Treasures 5: The West, 1898-1938
3-DVD box set, with 132-page book
The West has long held pride of place in motion pictures, both as a production center and as the inspiration for that most American of film genres. For audiences today, it is easy to assume that early movies set in the region were just like the sound Westerns that followed. But the films saved by archives tell a far different story. In the years before the “classic” Western, films about the West were as wide open as the region itself.
Treasures 5 brings together 40 early movies showing the West as it’s never been seen on DVD. Of course, the 10-hour, 3-disc anthology has plenty of Westerns, including examples with pistol-packing heroines; comic cowboys; Hispanic, Native American, and Asian stars; lawmen restaging their exploits, and America's first cowboy screen celebrities Broncho Billy Anderson and Tom Mix. With the West’s younger days still fresh in filmmakers’ minds, these narratives surprise today with their effortless authenticity—in dress, gesture, props, buildings, and everyday work. In addition, the set also showcases the “real West” in travelogues from 10 Western states; newsreels about Native Americans; and documentaries about such Western subjects as cattle ranching in Santa Monica; riding the rails; how vaqueros made horsehair ropes; the birth of the canned fruit industry; and the beginning of the water wars. There are lots of surprises and a few genuine masterworks, including Mantrap (1926), with an utterly bewitching Clara Bow in her most sophisticated role, and W.S. Van Dyke's The Lady of the Dugout (1918), with outlaw-turned-actor Al Jennings playing himself 20 years earlier. None of the films has been available before in good-quality video. For the line-up, click here.
The movies are drawn from the collections of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, George Eastman House, the Library of Congress, the Museum of Modern Art, the National Archives, UCLA Film & Television Archive, and the New Zealand Film Archive. New Zealand might seem an unusual place to find films about the American West, but many have been uncovered and preserved during the international collaboration now underway. The discoveries underscore a key fact: While the railroad, and then the automobile, opened the West to throngs of visitors, far more people explored the region through the movies. Movies brought the West to every corner of the globe and exported a movie-made vision of the America far beyond our shores.
The Treasures 5 selections are accompanied by new music, interactive screens with maps, audio commentary, and an illustrated catalog. The set is curated by Scott Simmon and designed by Jennifer Grey. New music was created by music curator Martin Marks, featured pianists Stephen Horne and Michael D. Mortilla, and composers Andrew McPherson, Michael Miller, Brian Robison, Elena Ruehr, Charles Shadle, Christine Southworth, and Evan Ziporyn. For a full list of contributors, click here.
The project is made possible by generous grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts. Like the other DVDs from the NFPF, Treasures 5 celebrates decades of preservation work and serves as a reminder that thousands more endangered films require preservation at archives around the world. The process only continues with public support. Net proceeds from Treasures 5 will support further film preservation.