Mickey’s Orphans (1931)

Article 4758 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-13-2015
Directed by Burt Gillett
Featuring the voices of Walt Disney and Marcellite Garner
Country: USA
What it is: Mickey Mouse cartoon

Mickey and Minnie find themselves unexpected recipients of a basket on Christmas Eve – which contains hundreds of kittens.

Having watched cartoons from other studios from this era several times recently, I’m once again reminded how far ahead of the animation pack Disney was in those days; in terms of animation technique alone, this looks so much better than the others. I also notice that, though there is some music involved in the short, it doesn’t bring things to a complete halt for the mere sake of adding a song, which means the cartoon devotes itself wholeheartedly to animated antics. I am, however, a little surprised at the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a story; once the kittens show up, it’s just a non-stop barrage of destruction, and you wait in vain for Mickey to lose his patience with the brats. I suppose Mickey is just too good-hearted to lose his temper, but you’ll end up wishing Donald Duck was the star of this one, as then the sparks would really fly. And as good as the animation is, it’s never quite as funny as you might wish it would be. As you can probably guess, the fantastic content consists primarily of the various anthropomorphic animals on hand.

La metamorphose du papillon (1904)

Article 4757 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-12-2015
Directed by Gaston Velle
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Trick short

A caterpillar metamorphoses into a butterfly.

The metamorphosis of a caterpillar to a butterfly is a fairly common occurrence, so I’m not sure if it really qualifies as “fantastic content” in and of itself. However, this silent short isn’t a documentary. We see a puppet caterpillar crawling around a flower, which then fades into a cocoon. Then there’s a jump cut to an appearance of a butterfly, though, once again, it’s not a real butterfly. Perhaps the most startling moment is when the design of the butterfly’s wings magically transforms into another design, which I must admit is rather startling, and this moment alone causes the short to qualify as fantastic. I wasn’t sure at first how the butterfly special effect was handled, but the short eventually shows how it’s done, and I found the revelation charming. Once again, this is one of those shorts that is beautiful to look at, and the fact that it keeps things pretty short (it runs under two minutes) makes it work on that level. This one is very nice.

Metamorphoses (1912)

Article 4756 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-11-2015
Directed by Segundo de Chomon
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Magic trick short

A female magician causes objects to transform into other objects with the use of a magic fire.

From what I gather, this was one of the last gasps of the “magic trick” shorts which I’ve been covering so many of lately. It falls roughly into two parts; in the first, we get close-ups of small objects going up in flames only to be transformed into other objects, which then do some stop-motion animated movement. The second half has the magician transforming the backgrounds of the sets. Obviously, it’s the first half of this one that’s more fun; stop-motion is one of the few special-effects techniques that Melies did not use, so it adds a bit of novelty value to this one. The second half is dull, but pretty. Like Melies, Chomon was nearing the end of his cinematic career at this point.

Mesmerist and Country Couple (1899)

Article 4755 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-10-2015
Director unknown
Cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Magic trick short

A country couple visits a noted mesmerist, who gives them a demonstration of his hypnotic and magic powers.

Here we have another Melies-inspired early short in which a magician demonstrates his prowess with the help of early film special effects. It’s tempting to dismiss it as just another knockoff, but there are couple of noteworthy points to this one. For one, the short does show a certain amount of energy, which does add to the fun value. The other is that it seems less arbitrary than some of Melies’s shorts, in that there’s a certain character relationship at work here; the magician isn’t working with known assistants but with a couple of people who haven’t met him before. Though this latter point is very minor, it does add a slightly different flavor to the proceedings, and considering how many of these shorts were made, any little thing that can make them stand apart is worth noting.

The Wind (1986)

THE WIND (1986)
Article 4754 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-9-2015
Directed by Nico Mastorakis
Featuring Meg Foster, Wings Hauser, David McCallum
Country: USA
What it is: Psycho killer movie

A woman writer on an isolated island is threatened by a homicidal madman.

I love the Greek scenery that provides the backdrop for the movie. I also think the idea of a malevolent wind to be an effectively atmospheric idea. I just wish these elements weren’t tied to the tired old “woman threatened by psychopath” plot that I’ve seen umpteen times already. It’s also marred by a clunky and sometimes muddled script, a tendency to ham-handedness (both in the dialogue and the way the musical score is used) and a reiteration of many the usual psycho-killer and slasher cliches. In the end, I wish the movie had gone with a completely different storyline; the wind concept would have much more effective if the horror element wasn’t as mundane as the one we get here.

Marvellous Wreath (1903)

aka La guirlande merveilleuse
Article 4753 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-8-2015
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Another magic trick short

A magician dressed as a musketeer performs tricks.

Here’s yet another of Melies’s “magic trick” shorts; I imagine I’ll have a few more to watch in the next few months and that’ll be the end of them. There are some noticeable jump cuts on this one; I don’t know if they’re examples of clumsy editing on Melies’s part or if they’re due to missing frames on the surviving prints. The wreath of the title is a transformed jump rope from which various images and characters emerge (including one of those ubiquitous tumbling imps). All in all, this is another typical example of the form, with nothing particularly novel about it to set it apart from the pack.

