The Infernal Cauldron (1903)

THE INFERNAL CAULDRON (1903)
aka Le chaudron infernal
Article 4157 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-15-2013
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies
Country: France
What it is: Eerie trick short

Two devils sacrifice three women in a cauldron and summon forth their spirits.

This is one of Melies’s more impressive trick films, not so much because of the complexity of the special effects, but because the hand-tinted color is particularly vivid, and there’s an authentically eerie air to the proceedings, especially when the three spirits manifest themselves. There’s not really much of a story, and what there is is a bit muddled in the final moments; I suspect that the spirits may be taking revenge on the devils, but it looks like some action is lost in the splices. This may be one of Melies’s most pronounced forays into horror.

In the Barber Shop (1908)

IN THE BARBER SHOP (1908)
aka Salon de coiffure
Article 4156 By Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-14-2014
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Comic short

At a barber shop, a black man and a white woman are being served when the entrance of a beautiful woman distracts the barbers, causing unexpected results.

Based on what I’ve seen of Melies’s work from 1908, I think he was really trying to stretch out and experiment with other types of films than the special-effects laden ones he’d been known for, but the results were generally not good. This particular short is not a high point for him. One of Melies’s biggest problems as a director was that he often didn’t know how to stage the action so that the viewer would know what to look at and what was important; there’s too much frantic action over the whole frame. When you’re trying for comedy, that can cause problems, especially when you’re setting up for the big gags. There’s a streak of racism to this one as well; the fantastic content is centered around the fact that both the man and and the woman change their races as a result of the barbers’ distractions, and when the man is black and the woman is white, he’s constantly coming on to her, but when the races are reversed, he spurns her. Yet, for all these problems, the short isn’t a total disaster; there are a few interesting touches, but it’s far from Melies’s best work.

An Impossible Balancing Feat (1902)

AN IMPOSSIBLE BALANCING FEAT (1902)
aka L’equilibre impossible
Article 4155 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-12-2013
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring the Georges Melies quartet
Country: France
What is it: Trick film

And, for my next trick, I’ll clone myself into three other people, who will balance themselves on my head and hands.

Here’s another trick film from Melies, and it’s a fairly bare-bones one in that it’s largely to illustrate the single trick of having three copies of himself balancing on top of him. It’s not quite as seamless as some of his other trick shorts, but it is rather fun to figure out how he did the trick. It’s minor Melies, and mildly amusing.

Komposition in Blau (1935)

KOMPOSITION IN BLAU (1935)
aka Composition in Blue
Article 4154 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-11-2013
Directed by Oskar Fischinger
No cast
Country: Germany
What it is: Abstract animated short

Against a blue background, various blocks and other forms perform an abstract dance to music.

This is another foray into abstract musical animation, which is really rather unclassifiable, though it does somewhat fall into the realm of fantasy by being nonrealistic. It’s about four minutes long, and if you enjoy this sort of thing, it’s pretty entertaining. Beyond that, I’m not really sure if I can find anything to say about shorts like this.

N.P. il segreto (1973)

N.P. IL SEGRETO (1973)
aka N.P.
Article 4153 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-10-2013
Directed by Silvano Agosti
Featuring Francisco Rabal, Irene Papas, Edy Biagetti
Country: Italy
What it is: Dystopian political science fiction

An industrialist (who is on the verge of implementing an industrial automation solution that eliminates all workers) is kidnapped and brainwashed, and then left to wander the streets with a blank mind.

I had to rely on the Phil Hardy Overlook guide on science fiction for the above plot description; since my copy of the movie is in unsubtitled Italian, I found it nearly impenetrable, even with the plot description for help. I think the movie consists of roughly three segments; the first features the main character’s abduction and brainwashing, the second has him wandering around the city as something of a homeless zombie, and the third has him becoming a worker and being politicized. Still, I do have trouble telling what is going on most of the time; I found myself wondering during the brainwashing sequence whether some of the events were really happening or all in the character’s mind. I can catch certain distinct moments; I know that one sequence involves a visit to an automated Catholic mass, and I have a certain sense of what’s going on at the end of the movie. But not being able to understand Italian is a huge setback here, and even if I did, I might find the rather distracted directorial style would have made the movie difficult even if I did understand the language. So I’m going to have to withhold judgment on this one, though I do suspect that the movie isn’t quite as satisfying as it might have been.

Up the Ladder (1925)

UP THE LADDER (1925)
Article 4152 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-9-2013
Directed by Edward Sloman
Featuring Virginia Valli, Forrest Stanley, Margaret Livingston
Country: USA
What it is: Romance drama

An heiress sells her estate to raise money so that the man she loves can complete his invention. When he does, he marries the heiress and becomes financially successful. But he is tempted into having an affair with his wife’s best friend…

I read a short plot description of this one before watching the movie, and I was left wondering about the nature of the fantastic content. Not that I doubted that it existed; that was a given. What I wondered was whether the fantastic content (basically, it’s an early version of the video phone) was going to be more than just an incidental detail in the story, or whether it was going to be used in some way to develop the plot. Well, the movie does get some points for incorporating the invention into the story; in some ways, it serves the same function as the similar invention in LOVE AND SCIENCE, albeit with an inversion of the plot of that one. Still, the basic story is pretty obvious here, and for parts of it, the direction and the acting lack the subtlety to make it play effectively. The primary exception is the performance of Virginia Valli as the heiress; she underplays beautifully in all of her scenes, and she becomes as a result the only character we really care about. It’s not a great movie by any means, but it has its moments.

Koko’s Haunted House (1928)

KOKO’S HAUNTED HOUSE (1928)
Article 4151 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-8-2013
Directed by Dave Fleischer
Cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Animated short

One animator steals an inkwell from another, and turns it into a haunted house. The second animator draws KoKo the clown and sends him out to investigate the house. KoKo deals with ghosts while the first animator tries to remove the unwanted guest from the house.

This is a pretty amusing short from the “Out of the Inkwell” series of cartoons by Max and Dave Fleischer; I’m assuming that’s Max and Dave as the animators. It’s basically an animation duel between the two, with KoKo being a pawn in their game. There are fun moments throughout, including some experiments with chalk animation that recall moments from the work of Emile Cohl. Lots of skeletons and ghosts pop up, and the final moments (in which a whole army of KoKos are created) feature various items around the office coming to life. This one is pretty decent for its time.