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

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)

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.

Santa’s Workshop (1932)

SANTA’S WORKSHOP (1932)
Article 4850 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-18-2015
Directed by Wilfred Jackson
Featuring the voices of Pinto Colvig, Walt Disney, Allan Watson
Country: USA
What it is: Silly Symphony

Santa and the elves prepare for Christmas day.

I think I’m beginning to get a handle on these Silly Symphonies from Disney. With the emphasis on music and rhymed dialogue, it has become fairly obvious to me that what these shorts were aiming for was whimsy, not comedy. Whimsy differs from comedy in that when the choice is given between something cute and something funny, whimsy will opt for the cute, and there’s a lot of that here. And though there’s no doubt a lot of creativity and excellent animation on display here as we see the elves going about their toy-making business, a little bit of whimsy goes a long way, and even though I may smile a bit at this, it never turns into a laugh, and the fact that the cartoon lacks anything in the way of a plot just makes it a little duller.

Schwechater (1958)

SCHWECHATER (1958)
Article 4849 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-15-2015
Directed by Peter Kubelka
Cast unknown
Country: Austria
What it is: Experimental film

No plot.

If the name of the director seems a bit familiar, it’s because it’s the same guy who directed ARNULF RAINER, which I covered just a few days ago. This one consists of snippets from what looks like several people eating and drinking at a table. Some of the snippets are stills; some are photographically distorted, and they’re edited together in a non-linear rapid-fire fashion, while an annoying electronic music ditty repeats itself on the soundtrack. No, it’s not as annoying as ARNULF RAINER; at one minute long, it’s too short for that, and it somewhat lacks the chutzpah of that one. It’s also much less memorable. The fantastic content is, like the other abstract films, that it’s clearly non-realistic, and thus at least marginally a fantasy. It’s also one of those movies that is difficult to say anything about; it has 461 votes on IMDB at the time of this writing, but not a single user comment.

Heart’s Haven (1922)

HEART’S HAVEN (1922)
Article 4848 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-14-2015
Directed by Benjamin B. Hampton
Featuring Robert McKim, Claire Adams, Carl Gantvoort
Country: USA
What it is: Domestic melodrama

A young man with an unsatisfied wife, two kids (one wearing a brace on his leg) and a dog becomes the secretary of a tycoon with a hypochondriac butler, and moves his family into a nearby cottage. Things happen.

Let’s get the fantastic content out of the way first. The Walt Lee guide says the story involves “faith healing”. The way it manifests itself in this movie is that the young man’s saintly mother decides to pray that her grandson’s leg will heal so he can take off the brace; later, she does the same for the daughter of the tycoon, who has fallen from a tree and has to wear a back brace. There’s no laying on off hands; she just sits next to them, and they both heal. To these eyes, this is a little ambiguous, but that’s the full extent of fantastic content in the movie.

As for the rest of it, it’s one of those movies I found very difficult to describe, as you can probably tell by the clumsy plot explanation above. It’s not that what is happening is confusing in any way. It’s more that the movie seems to lack what I would call a “center”. By this, I mean I’m not sure what the MAIN storyline is. There are roughly four arcs: the wife’s dissatisfaction with her marriage, the injury of the tycoon’s daughter, the disappearance of the family dog, and the butler’s hypochondria. All the stories intersect somewhat, but I never get the feeling it gels into a complete whole. I suspect that the script largely consists of highlights of the Clara Louise Burnham novel on which it was based, which means there may be a lot missing here. Unfortunately, another side effect of this is that many of the characters never really adequately develop; only the unhappy wife and the butler really register in this regard, and they’re both partially caricatures. In the end, I found the movie odd and not quite satisfying.

The Egyptian Mummy (1914)

THE EGYPTIAN MUMMY (1914)
Article 4847 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-13-2015
Directed by Lee Beggs
Featuring Lee Beggs, Constance Talmadge, Billy Quirk
Country: USA
What it is: Comedy

A young lover is distraught because he doesn’t have enough money to marry the woman he loves. However, when the woman’s father offers a large sum of money to someone who can provide him with an Egyptian mummy so he can test an elixir of life, the lover hires a bum to portray the mummy.

This silent comedy short has two shots at fantastic content; the mummy and the elixir. As you can tell from the description, the mummy turns out to be a fake, and as it turns out, we never find out if the elixir really works or not. Well, at least the movie flirts with fantastic content, and skinny Joel Day looks pretty cadaverous as the fake mummy, so it’s close enough to get by. Overall, this one is pretty amusing, though I do find it pretty hard to swallow that our hero is able to sell the mummy, invest the gains into the stock market and get ten times his return in about ten minutes (maybe this is the real fantastic content). This one is not bad.

