AFI Silent Cinema Online

"Movie Magazine International" Special Report

(Air Date: Week Of 2/5/97)

By Andrea Chase

Heads up cybernauts, silent cinema is now online. The American Film Institute has launched a program on their website that makes a silent, short classic available on demand, in real time, on your very own computer screen. No waiting hours to download. No pesky general protection errors when you run out of memory.

That handy-dandy web address is:

This is a user friendly site with spiffy graphics that evoke the days of the great movie palaces.

Each film runs for a month. The first offering is Charlie Chaplin's 1916 opus, "The Rink". It's the one with Charlie on skates. The end of February brings Buster Keaton in "The Boat", wherein Buster takes his family on a benighted pleasure cruise on the good ship Damfino.

Now the bad news. This is new technology. I think we all know what that means. You may well have to hit reload more than a couple of times and, since there are limits on the number of users any server can handle, off-peak hours are your best bet. The picture quality, well, it's not up to laser or video, and it varies according to your system setup. Also, the required software,Vdoplay, available free at the AFI site in both PC and Mac flavors, took me an hour to download at 19.2. No zipped or stuffed files.

The images, though, are still magical and the music is great. Even if you've seen these films before or own them on video - especially if you own them on video - you need to check out this site. Movies aside, there's the voluminous ancillary information available for the current attraction. Check out the little seen production credits for "The Rink", or the news reports of how Charlie's body was stolen shortly after being laid to rest in Switzerland. My personal favorite is a recipe for the Charlie Chaplin cocktail. There are also listings of online groups devoted to Chaplin and to silents in general with links in place to take you right there. Show me liner notes that can compete with that. And these examples don't begin to scratch the surface of what's available.

Could this be the beginning of the end for video commerce as we know it? Hmmmmm.

Copyright 1997 Andrea Chase

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