A group of rare silent films has been restored, set to new piano music, and packaged in a six-cassette collection for sale to the public in a joint effort between the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institution.The collection was selected on the basis of the films’ importance to popular culture and film heritage, according to Scott Simmon, a former curator at the Library of Congress’s Mary Pickford Theater and currently a professor of film studies at San Francisco State U. The pix come in six volumes, which will be sold for $ 34.95 per volume. Volume 1 is called “The African American Cinema I” and consists of Oscar Micheaux’s “Within Our Gates,” a 1919 film that represents the earliest surviving feature film by a black director. “Origins of the Gangster Film” consists of D.W. Griffith’s 1912 offering “The Narrow Road” and Maurice Tourneur’s “Alias Jimmy Valentine,” a 1915 pic that was recently discovered after being lost for 75 years. “Origins of American Animation, 1900-1921” presents 21 short animated cartoons, including George Herriman’s “Krazy Kat,””The Katzenjammer Kids” and surviving portions from “Gertie on Tour” and “The Centaurs” by Winsor McKay. “Origins of the Fantasy Feature” offers two 1914 features, “The Patchwork Girl of Oz,” which was produced by author L. Frank Baum, and “A Florida Enchantment,” billed as a “gender-bending comedy of manners.” “The African American Cinema II” presents the 1926 pic “The Scar of Shame,” a melodrama of dance halls and gunfights that depicts prejudice within the black community not seen before in silent film. Rounding out the collection is “America’s First Women Filmmakers,” four films from successful women directors in the silent era. Films in this volume include “How Men Propose” and “Too Wise Wives” by Lois Weber and “Matrimony’s Speed Limit” and “A House Divided” by Alice Guy-Blanche. The Library of Congress did all the restoration and video transferral work itself. The Smithsonian will market the collection via the 3 million to 4 million people who subscribe to the monthly Smithsonian magazine or are Smithsonian members, according to Craig Reynolds, exec assistant at the Smithsonian Video Division. Further joint ventures between the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian are possible, according to Reynolds. “The consensus is that we’re going to see how these videos sell and then we’ll consider other opportunities,” he said. The Smithsonian will keep about $ 3 from the sale of each videocassette as profit; the Library of Congress will plow its $ 3 back into a “revolving fund” that will bankroll similar future projects.
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