This Saturday, July 30, film historian Iris Cahn, chair of the Film Department at SUNY-Purchase and a former editor of international renown, will show clips of these early silent landscape films of the Catskills at the Pratt Museum in Prattsville, near the border of Greene, Delaware and Schoharie counties. The program, which starts at 1 p.m., is free.
“The films to be presented will echo the Great Pictures paintings’ glorification of the natural landscape, but they also bring up the ghosts of American industrialists who built tanneries, ran the lumber mills and owned the railroads that carted pieces of the natural landscape to market,” said Cahn. “Shot in the Hudson River School’s backyard, the scenes foreground an intersection of landscape and industry, born of entrepreneurs like Zadock Pratt, in the days when even Prattsville’s rustic corner of the world provided a center for this convergence.”
“Early Landscape Films of the Catskill Mountains,” Pratt Museum director Carolyn Bennett added, were an outgrowth of the Hudson River School of painting, which at its height (not that many years before the advent of cinema) used to be toured on lecture circuits as a form of educational entertainment similar to the Western tours of Oscar Wilde and Charles Dickens, or of such paintings as Frederick Church’s great Heart of the Andes.
“Born of a long-held cultural reverence for America’s sublime places, the films paid homage to that high-class tradition, while answering mainstream curiosity about the locations they revealed,” Bennett said. “Through the films, even the most citybound spectator could visit America’s wildest reaches.”
The films that Cahn will show have not been generally widely screened, and a number of noted film historians are expected to make their way to Prattsville for the occasion.
The Pratt Museum is located on Route 23 in Prattsville, a classic old Catskills town with its own unnatural glory in the form of the odd Pratt Rocks, a series of whitewashed hillside carvings of the town founder’s horse, arm and profile. For more information call (518) 299-3395 or visit www.prattmuseum.com.