Arnulf Rainer (1960)

ARNULF RAINER (1960)
Article 4846 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-12-2015
Directed by Peter Kubelka
No cast
Country: Austria
What it is: A minimal assault on the senses

Light or black screen, silence or white noise.

All of the pieces of abstract cinema I’ve encountered so far have one thing in common; there is a certain attempt to be aesthetically pleasing. This is an exception. For seven minutes the visual input is either a completely white or a completely black screen, while the audio portion consists of either silence or harsh white noise. They start out in sync, but they don’t stay that way. Is it pleasant? Hardly. Is it maddening? Very much so. Ultimately, the only thing you can think of to hold on to during the watching this is the visual audio rhythms as the short switches back and forth between the two extremes. It’s a good thing this doesn’t last any longer than it is; if ever I saw a movie that was capable of driving someone mad, this would be it, and I would imagine it would be even more unnerving on a theater screen than it is on my television. Still, I have to admire the way a movie this abstract can actually build suspense. At about the halfway point, the white noise stops and the screen goes black… and it stays that way….and stays that way… and stays that way…. and you’re on the edge of your seat waiting for it to kick in again. Somehow, I can only admire the movie’s ability to pull that one off. Yet I can’t help but wondering what kind of mass exodus would have taken place when it did play on the big screen.

Up-to-Date Spiritualism (1900)

UP-TO-DATE SPIRITUALISM (1900)
aka Spiritisme abracadabrant
Article 4845 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-11-2015
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies
Country: France
What it is: Comic trick short

A hapless buffoon finds himself tormented by spirits when he tries to remove his hat and coat.

IMDB lists this movie as being from 1903, but my other sources say 1900 (including the Melies boxed set which features the short), and my gut reaction is that this is the correct year. This also has the advantage of placing it slightly before GOING TO BED UNDER DIFFICULTIES, a much funnier short which takes the central premise of a man running into problems removing his clothing (the clothes keep reappearing on his body) and kicks it into the stratosphere. Maybe it’s just because I’d rather like to see this one as the short that came up with an idea he improved upon rather than seeing it as a tepid recycling of a gag he’d done earlier. On its own terms, this is amusing enough, and it manages to hold the interest throughout its two-minute running time, though I’m not sure whether the spiritualism on show here is particularly up-to-date.

Richard III (1911)

RICHARD III (1911)
Article 4844 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-9-2015
Directed by Frank R. Benson
Featuring James Berry, Alfred Brydone, Kathleen Yorke
Country: UK
What it is: Silent Shakespeare

This short recounts the rise of Richard III to power through assassination, and his ultimate fall from power.

As might be expected, there’s no way a twenty-seven minute silent adaptation of a Shakespeare play is going to do the story justice, but this does about as good a job if it as you might hope. In order to follow it, you’ll have to be familiar with the play, but even if you’re not, you’ll get the gist of the story, which is that Richard is killing off everyone who gets in his way to the throne. You get at least a hint of Shakespeare’s language; the title cards feature direct quotes from the dialogue of the play, though it favors useful summary phrases over some of the more famous bits (there’s no lines about discontented winters or kingdom/horse swaps). The acting is very good if you bear in mind that acting styles have changed over the years. This short version even retains the main piece of fantastic content, in which Richard III is haunted by the ghosts of those he has murdered in a dream. This sequence even uses some cinematic special effects, mostly in jump cuts from one ghost to another, making them seem to appear out of nowhere. It’s no substitute for the real thing, of course, but for what it’s trying to do, it does a decent job.

Pocket Boxers (1903)

POCKET BOXERS (1903)
Article 4843 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-7-2015
Directed by Walter R. Booth
Cast unknown
Country: UK
What it is: Trick short

Two men sitting at a table argue about which boxer is better. To settle the argument, they each pull out their boxer and have them fight on the table top.

This trick short has pretty much one single attraction to it, and that is the spectacle of watching miniature boxers fight on a table top. Still, that’s all this short needs to work. It plays with our expectations well; the acting is solid enough that it is rather startling when the special effects pop in; we aren’t quite expecting them. The short is only a minute and a half long, and it seems just the right length for what it’s trying to do. I quite like this one.