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Silent Literary Classics (SILENT)


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In 1911, Vitagraph Studios made the first steps toward feature-length motion pictures. They mounted an expensive production of Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities complete with elaborate 18th-century sets and costumes, and an all-star cast featuring the studio's biggest names. These included Maurice Costello, Florence Turner, Helen Gardner, and comedian John Bunny (in a rare serious role.) A then-14-year-old Norma Talmadge made her screen debut as the girl who walks with Costello's heroic Sydney Carton to the guillotine. (When Florence Turner became ill, Talmadge also stood in for her in several scenes, shot from behind.) The film, an already heavily abridged version of Dickens' tragedy of the French Revolution, ran for three reels, during a time in which motion pictures were largely contained to one. (Movies lasting 60-120 minutes were completely unheard of.) To make A Tale of Two Cities more palatable to audiences, Vitagraph released each reel on a different day over the course of a week in February - Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. The results were so spectacular that critics encouraged the studio to release all three reels of its next big production together as one continuous feature film. This would be a sumptuous adaptation of William Thackeray's Vanity Fair starring Helen Gardner as Becky Sharp and John Bunny as Joseph Sedley, released Christmas 1911. Gardner's performance as the wicked Becky Sharp made her a star, successful enough that she became the first actress to form her own production company, Helen Gardner Productions, the next year (their first release, a massively over-budgeted biography of Cleopatra, proved to be a huge flop.) Now Alpha Video presents the pioneering Vitagraph versions of both A Tale of Two Cities and Vanity Fair on one DVD. (A Tale of Two Cities is presented as a 21-minute cutdown made by Kodak for the home movie market, all that remains of this groundbreaking film.)

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UPC Number: 136000778794

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