Noël Burch – What Do Those Old Films Mean? (1985)

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In this extraordinary six-part series, film historian and critic Noel Burch uses clips of rare archival silent film treasures to take us on a riveting journey of discovery. How did silent film reach such incredible heights in a mere 30 years? Why did film in the United States so quickly become such a popular art form?

In the first program, Along the Great Divide: Great Britain 1900-1912, Burch examines early British classics like Rescued by Rover and other, rare films by Cecil Hepworth, Stuart Kinder, James Williamson, R.W. Paul and others to look at how the British “gentlemen inventors of the cinema” created entertainment for the poor.

The second part, Tomorrow the World: USA 1902-1914, looks at early film in America against the background of the immigrant masses streaming into the factories, slums and sweat-ships of early 20th century America. Films by Porter, Griffith, Reginald Baker, George Dobson, Stuart Blackton and others show how early American film invented social content and then dropped it for the development of narrative.

In the third program, She! Denmark 1902-1914, Burch looks at the incredible explosion of filmmaking in Denmark where mature cinema was born at a time when French and American films were simple melodramas. The earliest Danish film stars – Asta Nielsen and Urban Gad – played in remarkable films which were innovative in the technical aspects of lighting, camera angles and editing. Continue reading