For some while now we have all admired hugely the work of Lobster Films of Paris in discovering and restoring early films, many of them fascinatingly obscure and bizarre. But what exactly have they got? There have festival screenings, some DVD releases, and selected examples available on the Europa Film Treasures site, but in the absence of an available catalogue all we could do was speculate, and dream.
Well, we dream no more, because Lobster has published its full catalogue online. The catalogue covers over sixty years of cinema, from the 1890s to the 1960s, with its great speciality being early cinema. The main page describes those areas where the collection is strongest – early film, slapstick, jazz, cartoons, features, documentaries, erotic films, and detective stories. Click on ‘search’, and that takes you to a simple search page, where you can search from terms across either title or within a summary.
To the top right of the page, however, are two further search options, alphabetical or multicriteria. This is where the real discovery can take place. The alphabetical search is the browse option, so you may find the full range of titles per letter of the alphabet – 132 results under A, 180 results under B, 196 results under C, and so on. Clicking on any record gives you full descriptive details (variable across the collection, and a number have no plot description, so searches across summary are therefore going to produce erratic results). Several have a frame still illustration.
The multicriteria search option enables to specify search by title, director, actor, music, year, summary, category, keyword, sound, country, colour, version and format. So, very quickly, you may discover that Lobster has 173 films made by Georges Méliès, 16 titles featuring Douglas Fairbanks, and 20 titles from the year 1909. However, beware of uneven categorisation – I put in ‘France’ as country and ‘silent’ as sound type, and came up with only 138 titles, which is clearly wrong. Other instances of incomplete or inconsistent categorisation mean that the better option is to use the simple or alphabetical search options. Minor quibbles aside, this is a privileged glimpse into Aladdin’s cave. Go explore.