Saved From The Flames (1896-1944) – By James L. Neibaur

 This new three-disc DVD set from Flicker Alley gathers 54 rare and restored films made from 1896-1944.

The  films collected over the three discs include some of the most primitive moving picture efforts, early experiments with color and special effects, footage of actual historical events, comedy shorts and animated cartoons, musicals, advertisements, news coverage, and some of the first examples of narrative cinema.  The result is a fascinating look at a variety of filmmaking styles from throughout the world and over a period several decades.

One of the many highlights in this package is a 1922 comedy entitled The Pest in which features Stan Laurel in an early appearance without partner Oliver Hardy.  The long flight of steps that would be featured prominently in the duo’s lost 1927 silent Hats Off  and their quintessential 1932 Oscar winner The Music Box make a significant appearance in this early Laurel short as well.  The set also includes  rare footage of Stan and Oliver together in a movie press ad announcing upcoming releases.  Found in France (and, thus, dubbed in French), this remarkable footage was discovered among the effects of a shoe factory owner who had acquired roughly 300 reels of films to be rendered into glue.
Other discoveries contained in this set include the Lumiere Brothers’ Card Party (1896), one of the first moving pictures ever to be projected publicly; the 1901 George Meliès fantasy Excelsior; and a rare sound film recording from 1927 featuring Charles Lindbergh’s take-off on his transatlantic flight from New York to Paris that had been misfiled at the Fox studios and considered lost until 1973.  

From the Blackhawk and Lobster Films archives, the set manages to also offer such gems as Segundo de Chomon’s An Excursion to the Moon (1908), which imitates Meliès’ noted A Trip to the Moon, complete with color stencil footage; Mack Sennett’s frantically funny 1924 comedy Lizzies of the Field,  and  The Monkey Race (1909), a film produced in Italy that influenced Sennett.

Balloonland, the 1935 Ub Iwerks cartoon, is amazing in its fluidity of movement and use of color and background art.   Max Fleischer’s combination of live action and animation in Cartoon Factory (1924) inspired Disney’s Alice series and all subsequent attempts to blend real people with cartoon images.  Emile Cohl’s Fantasmagorie (1908) creates animation through stop-motion photography in what may be the first animated cartoon to do so.

The musical films  include appearances by vaudeville and jazz artists.  Duke Ellington performs “hot jazz and how” in the 1929 short Black and Tan, Louis Armstrong appears in a 1934 film shot in Copenhagen, and Django Reinhardt is shown with Stèphane Grapelli in long elusive footage from a 1939 performance in France that was tied up in rights issues for years.

The film footage contained herein has important historical, cultural, and critical value, while the set’s crazy quilt categorizing of the entries allows us to see how each short places within cinema’s evolutionary process.  The fact that the three-disc set manages to compile so many films of such value makes  Saved From The Flames an essential addition to any library or collection.