Judge Erich Asperschlager used to think Early Americans were people who forgot to set their clocks back in the fall.
Early America, as seen through the eye of folk art photographer Carole Holt.
People buy TVs for all sorts of reasons. Some plan on watching the big game. Some need an excuse to enjoy the latest and greatest in video games. Others just want to watch their favorite shows without their kids having to hold the rabbit ears just so. But of all the reasons I can think of to buy, steal, or rent a TV, "so I can watch DVD slideshows of early American antiques" is not one of them. Of course, that's just me.
Carole Holt's Early America Video Art Gallery is a homegrown DVD featuring 75 minutes of photographs of old houses, gardens, quilts, pots, paintings, wooden toys, and housewares, presented in widescreen with a 5.1 surround instrumental soundtrack. And if that interests you, you're probably the intended audience.
Holt is a photographer who's spent more than 30 years traveling the back roads of the Brandywine Valley with camera in hand. She now runs a Web site from which she sells prints, postcards, antiques, and this DVD.
I'm not what you'd call a folk art fan, so I don't want to come down too hard on Ms. Holt's choice of subjects. Photos of hand-painted wooden dolls and door hinges don't do much for me, though I'm sure they do for other people (though I have to wonder how many of those people read this site). Fair or not, I approached this video with some trepidation, and for the most part, what I thought I'd find, I did.
That said, there's something about the wholesomeness of Early America that makes it a cozy experience, and if you enjoy this sort of thing, I can't think of any reason you wouldn't like this. Lest I lose my critic's cred, however, there are several problems with this DVD that have nothing to do with my lack of interest in antiques.
The most immediately noticeable issue is the complete lack of narration. Besides one musical section that makes use of Jeff Daniels's reading of The Gettysburg Address from Gettysburg, no one speaks during the hour and a quarter running time. No introduction by Carole Holt. No voiceovers to put anything in context. I appreciate that sometimes it's nice to simply look at things, but historical context would have made this DVD far more interesting to watch. The closest we get are a few photos of homestead plaques, which provide information about places like Colonel Allen McLane's home, and the site of Green Pottery—provided you finish reading them before the next photo comes in, and that you don't mind portions of the text being cut off.
My other big issue with Early America is the decision to add random filters and effects to the photography throughout the presentation. It seems to me that if you're going to make a DVD of pleasant pictures backed by pleasant music, there's no reason to add posterized or kaleidoscope effects, unless you're unsure of the overall slideshow concept, or just really want to show off what your computer's editing software can do. Even though this isn't great art, Ms. Holt has a good eye for photography. It's a shame she doesn't have the same taste when it comes to video presentation.
The final problem I have with this disc is the price. It's nitpicky, sure, but in this day and age, $20 just feels like too much for a DVD that lasts less than 80 minutes and has no extras. It's kind of like buying television-advertised CDs for $24.95 plus shipping and handling.
Whatever problems I have with style and pricing, this disc gets points for presentation. If you're not going to show off your brand new TV with a hi-def action movie, then why not do it with a slideshow? Early America's widescreen format is a nice forward-looking touch, as is the surround soundtrack. It's not the best use of six speakers out there, but given how focused this DVD is on pictures and music, getting those things right shows it wasn't just shoved out the door.
If Early America Video Art Gallery sounds interesting to you—as a way to enjoy a particular style of folk art, or as a pleasant way to turn your television into a digital photo frame—then don't let my criticisms stop you from enjoying what is an above average, if slightly overpriced, photo slideshow DVD. It won't appeal to everyone, but for the right audience this is a unique way to enjoy that new home theater set-up.
Not guilty (but also not for me).
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