Friday, January 18, 2013

Beyond the Black Maria: On Reaching into the Past

A kinetoscope parlor, 1894. (public domain)

When I began this journey to view every film included on the Library of Congress' National Film Registry, which covers almost every year from 1891 to 1999, I suppose I should have anticipated that some of them might be scarce. So has been the case with at least two entries so far - The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight (1897) and "Lady Helen's Escapade" (1909). Corbett-Fitzsimmons was only added to the list this past year, so it is understandable that the Library of Congress has not yet made it available. It's really quite amazing that any of these old films still exist at all. I'll continue to do research and contact the appropriate parties until I am able to view these films and any others which are hard to find, but in the mean time I will keep going down the list and watch as many of the 600 hundred movies as I can locate. The closer I get to 1999, I think the easier and more accessible the films will become.
The notion of accessibility brings me to a peculiar element of this project. Since I'm viewing the films beginning with the earliest, so far all of the films I've viewed have been on the internet as they are now in the public domain. I'm utilizing the 21st century's answer to television to consume a few of cinema's first titles, some of which were originally exhibited inside a kinetoscope, which was the device that introduced motion pictures to the public in the late 19th century. With only a couple of exceptions, I have been able to effortlessly reach back into the past and view these films at my leisure and at no cost. Soon my journey will see me making regular visits to Scarecrow Video in order to obtain copies of the films I require, but for the time being I will use this amazing wormhole which sits on my desk to summon movies made by and starring people who are all long dead.

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