By Phil Hall | February 12, 2008

This three-disk DVD collection offers an entertaining hodgepodge of orphaned and ephemeral films spanning 1896 through 1944. Most of these films have been available in the past via other anthologies, but most of the titles here are newly restored and (quite frankly) never looked or sounded so good.

The highlights: an utterly bizarre French short caled “The Pig Dance” featuring a man in a porcine costume in a vaudeville turn with a hoochy-koochy girl; the surreal 1935 Ub Iwerks cartoon “Balloonland,” where the air-inflated residents of the title setting face death from the dreaded Pincushion Man (this film looks like an acid trip in Cinecolor); a rare film appearance by gypsy jazz legend Django Reinhardt; a nutty World War II propaganda musical short with William Frawley (Fred Mertz from “I Love Lucy”) extolling Americans to kick Japan off the map; the 1935 Chevrolet-produced industrial film “Master Hands” (which looks more like a Soviet art film than a Detroit promotional movie); and the pioneering 1908 short “Fantasmagorie” (in the best-looking print I’ve seen of this endlessly bootlegged short).

There’s not much rhyme and reason to this collection – where else can you find Charles Lindbergh, a French-dubbed Laurel and Hardy promotional film, Louis Armstrong in Copenhagen, the Lumiere Brothers’ pioneering experiments and Charlie Chaplin in his first “Little Tramp” appearance? But coherence be damned – this collection is a lot of fun for serious cinephile and the goofy movie lover alike.

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