Manatee Library has rare short-film treasures

If the only Lumiere you've ever heard of is the singing and dancing candlestick from Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" then you may be surprised to learn that two French brothers, Auguste and Louis Lumiere, were film pioneers who created what is considered to be the first movie: the 46-second-long "Workers Leaving the Lumiere Factory" in 1895. Like other early short films it may be viewed on YouTube.

But to really immerse yourself in early cinema, you might enjoy borrowing a variety of DVDs from the Manatee County Public Library System. And don't bother to adjust your volume control - these are silent films!

Georges Melies was another early French filmmaker. He attended the first public showing of the aforementioned Lumiere Brothers film and even tried to buy one of their cameras (the brothers said non!), but that didn't stop him from eventually creating 531 short films between 1896 and 1913. You can watch fifteen of them in the documentary, "The Magic of Melies." Melies was a special effects innovator and was one of the first filmmakers to use multiple exposures, time-lapse photography, dissolves and hand-painted color. Although his best-known film, "A Trip to the Moon" (1902) is not in this DVD collection (the sequence of a rocket ship smacking into the eye of the Man in the Moon is probably familiar to many), it does include "The Impossible Voyage" (1904) similar to the 1902 film in its theme.

"Treasures from American Film Archives: 50 Preserved Films" is a 4-DVD set that includes documentaries, newsreels, early American silent movies, amateur and home movies, animated and industrial films, and more. Included is a short film called The Lonedale Operator (1911) directed by D.W. Griffith and written by Mack Sennett which is noteworthy for its innovative editing, as well as its use of a "close-up" which was a rare film technique for the time.

D.W. Griffith's 1915 film, "The Birth of a Nation," is the story of two families, one northern and one southern, during and after the Civil War. Despite its racist portrayal of African-Americans, it is still considered by film historians to be a ground-breaking film due to its length (almost 3 hours), cinematic innovations, technical refinements, and artistic advancements.

An early filmmaker very few people have ever heard of is Ladislaw Starewicz (1892-1965), notable as the creator of the first stop-action animated films (or as he called them, "puppet films.") Educated as an entomologist, he began in 1910 using stop-motion photography to animate dead insects, amphibians, and puppets. "The Cameraman's Revenge and Other Fantastic Tales" includes 1912's The Cameraman's Revenge a witty fable about insect infidelity! Director Terry Gilliam said of Starewicz that "his work is absolutely breathtaking, surreal, inventive and extraordinary."

Speaking Volumes, written by Manatee County Public Library System staff members, is published each Sunday. Jyna Scheeren is a reference librarian and Program Coordinator in the Manatee County Public Library System.