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 movies began—history for which the Library offers a front row seat. 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 laserdiscs from the Clemons vault and Ivy Stacks, unplayable anywhere except on equipment maintained in Clemons Library.
The Library collection includes films as far back as Edison’s The Kiss (1894) and the elaborate fantasies of Frenchman George Méliès’s featured in Martin Scorcese’s 2011 film Hugo. Douglas Fairbanks’ acrobatics made him the movies’ prototypical action hero and the model for George Valentin in Michel Hazanavicius’s 2011 Oscar winner The Artist. In 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 Batman, and his swordplay 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. 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.”
Women played as important a role behind the camera as men in the formative years. 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 on 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 fantasies about a dystopian future are your thing, Lang got there first with Metropolis (1927). The Library has both the restored version and the 1984 Georgio Moroder version set to rock music.
Before Nate Parker appropriated D. W. Griffith’s title The Birth of a Nation to tell the story of Nat Turner’s 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. And in the Library of Congress 3-DVD set The Origins of Film, gender-bending issues get a work out in the very first feature-length comedy A Florida Enchantment (1914), about a husband and wife who change sexes, directed by and starring Drew Barrymore’s great-granduncle Sidney Drew.
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.