The Animated Poster (1903)

Article 4809 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-30-2015
Director unknown
Cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Comic short

A man has a run-in with a resident of the building on which he’s been putting up burlesque posters.

This title was recently consigned to my “ones that got away” list, and at the time I did so, I commented that the plot description on IMDB certainly made it sound as if there was no real fantastic content to speak of. Shortly after that, someone posted a link to a YouTube video of the short, so I could check it out first-hand. And sure enough, I was right. The Walt Lee guide describes a “poster coming to life”, but what happens in the short is that the head of the woman on a burlesque poster is plastered over a window. When the woman in the building opens the window, her head is positioned in place of the head on the poster. It’s a cute trick, and the short is amusing enough, but it really doesn’t make any attempt to convince anyone that the poster has come to life. So let’s call this one another false lead in my continued quest.

A Spanish Twist (1932)

Article 4808 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-28-2015
Directed by John Foster and Vernon Stallings
Voice cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Tom and Jerry cartoon (the other ones)

Tom and Jerry’s raft gets wrecked by an octopus. They wash ashore in Spain, where they partake in the dancing at a cafe and fight bulls until Prohibition is repealed.

The best thing I can say about the human Tom and Jerry cartoons of the early thirties is that sometimes they get weird enough to distract you from how lame they are. I’m afraid this one never reaches those – uh – heights. The rubbery animation seems primitive and the characters are non-entities; if there’s any difference between Tom and Jerry other than their heights and clothes sense, I don’t know what it is. The octopus and the bulls have a few anthropomorphic qualities for the fantastic content; furthermore, it could be called a fantasy simply because people don’t move that way. All in all, this isn’t funny, nor is it much fun.

Rumpelstilzchen (1955)

aka Rumpelstiltskin
Article 4807 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-26-2015
Directed by Herbert B. Fredersdorf
Featuring Werner Kruger, Liane Croon, Wilhelm Groothe
Country: West Germany
What it is: Fairy tale

When a miller’s daughter is imprisoned in the castle of the king because the latter is under the belief that she can spin gold out of straw (a lie told by the miller), she is forced to call on the help of magical king of the woods who has the ability… but who will exact a price upon her that she may not be able to pay.

This is another of those German fairy tales made during the fifties that K. Gordon Murray dubbed and brought to children in the United States during the sixties. The translated English dialogue is weak and the dubbed acting is fairly bad, but I hold the original movie at fault for the forced slapstick comedy provided by both the treasurer and the prime minister, characters who serve as both comic relief and the primary villains of the piece, as it is their greed that is really responsible for the events that happen. Still, I found myself diverted from the uneven presentation of the story by speculation on the characters in the story and the ways that their character flaws play on the events in the story. The miller’s tendency to lie, the king’s inability to keep his promise, the daughter’s choice to make a hasty and poorly-thought-out promise (in admittedly, a desperate situation), and the title character’s accepting of a promise that most likely won’t be kept and then offering a way out by virtue of a name-guessing game that he can’t resist singing about all show some pretty bad judgment; yet, they all remain fairly sympathetic characters. The prince comes off relatively clean in this regard; all he has to do is give up hunting the animals in the forest to solve his problems. So, in a sense, it might be said that the movie is a bit of a success; at least it got me to thinking in a different way about elements of a story I’d known for years.

Julius Caesar (1910)

aka Giulio Cesare
Article 4806 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-25-2016
Directed by Giovanni Pastroni
Featuring Giovanni Pastroni, Luigi Mele
Country: Italy
What it is: Shakespearean adaptation

Brutus is drawn into a conspiracy to assassinate Julius Caesar when the latter is crowned emperor.

I’ve never really quite grasped the purpose of doing silent movie versions of Shakespeare’s plays; after all, it’s the words that are the main appeal, and that’s the one element that silent versions can’t really use. Therefore, they end up being more celebrations of the declamatory acting style associated with productions of the bard’s works, so we get a lot of arm-waving. This short version of the play wisely tries to emphasize the spectacle, so we get parades through the city and (of course) the assassination sequence, though the latter is marred by the fact that it is painfully obvious that not one of the knives is in danger of breaking Caesar’s skin. The fantastic content includes a precognitive dream of the assassination and the appearance of a ghost in the final moments. In some ways, this cinematic adaptation is decent enough for what it is, but it’s certainly not the best choice for a full enjoyment of the original play.

Soap Bubbles (1906)

aka Les bulles de savon animees
Article 4805 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-24-2015
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Magic trick short

A magician performs magic tricks, some of which involve soap bubbles.

Yes, it’s another Melies magic trick short, but at least I’ve had a bit of a break from them lately, so I’m a little less tired of them. The best thing about this one is that the use of smoke and soap bubbles in the tricks give the magic a slightly different texture than some of the other shorts of this type; I like the scene where he blows faces from the soap bubbles in particular. Beyond that, it’s a fairly typical Melies magic trick short.

The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918)

Article 4804 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-22-2015
Directed by Winsor McCay
Cast unknown, though it probably features Winsor McCay
Country: USA
What it is: Animated current events reenactment

The sinking of Lusitania is depicted via animation.

