How Silent Films Help You Understand History (Better, Much Better)

A couple stories circulating in the media recently had levels of ridiculousness so high (admittedly an easy bar to reach nowadays) that they inspired me to explore a topic near and dear to my heart: how silent films can help us understand history. Better. Much better, since it helps to, you know, see history, at least from the 1880s onwards. And I want to show how a deeper understanding of history isn’t just some neat perk to help add more trivia nuggets to your noggin, but something that can have huge real-word ramifications–especially today.

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“Yup, those are high levels of ridiculousness alright.”

Now, I like discussing overall societal trends in this blog in a generalized fashion, but I usually avoid specific news stories. Partly because the blog doesn’t need to get super dated (my blog topic’s already dated, thank yew very much), and mainly because I really don’t feel like bringing the soul-sucking, fang-dripping, grinning, oozing specter of politics into my teensy corner of the blogosphere. That denizen of the Hellmouth can stay in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer universe, okay–and besides, it’s infesting everything enough as it is. So while the following two stories are easy to discuss in a polarizing political fashion, they’re also very much related to general societal trends. I’ll allow it!

First up: the viral Cracker Barrel infographic-of-sorts–my apologies for the smattering of uncouth vernacular therein:

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9 Treasures From The NFPF Site

Love cinema, especially obscure cinema? So do I, obviously. I’m always on the hunt for all things quaint and curious, and aside from those random YouTube playlists, there’s one site in particular that has a fascinating library of free films that I highly recommend: The National Film Preservation Foundation’s website.

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This foundation, as you suspect, does God’s work. As their site describes:

The National Film Preservation Foundation is the nonprofit organization created by the U.S. Congress to help save America’s film heritage. We support activities nationwide that preserve American films and improve film access for study, education, and exhibition…Our top priority is saving American films that would be unlikely to survive without public support. Over the past decade, we have developed grant programs to help archives, historical societies, libraries, museums, and universities preserve films and make them available for study and research. Our grants distribute federal funds secured through the leadership of the Library of Congress and preservation services donated by public-spirited laboratories and post-production houses. Congress increased the authorization for this work in 2005 and 2008. Every penny of these federal funds goes out to the field and we raise operational support from other sources.

Comedies, dramas, cartoons, documentaries, avant-garde, westerns–you can find a little of everything on the NFPF’s site, most films being from the early 20th century. Since it contains a good helping of silents, I thought I’d share nine of my favorite finds (so far). Think of it as suggestions for a DIY at-home film festival: Continue reading

Obscure Films: “Cripple Creek Bar-Room Scene” (1899)–Likely The World’s First Western

Have you ever wondered: What was the very first western ever made?  It would have to be a film older than a Tom Mix or William S. Hart flick, and even older than the mini-dramas by Biograph or Vitagraph. Many who’ve debated this subject will point to an Edison short, Cripple Creek Bar-Room Scene, which is less than a minute long, is more “vignette” than “plot-driven,” and was shot a swell 120 years ago. I’m gonna point to it, too.

I’ve been drawn to this ancient little film in the past mainly because of one thing: this still photo, likely taken so Cripple Creek could be registered for copyright. Let’s take a minute and just look at it.

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