At the heart of Martin Scorsese’s visually stunning Hugo lies the painful loss of so many Georges Melies masterpieces. Not long before Hugo’s release, Fritz Lang’s 1927 futurist-Christian-socialist parable Metropolis saw re-release as “The Complete Metropolis,” with 25 additional minutes restored from a film canister found rotting in a Buenos Aires closet. Both these fictionalized and real restorations provide high-profile examples of the fragile state of so much classic cinema prior to digital projects like Europa Film Treasures.
An online film museum, Europa is open to all, thanks to several public and private donors and a network of over 30 European film archives (laid out in this nifty interactive map). It “houses” 194 films from the late 19th century to the 70s, each accompanied by an “explanatory booklet.” Contemporary musicians have composed original scores for many of the silent films, and there is even an interactive workshop where users can create soundtracks of their own or test their knowledge of filmmaking techniques.
As the dramatic promotional teaser above says, Europa is a “constellation,” a hugely diverse range of films, some famous, most totally obscure and from “relatively unknown film industries.” Visiting Treasures for the first time can be a little daunting because of the sheer number of genres, periods, and countries of origin. So to give you an entryway, here are a few random nodes in the archival constellation of Europa:
- From Deutsche Kinemathek comes “Supertramp Portrait 1970,” featuring a small quartet called Daddy (later Supertramp) in their first filmed performance at hip Munich spot the PN Club. The band does a seriously jazzy ten-minute rendition of “All Along the Watchtower.”
- From Filmoteca Espanola comes “Barcelona en tranvia” (Barcelona by Tram), from 1908. The title says it all; in this short film, a camera mounted on a city tram records a bustling, turn-of-the century scene where bicycles are overtaking horses. Titles announce the street names as the tram twists and turns through the metropolis while pedestrians and running children gawk and wave at the camera. The arpeggio-rich piano score by Antonia Coppola lends pathos and a wistful air.
- 1967’s experimental film “A Kind of Seeing”—from the Scottish Screen Archive—juxtaposes a gloomy church-organ score against slow-moving shots of Technicolor Scottish flora and other “rural tableau,” offering a meditation on “the dynamic between the visual and the aural.”
- Opening with a title card that promises “ten minutes of medieval hocus pocus,” the 1933 silent “L’Apprenti sorcier” (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice), gives us dancer Jean Weidt’s agonized interpretation of the Goethe tale, performed, we are told, as an expressionist act of protest against the rise of the Third Reich. This one comes via the Archives Francaises du Film.
- Finally, an American classic—also rediscovered by the Archives Francaises du Film—1917’s “Bucking Broadway,” by John Ford. A feature-length adventure, the film follows the journey of Wyoming cowboy Cheyenne Harry to the Big Apple to rescue his fiancé, who’s been kidnapped by horsetraders. The sepia-toned adventure stars one of silent film’s first superstars, dashing Harry Carey.
That should get you started. Have fun, and don’t blame us if you end up on a long, meandering tour of obscure and rediscovered cinematic treasures that takes up the rest of your day.
Josh Jones is a doctoral candidate in English at Fordham University and a co-founder and former managing editor of Guernica / A Magazine of Arts and Politics.