Camera Makes Whoopee (1935)

Article 5421 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-11-2017
Directed by Norman McLaren
Cast unknown, but features a camera
Country: UK
What it is: Experimental film

A camera chronicles the preparations for the Glasgow Arts School Ball, and then attends the proceedings.

The first thing I noticed about this 24-minute experimental film is that there is no sound. This seemed odd for a film that is obviously steeped in music; we see instruments being played, dancing, and the presentation of two ballets. However, I began to realize that it’s the camera’s point of view, and the camera is an eye and not an ear, and we’re experiencing everything from the camera’s point of view. Still, it seems risky to go for an experimental film this long without the help of music, but oddly enough, I found myself quite engaged with the whole thing.

The film falls roughly into two parts; the first documents the preparation for the ball, and we see sets being built, posters being painted, musical instruments preparing themselves (via stop-motion animation), etc. McLaren makes extensive use of double exposure and other camera tricks to document this section. The second section features the ball itself, and we experience the music vicariously through watching the instruments being played and seeing the dancers in motion. Split screen comes into play during parts of this, and some of the dancing features ghostlike figures in abstract landscapes. We take a break for food and drink, and then once it’s all over, the instruments put themselves away and the camera retires for the night (literally).

I ended up finding this one quite fun. The cinematic tricks are entertaining, it achieves a certain visual music, and it even displays a sense of humor on occasion. Granted, you need to be in the mood for experimental film to enjoy this one to begin with, but I certainly found it more engrossing than most of the examples of abstract animation I’ve encountered. And though one could argue about whether something like this properly belongs in the realm of fantastic cinema, this short has an out – the machine ballet in the second half features dancing robots.


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