* FIRST AMERICAN FEATURES, 1912-1916
Kino Video is an invaluable resource for film-lovers looking beyond the usual Hollywood fare, and this five-cassette series is a windfall by any standard. It includes five early American feature films, each combining real historic interest with a kind of entertainment value you won't find in movies of any other time or place.
One of the best-known entries is ''The Cheat,'' director Cecil B. DeMille's starkly lit melodrama about an Asian man's designs on an irresponsible Long Island woman, starring Fannie Ward and Japanese actor Sessue Hayakawa in the racially charged role that made him a Hollywood star. Another film with a near-legendary reputation is ''Regeneration,'' starring Anna Q. Nilsson and Rockcliffe Fellowes; billed as ''the first feature-length gangster picture,'' it helped launch Raoul Walsh's great directorial career with its rough-and-tumble action photographed in real Manhattan locations.
''Traffic in Souls,'' a 1913 hit directed by George Loane Tucker, mingles moralism and exploitation in its depiction of the ''white slavery'' trade that captured headlines and scandalized society in the early years of this century. Rounding out the collection are two films with a strong religious slant: ''From the Manger to the Cross,'' in which director Sidney Olcott tells the story of Jesus' life against superbly filmed Middle Eastern backgrounds, and ''Civilization,'' an antiwar fantasy directed by Thomas H. Ince with dreamlike fantasy sequences and lavish production values.
All the films are accompanied by appropriate music, and a couple are supplemented by short subjects made during the same period - Thomas Edison's documentary ''The Police Force of New York City'' and an abridgement of Maurice Tourneur's comedy ''A Girl's Folly,'' going behind the scenes in an East Coast movie studio. While video is always inferior to film when it comes to crispness and clarity of image, Kino has assembled this series from prints of (mostly) strikingly high quality. One cou ldn't ask for a more watchable crash course in this heroic epoch of American cinema. (Not rated; Kino Video)