L’insaisissable pickpocket (1908)

L’insaisissable pickpocket (1908)
Article 5653 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-19-2019
Directed by Segundo de Chomon
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Comic special effects short

Cops chase a pickpocket who also manages to be a snazzy dresser as well as an accomplished magician.

The plot is simple as pie; it’s a series of gags in which police are constantly thwarted by the pickpocket’s magic transformations. Though the special effects are good, it’s the breezy and confident humor that really sells this; the pickpocket is played with such cocky confidence that he becomes a fun character. A lot happens in the short’s four-minute running time, but, except for a few moments where it looks like a bit of footage is missing, it’s easy to follow. My favorite moment has the police thinking they’ve got the pickpocket trapped in a barrel.

The New Lord of the Town (1908)

The New Lord of the Town (1908)
aka Le nouveau seigneur du village
Article 5652 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-19-2019
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Fernande Albany, Mlle. Bodson, Georges Melies
Country: France
What it is: Melies fantasy

A lord visits a cave with strange creatures.

When the special effects are on show, this short is entertaining enough; after all, it’s from Melies. However, when the movie is focused on its plot, it’s a bore, at least partially because Melies doesn’t do much of a job of making his story clear. In the opening scene, for example, we see the lord talk with several people in the town square, but to what end remains obscure; all it accomplishes is to get things to a very slow start. At least one plot point involves the lord being magically reduced to a beggar while two of his fellow townspersons become wealthy, but the reasons for this never become clear. As such, this is far from Melies’s best, with only the middle section being much fun.

Satan s’amuse (1907)

Satan s’amuse (1907)
Article 5651 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-15-2019
Directed by Segundo de Chomon
Featuring Julienne Mathieu
Country: France
What it is: Trick film

A skeletal Satan keeps himself amused by performing magic tricks. However, he keeps being interrupted by a female rival also adept at magic.

What we have here is Chomon doing his version of one of Melies’s favorite themes – the magic trick show. This one is somewhat longer than similar movies by Melies, but he does hold the interest by coming up with a few types of tricks that Melies didn’t do (Chomon occasionally liked to bring the action forward for close-ups, for one thing), and by adding a rival female magician, he added a smidgen of plot to the mix. It’s not bad, but it’s hardly one of Chomon’s better efforts; the magic trick format only has so much appeal, and there are so many similar films. Still, it’s good to know Satan has a hobby.

The Dancing Pig (1907)

The Dancing Pig (1907)
aka Le cochon danseur
Article 5650 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-14-2019
Director unknown
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: What a ham!

A pig in formal dress makes a pass at a dancing girl and is stripped bare. He dances… and dances… and dances.

Among other categories, IMDB classifies this one as horror, which should be taken as a joke. It’s not that there’s any horror content; it’s just that many people find the pig creepy and the stuff of nightmares. Of course, it’s just someone in an elaborate pig costume, but every time it sticks its tongue out of its mouth, you may want to run for the hills. It’s based on an old vaudeville routine, and if you want to see someone dancing in a giant pig costume, this is your best bet. Still, I can’t ever recall having wanted to be subjected to visions of this sort, and, as they say, you can’t unsee it.

Genevieve de Brabant (1907)

Genevieve de Brabant (1907)
Article 5649 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-13-2019
Director unknown
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Dramatic fable

When a king leaves for the war, his steward makes advances on the queen; when he is rebuffed, he leaves her and her young son abandoned in the forest. How will she survive, and what will happen when the king returns?

This fable was apparently turned into an opera, and I’m assuming that this is an adaptation of that opera, much shortened so that it mostly consists of highlights of the story. As an example of this sort of thing, it’s passable, but nothing special. Zeroing in on the fantastic content is a problem, though. IMDB classifies it as a fantasy, and the title of a user review hints that the deer that figures in the story may be magical. Perhaps that is so, but within the context of this version of the story, it exhibits no magical properties that I can tell, though its presence proves pivotal in advancing the plot. At any rate, on its own terms, I can’t really classify this one as anything but marginalia in that regard.

Der Traum des Bildhauers (1907)

Der Traum des Bildhauers (1907)
Article 5648 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-12-2019
Directed by Johann Schwarzer
Cast unknown
Country: Austria
What it is: Very early nudie

A sculptor creates three nude female statues, and then dreams they come to life.

