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Very nice compilation not without flaws
on 2 February 2013
First I have to say that I agree with most of the remarks made in the review of Mr. Arias. No doubt the music is highly inappropriate. The tendency of scoring silent films with experimental music produces strange results. Latest victim is Méliès' handcoloured "Voyage dans la lune" with the Air soundtrack. I don't blame the musicians. If BFI had hired the Sex Pistols there would have been a soundtrack according to expectations. What you hear now are mostly electronic sound experiments or what is known as musique concrète. Well, these scores simply don't match the films that consist mainly of féeries, fairy tales, fantasy films or grotesques in the Méliès style with Albert Capellani shooting outdoors with a moving camera. Better composers have failed. I think of Mauricio Kagel who tried to score Bunuel's "Chien andalou". The whole thing is really annoying and unless you switch off the sound and play your Rimsky-Korsakov record you can't enjoy the naive pictures.
Another thing is the booklet remark that no attempt has been made to restore or complete the films of the BFI National Archive with the support of other Film Archives holding fragments of titles on the DVD. This is no policy solely practised by the BFI. There are also DVDs from the Netherlands Filmmuseum (De wereld rond met Pathé 1910-1915), the Belge Cinemathèque (Animalomania) and the Filmarchiv Austria (Inferno) with the same approach. In fact, the Animalomania-DVD contains the same German print of "Martyrs chrétiens" as the BFI-DVD. There is also the same English version of one of my favorites, "La peine du talion", here called "Tit for Tat". Oddly the belgian print looks much better with a nice piano score but unfortunately has a Pathé logo in the lower left corner of the frame. There is the shorter - but complete - Lobster version on "Saved from the flames" and "Retour de flamme" with the original title and the Pathé rooster at the end.
I admit that I don't mind the practice of publishing DVDs with unrestored silents of Archive stock that otherwise wouldn't see the light of day. However there is at least one film in the collection that exists on DVD in more versions than one and supports the argument of trying everything to restore it (well, of course this applys to all incomplete films). I mean the totally crazy Segundo de Chaumón film "La légende du fantome". There is a German version on the Inferno-DVD from Filmarchiv Austria that contains underwater sequences (staged, of course) missing on the BFI-DVD which are in much better condition than the rest of the film. But there is an ugly Filmarchiv-Austria-logo in the upper right corner of the frame that destroys not only this film but all the other silents on the DVD, too. And again there is this unfortunate electronic score. Finally there is a 13 minute b/w version on a bootleg Chaumón Double-DVD that has a totally different cut with no intertitles and makes absolutely no sense. The official spanish Segundo de Chaumón-DVD doesn't contain the film.
Despite all the flaws of the BFI-DVD I recommend it for the sheer pleasure these silent films can give you. You just have to cut off the soundtrack and let your little sister play on your home cinema organ.