A Kiss for Cinderella (1925)

Article 4752 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-7-2015
Directed by Herbert Brenon
Featuring Betty Bronson, Esther Ralston, Henry Vibart
Country: USA
What it is: Romance with fantastic touches

During World War I, a policeman investigates a young woman whom he suspects of being a German spy. What he finds instead is a good-hearted but poverty-stricken girl who has a mad obsession with the Cinderella story.

Early on in this movie I found myself wondering whether there would actually be any real fantastic content to the movie at all; it had the air of being one of those more-or-less “realistic” movies that were inspired by stories with more fantastic content. Not that this really interfered with my enjoyment of the movie; the distinct eccentric charm of the proceedings and the loveliness of Betty Branson in the title role did a wonderful job of keeping me interested. It does, however, make the shift to fantastic content at about the halfway point, and the fact that it takes place in a character’s dream does nothing to change the fact that the entire ball sequence is truly whimsical and charming. There’s a great special effect when the pumpkin and mice are transformed, and bizarre touches abound; the royal family sit on rocking thrones, and you’ll have to see the movie yourself to figure out why the marriage ceremony is presided over by a penguin. Nevertheless, there is a certain tension during the dream sequence, because we know the dream is being had under the same circumstances as those of “The Little Match Girl”, and we don’t really want our main character to suffer the same fate. I have to admit to having been thoroughly delighted by this odd and strange romance, probably precisely because it is so odd and strange. And there is something to be said about a movie that can make a foot fetish seem charming.

Mars (1930)

MARS (1930)
Article 4751 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-6-2015
Directed by Walter Lantz and William Nolan
Voice actors unknown
Country: USA
What it is: An Oswald the Lucky Rabbit Cartoon

During a fight over a girl, Oswald is knocked into outer space and lands on Mars, where he encounters strange creatures.

It’s tempting to describe Oswald the Lucky Rabbit as a Mickey Mouse clone, but it would be both unfair and inaccurate; Oswald was in fact a co-creation of Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks that pre-dated the existence of Mickey, so if anything, the lines of imitation went the other way. In this cartoon, he does what any self-respecting cartoon character from the early thirties would do; he warbles a song and encounters other animated characters, all in a framework that has the barest hint of a plot. The preponderance of songs at this era in cartoondom was, of course, due to the novelty of sound; it’s also probably one of the reasons it’s one of the duller periods in cartoon history. However, once you get past the songs, the cartoon starts trotting forth an abundance of strange and bizarre critters; it’s almost like an early version of PORKY IN WACKYLAND. We also have a witch to add to the fantastic content, as well as the ubiquitous talking (and singing) animals. The strange Martian creatures are the most appealing thing here, and it makes the short one of the more entertaining ones of the period.

A Voyage to Arcturus (1970)

Article 4750 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-5-2015
Directed by William Holloway
Featuring David Eldred, Leon Holster, Tom Hastings
Country: USA
What it is: Avant-garde science fiction

A man journeys to Arcturus and undergoes a transformative quest.

When a movie enters my hunt list which has no listing on IMDB, I usually despair of actually finding a copy, but this one practically fell into my lap. I’m thinking the reason it doesn’t have a listing is that it’s more of a student film than a professional production. It’s based on a novel from 1920 by David Lindsay. The novel appears to have a cult following, and C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien are counted among its admirers. I’ve not read the novel in question, but it appears to have been an allegory of various philosophical systems. I suspect it’s the type of book that would have to be read slowly and carefully to be fully appreciated. I also suspect that it’s unfilmable; though there’s some very creative direction going on here, I emerged from the movie more confused than enlightened, and I wonder if the movie is best appreciated by those who have already read the book. It is extremely ambitious for a student film, and it even has a little stop-motion animation. And I will say one thing about the movie; it’s made me very curious about the novel itself.

In Search of Bigfoot (1976)

Article 4749 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-4-2015
Directed by Lawrence Crowley and William F. Miller
Featuring Robert W. Morgan, Rene Dahinden, John Green
Country: USA
What it is: Bigfoot documentary

An expedition is made to the forests of the Pacific Northwest in order to locate Bigfoot.

Most of the recent documentaries that I’ve seen on the “strange creature/psychic phenomena/UFO” axis of the seventies have been muddled hodgepodges of outlandish theories that have been more likely to bring out the skeptic in me than the part of me that still has that “sense of wonder”. This one has the benefit of being at least focused; it tells the story of a single expedition to an area known for its Bigfoot sightings, and if it does manage to do one thing, it convinces me of the sincerity of the people involved. Though it does to some extent try to convince the audience of the existence of Bigfoot (the main reason given is the multitude of sightings), but it does seem more interested in the hunt for the creature than in trying to sell its existence to the audience. Granted, that doesn’t mean that the documentary is always effective; there’s a certain amount of dead time and unnecessary footage here, especially when the movie shifts focus to a skimpily-dressed female member of the expedition cavorting under waterfalls and swimming. You’ll probably figure out how the thing ends; after all, had the expedition been successful, it would probably be a much more famous documentary. As it is, believers will find the ending rather sad in that the plan to locate the creature is frustrated by an act of nature, while skeptics will find it all too convenient.