Jean Taris, champion de France (1931)

aka Taris, roi de l’eau; Jean Taris, Swimming Champion
Article 4860 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-1-2015
Directed by Jean Vigo
Featuring Jean Taris
Country: France
What it is: Documentary

Jean Taris swims.

Thanks to Walt Lee’s “Reference Guide to Fantastic Films”, this project is taking me into some truly unusual areas. I certainly didn’t expect to be covering a sports documentary as part of this series, but that’s what this short appears to be. The copy I found was narrated in French without English subtitles, but from what I gather, the documentary is supposedly about learning how to swim like French champion swimmer Jean Taris. That’s all well and good, but where’s the fantastic content? I’d have to say it’s the cinematic style of Jean Vigo. He uses any number of cinematic techniques to enhance the visual aspect of the production, including running the film backwards (there are reverse shots of Taris diving into the water), slow motion, and double exposure; the final technique pops up in the end where a fully clothed Jean Taris appears to walk on water. The emphasis often seems to be upon the texture of the water, especially during the slow motion segments where the foam and bubbles of the water seem to take on a life of their own. The end result is a movie that, despite being a documentary, often looks like an abstract work of art; if you didn’t know you were watching footage of someone swimming, you’d not be sure what you were seeing at times. As a result, the movie slips into the realm of the fantastic by its non-realistic values. It’s very interesting, and in some ways, I don’t think it matters I couldn’t understand the narration; it works just as well without it.

The Wonderful Living Fan (1904)

aka Le merveilleux eventail vivant
Article 4859 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-30-2015
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies
Country: France
What it is: Decorative trick short

The King of France receives a marvelous giant fan whose leaves turn into beautiful women.

Though in some ways, this is one of Melies’s “magic trick” shorts, it plays out like one of those “decorative” shorts that occasionally popped up during the early silent era. These are shorts where the primary purpose seems to be to magically produce a pretty tableaux, in this case that of a series of beautiful women appearing as the leaves of fan. The women magically change clothes as well. It’s well done, though it does take a little too long for the short to get around to the magical section. Ultimately, though, the entertainment value of these types of shorts is pretty slim, and this one is no exception.

Super Lulu (1947)

Article 4858 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-28-2015
Directed by Bill Tytla
Featuring the voices of Jackson Beck and Cecil Roy
Country: USA
What it is: Little Lulu cartoon

Little Lulu is ordered by her father to stop reading super-hero comics and read “Jack and the Beanstalk”. She dreams that her father is kidnapped by the giant in the latter book, and she uses super powers to rescue him.

After the Fleischers left Paramount, there appears to have been a dramatic drop in the quality of the studio’s animated output. Based on this cartoon, I’d have to say the area that took the biggest hit was the visual quality of the cartoons; except for a nice, moody shot of the giant’s castle, on a visual level this cartoon is rather dull and flat. Still, the animation itself was still nice and fluid, and there are a few decent gags on hand as well, my favorite being when the giant takes on Super Lulu in an arm-wrestling contest. And, like the last Popeye cartoon I saw, there’s a reference to the Superman series as well. The end result is a cartoon that is merely passable.

Spring Night (1935)

Article 4857 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-28-2015
Directed by Tatiana Tuttle
Featuring Charles Arnt, Nana Gollner, David Lichine
Country: USA
What it is: Dramatic ballet short

A girl wanders into a park at night and falls asleep near a status of Pan. She dreams that the statue comes to life and dances with her.

The crawl at the opening of this short describes it as an experiment in dramatic ballet, and I would say the experiment is rather successful. For one thing, it chooses to be cinematic rather than stagebound. It’s also not all dance; the first half of the short is told in a more straightforward manner, and the dancing doesn’t start until after the statue comes to life. The dancing is very good, and there’s even a slightly erotic feel to the short, which is surprising for a movie from this era. The short has a good visual sense, and even manages to tell a bit of a story during its run. I quite liked it, and I’m not even a fan of ballet.

The Bird Came C.O.D. (1942)

Article 4856 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-27-2015
Directed by Chuck Jones
Featuring the voice of Mel Blanc
Country: USA
What it is: Warner Brothers Cartoon

A hapless cat delivers a potted palm to a theater, but his attention is caught by a magician’s hat. In it he encounters a very small but pugnacious bird who has little patience with the cat’s antics.

This was the first appearance of Conrad Cat, a short-lived character patterned after the comedian Ben Blue. As a character, Conrad is more odd than funny, with his defining characteristic being an abrupt self-conscious chortle. I rather like him myself, but I can see why he didn’t last long. One of the things I like about this cartoon is that there isn’t a word of dialogue, and I’m assuming that the credit to Mel Blanc is for the chortle. I’ve noticed that that is a discipline Chuck Jones liked to use; the Road Runner cartoons, for example, usually didn’t have any words save the Road Runner’s signature “Meep Meep”, and if it weren’t for the musical numbers, ONE FROGGY EVENING wouldn’t have any dialogue. I also like the use of music here, especially the bouncy little signature melody of the bird. It’s not one of Warner Brothers’ best cartoons buy a long shot, but I find it quite amusing myself.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1910)

aka The Wizard of Oz
Article 4855 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-26-2015
Directed by Otis Turner
Featuring Bebe Daniels, Hobart Bosworth, Eugenie Besserer
Country: USA
What it is: Fantasy

A young girl from Kansas is whisked away by a cyclone to the land of Oz, where she takes on a wicked witch named Momba.

