Besides the silents, the set also offers several other categories of films, including those produced for the government, commercial and promotional films, home movies, and art shorts. These are generally oldish but not antique, none more recent than 1985. The offerings in the last three categories are generally weak. The art shorts, especially, with their emphasis on the abstract and modern, had little appeal for me. Even though many of them are relatively recent, they have been rarely shown, and with good reason. The big surprise is the quality of the government films, especially "The Battle of San Pietro," directed by John Huston, a true work of art, and one of the finest pieces in the set. Even "We Work Again," with its tiresome script intended to convince blacks of the benefits of government assistance during the depression, features beautiful cinematography, unfortunately uncredited, and ends with four minutes from a famous Orson Welle's adaptation of a Shakespeare play, of which no other footage exists.
Each disc is arranged in roughly chronological order, taking viewers on four trips through time, from the 1890's to the modern age. The set includes a 130 page booklet describing each film; these descriptions also appear on the DVDs themselves. The menus on the DVDs are professional, attractive, and easy-to-navigate. The transfers to DVD are excellent, with no digital artifacts that I could see.
This set could easily have been dry and academic. Instead, at its best, it's extremely moving, entertaining, and expressive of the past. The commentary could have condemned the past in light of today's viewpoints and ideologies; instead, with unexpectedly rare exceptions, its fair and informative. This set should have broad appeal for those willing to adjust to the limitations of early film technology. Overall, I cannot recommend this set highly enough.