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Silent Shakespeare is a compendium of some of the earliest productions of the Bard ever to be committed to film. With entries from Britain, America, and Italy dating back as early as 1899, it documents how the movie industry strove to lift itself up from its "lowbrow" status by taking on Shakespeare's classics. The enthusiasm for the new medium shows in the often-spirited performances of the actors, some of the finest stage performers of their day; the 1909 American production of A Midsummer Night's Dream even includes a whimsical camera trick or two, à la the Lumière brothers. The Italian productions of King Lear (1910) and The Merchant of Venice are painstakingly hand-tinted and stenciled, a process that had to have been mind-bogglingly tedious. Unfortunately, the title cards of the films only provide the barest synopsis of the stories; the beauty of Shakespeare to this day is in his language, and film adaptations of his work inherently lose much when the rhythms and cadences of his verse are not present. Nonetheless, this is a fascinating and seldom-seen look at the fledgling film industry and some of its earliest attempts at onscreen drama, one that should prove interesting for silent film fans and drama buffs alike. In a time when as much as 80 percent of films made before 1920 have either been lost, been destroyed, or disintegrated, kudos is in order to Milestone Film and Video for this restoration effort.

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MILE066 Silent Shakespeare VHS (7 silent films 1899-1911) $12.99