I’ve never read the original L. Frank Baum novel, but I’ve always assumed that the story of the 1939 movie more or less followed the story of the novel. So I found this 1910 13-minute version of the story rather jarring, as it features some rather intrusive extra characters (a comic-relief mule and a cow, for example) and has a different order for certain events (she meets the Scarecrow before the cyclone sends her to Oz, for one). Then I discovered that this version of the story was not based directly on the book itself, but on a musical that was based on the book. That probably goes a long ways toward explaining the scrambled order, as well as the preponderance of dancing sequences, the latter of which are not very effective in the print I saw due to the fact that the music doesn’t match. There’s a couple of memorable moments, but more often than not it feels busy, confused and padded. It will be interesting to see how it compares with the 1925 movie version of the story, which I have yet to see. However, I can safely say that this version doesn’t hold a candle to the classic 1939 version.

The Maniac Barber (1899)

Article 4854 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-25-2015
Director unknown
Cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Early trick short

A barber has an eccentric way of giving a shave…

I usually try to avoid spoilers, but when you’re dealing with a 26-second short in which the fantastic content is the central gimmick, there seems little point in not giving it away; the barber removes the customer’s head and shaves it on a nearby table. Why? I’m assuming the light is better over there. At any rate, he re-attaches the head, and the customer, none the worse for wear, pays him. It’s your basic very simple trick short done passably well. Sure, it’s fiction, but to tell the truth, I always shave myself and prefer it that way.

City Hall to Harlem in 15 Seconds, via the Subway Route (1904)

Article 4853 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-22-2015
Director unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Comic short

A subway working man tries to set off an explosion and is too close to it when it goes off. What will be his fate?

From the title, I was half expecting a rapid fast-motion chronicle of the trip aboard a subway car, but it looks like the mode of transportation is the working man flying through the air as a result of the explosion. The effect is done by having the man suspended in the air while a moving background whizzes past; in fact, it’s a bit difficult to tell if the man is flying right to left or left to right. It all leads up to a fairly obvious gag. Incidentally, the whole movie runs about two minutes and a half, and the flight sequence does run somewhat longer than 15 seconds. It’s an okay trick film, but nothing special.

Von Einem, der Auszog, as Gruseln zu lernen (1935)

aka The Boy Who Wanted to Learn Fear

Article 4852 by Dave Sindelar

Date: 6-20-2015
Directed by Ferdinand Diehl
No cast
Country: Germany
What it is: Puppet animated short

A seemingly fearless boy spends several nights in a haunted castle.

This obscure animated puppet short just recently fell off my hunt list and went to my “ones that got away” list, but someone quickly pointed me in the right direction. As you might expect, the boy does turn out to be afraid of something, but that revelation is saved for the end of the short. In the meantime, there’s quite a bit of horror atmosphere as he encounters a variety of ghosts and spooky figures, and even spends a night camping out and sleeping underneath a gallows populated by three bodies. It’s quite entertaining, though the title cards are unreadable by me and the spoken translation of them (in German) didn’t help me much, so certain plot elements were lost to me. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it quite a bit, and the puppet animation is top notch. This one was worth taking the time to find.

La cite foudroyee (1924)

aka The Thunderstruck City
Article 4851 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-19-2015
Directed by Luitz-Morat
Featuring Daniel Mendaille, Jane Maguenat, Armand Morins
Country: France
What it is: An epic of destruction…maybe

An angry scientist has come up with an idea for a machine that can control lightning and cause it to strike where he pleases. Such a machine could be used to blackmail the city of Paris…

The full-length version of this movie runs about 72 minutes, and I’ve not seen it. However, I have seen a cut-down show-at-home version which reduces the story to six small reels that altogether run about a quarter of the length of the movie. Seeing how this may well be the only way I’ll be able to see this one at all, I’m going for it. Yes, in this format the story is very rushed, but there are some truly moody scenes and impressive scenes of destruction. In some ways, it’s quite impressive…. that is, until the final reel comes around. Now, being that this is an edited version of the original movie, there is the real possibility that the ending of this cut-down version may not match the ending of the full version, but if that’s not the case, then this movie has the most jaw-droppingly maddening plot twist of all time, and I don’t mean that in a complimentary way. In fact, I imagine the plot twist would be even worse if it was encountered after seeing a full-length feature film. It’s still worth seeing for the good scenes, but beware of that last reel; it’s a doozy.