As I mentioned when I covered HOW WAR CAME, not all animation is necessarily fantastic, and outside of a couple of very minor details (a pair of fish show a hint of anthropomorphism in their reaction to an approaching torpedo, the smoke from the smokestacks behaves in a rather snaky fashion after the ship is hit with a torpedo which, though it is visually effective, seems rather unreal), this animated reenactment of a watershed moment leading to World War I is very realistic. Unsurprisingly, the short is also a work of propaganda, and a very effective one; with a wisely chosen soundtrack, this is a very moving and tragic. McCay’s animation is very impressive here; it’s detailed and constantly in action. Like GERTIE THE DINOSAUR, it opens with a live-action section involving the making of the short, but it maintains a serious mood throughout.

I Yam What I Yam (1933)

Article 4803 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-21-2015
Directed by Dave Fleischer and Seymour Kneitel
Featuring the voices of William Costello, Charles Lawrence and William Pennell
Country: USA
What it is: Popeye cartoon

Popeye, Olive Oyl and Bluto are in a lifeboat at sea. They make it to shore and inhabit a log cabin prepared by Popeye, but are then set upon by Indians.

The series hadn’t quite hit its peak yet; Popeye’s hilarious muttering is not yet present, and the short doesn’t use Fleischer’s wonderful three dimensional backgrounds. But then, what do you expect from only the second one in the series? And if you consider that, this one is pretty impressive; there’s a real confidence with the characters on display here, and it’s energetic, full of gags, and fast-moving. In fact, it’s almost a surprise for Popeye to pull out the spinach in this one; he’s always in control of the situation, and both Olive and Wimpy seem to be doing a decent job of defending the cabin without him. The strangest gag involves a caricature of a famous Indian leader, and by Indian, I don’t mean “American Indian”; it’s one of the only times I’ve known a cinematic work to address the fact that the Native Americans were mistakenly titled as residents from an entirely different country. It’s easy to see why the Popeye series would become as popular as it did. Fantastic content includes Popeye’s super powers, and anthropomorphic lightning.

How War Came (1941)

Article 4802 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-18-2015
Directed by Paul Fennell
Featuring Raymond Gram Swing and the voice of Mel Blanc
Country: USA
What it is: Animated news short

Through the use of animation, the various events leading to the breakout of World War II are discussed.

This was the first of a very short-lived series of current events shorts produced by Columbia; in fact, I believe only one other was made. It opens with an intro by Raymond Gram Swing and then leads to animated sequences being narrated by him; Mel Blanc is used for a single line of dialogue placed into the mouth of an animated Hitler. Normally, animated movies and shorts usually fit easily into the realm of fantastic cinema, and most of them do. However, this is one that I feel does not qualify, as the style is scrupulously realistic (no animal narrators, for example). On its own terms, it has its uses; it does give a nice quick summary of the aggression from Japan, Italy and Germany that led to the war. It is a bit awkward in presentation, though; Swing is noticeably reading his lines off of a paper on his desk, and he’s a little condescending in his tone at times. Maybe that’s one of the reasons the series was short-lived.

L’Odissea (1911)

L’ODISSEA (1911)
aka Homer’s Odyssey
Article 4801 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-16-2015
Directed by Francesco Bertolini, Giuseppe de Liguoro, Adolfo Padovan
Featuring Giuseppe de Liguoro, Eugenia Tettoni Fior, Ubaldo Maria Del Colle
Country: Italy
What it is: Epic Greek poem

Ulysses encounters many perils on his voyage home from the Trojan war.

The Italians were the first to take their hands at truly epic cinema, and they produced some amazing work during the early days of the movies. This one, though it has some nice special effects and impressive moments, is a little bit disappointing however. The problem is that they use what I think of as the “Classics Illustrated” approach to the story. By this I mean that, instead of trying to make the story flow in a cinematic fashion, they use the title cards to describe which famous scene you’re going to see, and then you see it. The effect is somewhat like flipping through an illustrated book, and rather than capturing the excitement of the story, it just makes it feel distant and stodgy. The print I saw ran about 45 minutes, but I’ve heard it’s incomplete. Still, given the episodic quality of the story, it’s hard to tell; the only major thing I noticed missing is the encounter with Circe. Nevertheless, the somewhat mechanical presentation makes this one a bit dull.

The Sculptor’s Nightmare (1908)

Article 4800 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-15-2015
Directed by Wallace McCutcheon
Featuring Florence Auer, Edward Dillon, D.W. Griffith
Country: USA
What it is: Fantastically themed political commentary

A sculptor’s studio is vandalized by the drunken members of a political group who each want him to make a bust of their favorite candidate. The sculptor himself gets drunk and ends up in jail, where he dreams that the busts build themselves.

There are some movies that can only be appreciated if you take them in their historical context, which is my way of saying that I wouldn’t have been able make heads or tails out of this one if the plot description hadn’t clued me in to what was going on. 1908 was an election year, and Teddy Roosevelt was leaving office, so the race was hotly contested. Using stop-motion animation (or an early version of Claymation, if you will), busts of the candidates assemble themselves as does one of Roosevelt himself. That at least partially explains what’s going on here, but what’s less clear is what the short is trying to say about it all. I myself suspect that the short exists purely for the benefit of the special effects, but if that’s the case, it sure takes a long time to get around to them. I think the first half of the short can be safely skipped to get to the special effects, which are quite good.