Those uninformed and unfortunate souls who purposely elect to bypass  Kino Video's mammoth four-disc dvd set entitled EDISON: THE INVENTION OF THE MOVIES (which Kino collaborated on with The Museum of Modern Art and The Library of Congress) because they feel that viewing it would constitute nothing more than a dry, dull dissertation on the dawn of the cinema medium will be missing what amounts to the finest (and most entertaining as well as enlightening!) collection of the very earliest film footage ever assembled in one glorious package. Watching this utterly amazing collection is akin to the experience of stepping into a time machine and witnessing first-hand the frolics, foibles, triumphs and tragedies of those long-departed souls who jump-started what would eventually evolve into one of the greatest entertainment industries ever.

What we joyously experience here are no less 140 complete Edison Company films from 1891(!) to 1918, over 200 scans of artifacts from MOMA's Edison Collection never available to the public before including: stills, script fragments, interoffice memos and promotions, film by film program notes by Charles Musser, the leading authority on the films of the Thomas Edison studio, and two hours of interviews with archivists and early film scholars.

It's important to note that included with the more frivolous films which show the era through rose-colored glasses are some of the most stinging and unflinchingly coarse examples of the prejudice, poverty, racial hatred, class-conscious intolerance, insensitivity, sexual discrimination, crime, disaster, and sheer brutality that were part and parcel of the times. Examples of the more "politically incorrect" footage on display include: not one but two snippets showing a watermelon eating contest between two African-American gentlemen, a series of shorts that seem to imply that juvenile delinquency is a rollickingly entertaining activity to pursue, a gay shoe clerk presented as a figure of fun, women being mistreated for laughs, recreations(?) of beheadings and lynchings, and, at least for me, incredibly disturbing and anger-inducingly graphic footage of a docile 28 year old carnival elephant being publicly electrocuted (1500 people showed up and paid for the privilege of witnessing this well-publicized "event"!) for having the nerve to kill a man who, just for fun, extinguished a lighted cigarette on its hide.

Clearly in a contemporary era when last years "nipple-gate" episode is being trumpeted as a shallow excuse by certain hypocritical zealots to deny U.S. citizens the right to watch or listen to whatever they damn please, the question arises as to whether Kino Video should have included what to some represents potentially inflammatory and exploitive material. My answer to that is a resounding "YES"! Only by actually seeing what went on in our past can we learn important lessons about human behaviour that, viewed in the context of the times, will (hopefully!) inspire us not to repeat the mistakes of previous generations, and Kino Video is to be congratulated for including such material in this, the very finest dvd box-set of its kind yet released.

--Dick Dinman

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