When I stumbled across this one on IMDB, I found myself wondering who Johann Swartzer was and why I hadn’t heard of him. I quickly figured out why when I saw the short; it’s obvious that fantastic cinema wasn’t his area of expertise, but the nudie film was. The three statues are naked women standing really still, and that’s the extent of the special effects. Despite the nudity, this short is singularly dull; you know the statues are going to come to life and start moving, but it takes too much time getting around to this moment. Let’s face it; four minutes is a bit too long for the story here (or lack of it); it could have easily been reduced to a minute or less.

The Fairy of the Black Rocks (1907)

The Fairy of the Black Rocks (1907)
aka La fee des roches noires
Article 5647 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-11-2019
Directed by Segundo de Chomon
Featuring Julienne Mathieu
Country: France
What it is: Comic supernatural revenge

A ne’er-do-well (and yes, I love using antiquated terms like this) refuses to help an old woman with a bundle of sticks, unaware that she is actually a fairy capable of supernatural revenge.

Segundo de Chomon is my second favorite fantasist of the very early years of cinema. Though he obviously owed a great debt to the innovations of Melies, he was able to give his work an extra dose of surreal imagery that sets him apart. This is one of his works that most resembles Melies; the various visual tricks certainly recall similar moments from Melies, but the comic sense of this one is Chomon’s own touch. It’s also short and to the point at a time when Melies’s work was trying (not very successfully) to stretch out into longer works. This one is solid and entertaining.

Harlequin’s Story (1907)

Harlequin’s Story (1907)
aka La legende de Polichinelle
Article 5646 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-10-2019
Directed by Albert Capellani and Lucien Nonguet
Featuring Max Linder
Country: France
What it is: Adventures of a clown

A clown sets out with an army of dwarfs to rescue his girl who has been turned into a giant dancing doll.

This looks like one of those shorts that isn’t intended to tell a whole story, but to enact the climax only of a well-known tale, though the story of Polichinelle certainly isn’t well known by me. It doesn’t make what there is left of the story difficult to follow, but the presentation here is merely passable. The great French silent comedian Max Linder in the role of the title character is put forth as the main attraction, but this one is hardly representative of his work, and he isn’t really given anything special to do. The best thing about this one is the design of the shop where the hero takes the girl. The worst thing about it is that it ends with a long and pointless dance scene. This one isn’t particularly worth seeking out.

Gamera 2: Attack of Legion (1996)

Gamera 2: Attack of Legion (1996)
aka Gamera 2: Region shurai
Article 5645 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-8-2019
Directed by Shusuke Kaneko
Featuring Toshiyuki Nagashima, Miki Mizuno, Tamotsu Ishibashi
Country: Japan
What it is: Big Turtle vs. Ugly Bug

A meteor shower brings a group of giant insects to Earth that could bring about the destruction of the planet… unless Gamera can come to the planet’s rescue.

This is the second of the three movies from the nineties that revived the monster Gamera, and I always marvel how they not only leave the original series in the dust, but are even better than the Godzilla movies from the nineties. The special effects are a vast improvement, the stories are less silly, and the monsters are quite scary. Whereas the Godzilla movies of the eighties and nineties were often overelaborate and confusing, the Gamera movies were fairly straightforward. However, the addition of a character who has a psychic link to Gamera is no more effective than a similar character in the Godzilla movies; she does little more than assure people that Gamera will come to the rescue when the time is right. Still, that’s a minor quibble, and this is a very entertaining kaiju for fans of the form.

The Hen that Laid the Golden Eggs (1905)

The Hen that Laid the Golden Eggs (1905)
aka La poule aux oeufs d’or
Article 5644 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-8-2019
Directed by Gaston Velle
Featuring Julienne Mathieu
Country: France
What it is: Silent fairy tale

A poor man wins a magical hen from a conjurer. It turns out the hen lays golden eggs, which makes him rich. What could go wrong?

Though I’m a big fan of Georges Melies, I’ve always tried to be forthright about his weaknesses as a film-maker. This seems like an odd way to open a review of a movie by Gaston Velle, but sometimes a movie by someone who avoids those weaknesses can serve as a good contrast. This movie clearly owes a debt to the work of Melies, especially when the hen turns into a dancer and performs a group dance with several other transformed hens. But the film avoids some of Melies’s weaknesses. For one thing, the plot feels mapped out rather than thrown together. Also, the crowd scenes seem rather more focused than equivalent scenes by Melies; with the latter you often don’t know who to focus in on during one of these scenes, while it’s much easier here. Also, the acting seems more cinematic than theatrical; the characters come off as a bit more real. Still, it should be pointed out that Velle’s cinematic career didn’t really last any longer than Melies’s.