorcese’s 2011 film Hugo. Douglas Fairbanks’ acrobatics, that made him the movies’ prototypical action hero and the model for silent film star George Valentin in Michel Hazanavicius’s 2011 Oscar winner The Artist, are on display in When the Clouds Roll By (1919) and The Mark of Zorro (1920). Doug’s masked and caped avenger, concealing his identity and operating from an underground lair, was Bob Kane’s inspiration for creating Batman, and his swordplay popularized the swashbuckler genre that paved the way for Luke Skywalker’s light saber heroics.

If you’ve seen George Miller’s post-apocalyptic action-adventure Mad Max: Fury Road, you’ll want to view Buster Keaton’s The General (1926), a silent comedy about a true-life Civil War train chase, credited to Clyde Bruckman but actually directed by Keaton. Why? Because Miller learned to direct action by watching Keaton. “When I saw [The General],” said Miller, “I thought, ‘This is someone who’s incredibly careful with the camera and choreographs quite complex events inside the cuts’.” Miller asked his editor/wife, Margaret Sixel, “to cut Fury Road as a silent movie.”

Buster Keaton in THE GENERAL (1926).

Throughout the formative years, women played as important a role behind the camera as men. Alice Guy-Blaché was not only the first woman to direct a movie; she was the first person (male or female) to tell a story with film. And in 1927, star Lillian Gish and screenwriter Frances Marion collaborated on The Wind, about a woman trapped by a bad marriage and Texas dust storms, who kills the man who rapes her. It’s a rarely seen masterpiece available on VHS in the Clemons vault and on laserdisc in Ivy Stacks—playable on Clemons AV equipment.

Before Game of Thrones there was German director Fritz Lang’s Siegfried and Kriemhild’s Revenge, two parts of an epic tale about heroes, villains, and intrigue in a mythic medieval world. If Blade Runner (1982), The Terminator (1984), and other fantasies about the dominance of machines in a dystopian future are your thing, Lang got there first with Metropolis (1927)—the Library has both the restored version with an orchestral score and the 1984 Georgio Moroder version set to rock music.

From Fritz Lang’s film METROPOLIS (1927), the automaton with which Joh Fredersen plans to crush a worker rebellion.

Long before Nate Parker re-appropriated the title of D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation to tell the story of Nat Turner’s slave rebellion, African American Oscar Micheaux answered Griffith’s racism with The Symbol of the Unconquered (1920), about the importance of resisting racist aggression. It’s part of the Library’s DVD set Pioneers of African-American Cinema. The LGBT community is also represented in the very first feature-length comedy A Florida Enchantment (1914), a fantasy about a husband and wife who change sexes, directed by and starring Drew Barrymore’s great-granduncle Sidney Drewpart of the Library of Congress 3-DVD set The Origins of Film.

So browse the Library’s collection for classics that speak to you. Chances are there’s an ancient ancestor of a favorite movie waiting to be re-discovered somewhere.

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