DVD REVIEWS: Avant-Garde

Experimental Cinema of the 1920s and '30s Kino
Movie •••• Picture/Sound ••½ Extras None
This amazing two-disc set gathers six hours of some of the most innovative and influential short films ever made, including Germain Dulac's surrealistic The Seashell and the Clergyman (1928), Fernand Léger's cubist Ballet Mécanique (1924), and Marcel Duchamp's dadaist Anemic Cinema (1926). Among the 24 (mainly silent) films are works by Orson Welles, Sergei Eisenstein, Jean Epstein, Paul Strand, and Man Ray. My favorite is Ghosts Before Breakfast (1928), a nine-minute poetic wonder by Hans Richter that is both startling and funny. Being experimental, these titles weren't made to "entertain" but to convey an experience, and it's a real education to see the effects of cinematic techniques when they're not backgrounded in the service of narrative.

None of the films have been well preserved, but the abrasions, flecks, and jumpiness actually give another dimension to the textures and movement in the images. The music, much of it added recently, is hit-and-miss, ranging from classical to electronic to modern jazz, and sometimes it's necessary to turn the volume way down so that it doesn't interfere with a film's own marvelously hypnotic rhythms. [NR] English, Dolby Digital stereo; full frame (1.33:1); two dual-layer discs..