Great Actresses of the Past (1938) | MoMA FILM VAULT SUMMER CAMP

In the 1940s, not only could you rent movies from the Film Library, but also borrow related music scores, scripts, and other ephemera. We still rent films through the Circulating Film and Video Library, and many of the original program reels continue to circulate today, including compilations scrutinizing German propaganda films, Jay Leyda’s analysis of Sergei Eisenstein’s unfinished “¡Que viva México!” project, and Depression-era protest footage from the Workers Film and Photo League.

However, no program is more popular than “Great Actresses of the Past,” a rare glimpse of the early 20th century’s finest stage performers—Eleonora Duse, Sarah Bernhardt, Minnie Maddern Fiske, and Gabrielle Réjane. Nearly every acting coach and theater professor in New York has brought students to the FSC to see this film. Though the acting styles may be outdated, the raw emotional expression of these consummate performers still resonates today. These are four timeless stories of human experience—of love and loss, poverty, and families torn apart.

“Great Actresses of the Past.” Compiled by The Museum of Modern Art Film Library in 1938.

Comprised of excerpts from:

0:18 “Madame Sans-Gêne.” 1911. France. Featuring Gabrielle Réjane. Directed by André Calmettes for Film d’Art

10:06 “Cenere.” 1916. Italy. Featuring Eleonora Duse. Directed by Arturo Ambrosio and Febo Mari

33:45 “La dame aux camélias.” 1912. France. Featuring Sarah Bernhardt. Directed by André Calmettes for Film d’Art

45:43 “Vanity Fair”. 1915. Featuring Minnie Maddern Fiske. USA. Directed by Eugene Nowland for Thomas A. Edison, Inc.

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The comments and opinions expressed in this video are those of the speaker alone, and do not represent the views of The Museum of Modern Art, its personnel, or any artist. 

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