Rare California films see light in new DVD box set

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A new DVD box set featuring never-before-seen films of California and the Western United States hit the shelves Tuesday. The DVD box set by the National Film Preservation Foundation captures the Western United States as moviegoers saw it in the early part of the last century. For decades, Hollywood has been synonymous with movie-making, but in the early days of the film industry most films were made on the East Coast. As filmmakers started heading west around 1910 for better weather, it gave movie audiences a chance to see new places that not many had visited in person. "Treasures from American Film Archives 5: The West" includes ten hours of footage – and while the set does include the popular Westerns, it also includes other movie genres, documentaries and newsreels filmed between 1898 to 1938. Among the offerings is the 1910 silent movie "The Sergeant," which is the first surviving narrative film shot in Yosemite National Park. The film is also important to Southern California's film history in that it was made by Los Angeles' first permanent movie studio, the Selig-Polyscope Company. Film preservationists rediscovered the movie last year in the New Zealand Film Archive.

“A New Miracle in the Desert” (1935), a Hearst Metronome newsreel

An excerpt from “The Golden West” (1938), an amateur movie by an unidentified filmmaker

The box set also includes a short promotional film by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power called "The Romance of Water," the story of the first Los Angeles aqueduct which brought water from the Owens Valley. A separate Hearst newsreel documents the construction of the Colorado River aqueduct. These films, however, ignore the controversy stirred by the era's water wars. "You could say it's a conflict-free version of the West's water wars...with the political chicanery left out," said Scott Simmon, the curator of the DVD set. Another controversial period in Los Angeles' history is documented in the 1936 newsreel "The 'Promise Land' Barred to 'Hoboes'." It tells the story of the Los Angeles Police Department's attempt to crack down on transients settling in Los Angeles. "The L.A. chief of police James Davis had the idea that he would send L.A. policemen to every rail and auto entrance route into California and check to make sure that, as he put it, 'the better class' citizens were coming to Los Angeles," said Simmon. Two other moves in the set are the Clara Bow silent film "Mantrap," (1926) in which Lake Arrowhead stands in for a Canadian Lake; and a home movie showing early scenes of Wilshire Blvd. and Olvera Street. KPCC's Rob Strauss contributed to this report.
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