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BFI

Region 2 - PAL

 

Inspired by the popular success of the BFI's Silent Shakespeare films, Dickens Before Sound is a unique collection of early adaptations of perhaps Britain's favourite and (after Shakespeare), most adapted author.

Almost one hundred film versions of Dickens' stories were made before the coming of sound, predominantly in Britain and the USA, but also in countries such as France, Italy, Russia, Germany and Denmark. Sadly, only about a third of them are known to have survived and have rarely been seen. This collection of films, the majority of which are previously unreleased, shows how early cinema storytelling developed, as practitioners of this wonderful new art struggled to transform a tale from page to screen.

This DVD includes the first existing Dickens adaptation, Scrooge; or Marley's Ghost (1901) photographed a mere thirty-one years after the author's death; an entirely original attempt to animate a series of original lantern slides depicting the story of Gabriel Grub; the first Dickensian sound film with Bransby Williams as the character Grandfather Smallweed from Bleak House, and perhaps the centrepiece of the collection - a version of Oliver Twist (1922) featuring two iconic performers of the silent screen, Jackie Coogan and Lon Chaney.

The films are presented for the first time with new scores by the composer and pianist Neil Brand.

Excerpt of review from BFI located HERE

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 DVD Reviews

DVD Review: BFI - Region 2 - PAL

DVD Box Cover

CLICK to order from:

Distribution

BFI

Region 2 - PAL

Runtime 180:00
Video

1.33:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: mb/s
PAL 720x576 25.00 f/s

Audio Silent, English (Dolby Digital 2.0)
Subtitles English, None
Features Release Information:
Studio: BFI

Aspect Ratio:
Fullscreen - 1.33:1

Edition Details:
• Fully illustrated 40-page booklet with an introduction, notes on each film and original production stills
• Spoken word performance by Ken Campbell of Dickens' original text over Gabriel Grub and The Pickwick
• Voiceover commentary by screenwriter Michael Eaton on The Cricket on the Hearth
• Downloadable essay by Dickens scholar Graham Petrie

DVD Release Date: August 28th, 2006
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Comments

Like their release of “Silent Shakespeare” from a few years ago, the BFI’s “Dickens Before Sound” is a collection of shorts and fragments of silent era adaptations of Charles Dickens’s work. However, the highlight of the set is undoubtedly the full version of Frank Lloyd’s 1922 adaptation of “Oliver Twist” starring Jackie Coogan in the titular role and Lon Chaney as Fagin. The films themselves are a diverse lot, including early animation in the form of narrated lantern slides, shorts created throughout the entire silent era (including one by D. W. Griffins), and excerpts from an early talkie version of “Grandfather Smallweed” (an adaptation of “Bleak House”). Overall, this is a great set for those interested in early cinema or Dickens’s work, featuring some truly memorable adaptations of the some of the greatest work in 19th century British literature.

Predictably, the images in the set are a mixed lot. The aforementioned animation stills look positively gorgeous, while the images in the other features often contain damage and dust marks. Of course this is only to be expected for films of their age. Even with extensive restoration, I doubt that the films would look significantly better than they do here. Regardless, they aren’t as damaged as many of their contemporaries are, as they largely are drawn from the vaults of the BFI and the Library of Congress. In other words, the visuals are more than acceptable.

Since this is largely a silent set, the focus of the audio discussion should be on the scores commissioned for the set. Unsurprisingly, they are quite good, reflecting the action on the screen and nicely accompanying the story. The mono soundtrack always competently presents Neil Brand’s score. Two of the films, “Gabriel Grub” and “The Pickwick Papers” also feature optional voice over narration of the original text as read by Ken Campbell, which sound similarly clear and free of unwanted background noise. Optional subtitles are provided for the narration and unobtrusive.

The extras here are quite nice as well. Most obvious is the accompanying booklet. Clocking in at nearly 40 pages, the booklet contains essays on every film in the set as well as an essay on recent works in Dickensian cinematic scholarship. Also included is an educational, albeit brief, commentary by Michael Eaton on Griffith’s “The Cricket on the Hearth”, dealing with the place of the short in Griffith’s canon. Finally, there’s a downloadable essay by Graham Petrie, which, unfortunately, I haven’t been able to read yet.

Overall this is another great set from the BFI, highlighting the eclectic nature of their releases. Those considering the set won’t go wrong with the purchase. Definitely recommended.

 - Brian Montgomery

 



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DVD Box Cover

CLICK to order from:

Distribution

BFI

Region 2 - PAL

 




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