The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921)

Article 4717 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-24-2014
Directed by Rex Ingram
Featuring Rudolph Valentino, Josef Swickard, Alice Terry
Country: USA
What it is: War movie

The two daughters of a wealthy Argentine rancher each marry a European; one a Frenchman and the other a German. After the death of the rancher, the husbands take their respective families back to their European homes. Then World War One breaks out, and they find themselves on opposite sides…

Given that this is a movie about WW1 rather than about the apocalypse, it’s no surprise that the title is meant to be interpreted metaphorically rather than literally. Nevertheless, the movie does give the horseman a visual representation, as well as the Beast that spawns them, and therein lies the fantastic content of this movie. To add to that content, we have the appearance of a ghost at one point (though it may be one character’s imagination), and there’s also the chance of some mystical content; a specific character may be a Christ figure, or possibly Christ himself.

As for the movie, it’s quite understandable why the Apocalypse would be invoked to represent the nastiness of World War 1, which was one of the most brutal and senseless wars in recorded history. The movie is most famous for having made a star of Rudolph Valentino, who is well cast as the libertine son of the Frenchman who finds he can no longer stand aloof from the conflict when he is on the verge of losing the woman he loves. The movie mostly focuses on his character as well as that of his father, who fled from France when he refused to serve in the military during a previous conflict; the movie focuses on the life lessons they must learn. It’s an excellent movie, well acted by all, and it has several memorable scenes. There are several other familiar names in the cast; Alan Hale plays the German father, Wallace Beery plays a German soldier, and Noble Johnson pops up as Conquest, one of the four horsemen. This one is recommended.

Der Fliegende Koffer (1922)

aka The Flying Koffer
Article 4716 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-23-2014
Directed by Lotte Reiniger
No cast
Country: Germany
What it is: Chinese fairy tale

A man visits a princess in a tower by using a flying trunk.

Several shorts by pioneer animator Lotte Reiniger have popped up on my hunt list, but this is the first one that I’ve been able to locate and see, thanks to YouTube. Unfortunately, the title cards were all in German, and I have to admit that the actual story eluded me; a reading of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale also proved not particularly helpful, as it doesn’t seem to quite match the story in this short. That being said, Reiniger’s silhouette animation technique is very striking, and if it doesn’t really manage to visually display plot details (those are hidden in the title cards), they do manage to express more than you’d expect; one can sense somewhat the emotional states of the characters. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Reiniger’s work, hopefully with English titles to help me as well.

Comical Conjuring (1903)

aka Jacques et Jim, Jack and Jim
Article 4715 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-22-2014
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies
Country: France
What it is: “Magic Trick” short

A clown and his assistant perform magic tricks.

For those of you who have been following this series recently, all I can say is that we have another one of Melies’s “magic trick” shorts here. This one takes more of an overt slapstick approach, which is a bit of a pity, because Melies was better at visual wit than slapstick. Most of the tricks involve a barrel and a vat filled (or not filled, as the case may be) with water. It’s one of Melies’s lesser takes on this type of thing.

The Indian Sorcerer (1908)

aka Le fakir de Singapoure
Article 4714 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-21-2014
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies
Country: France
What it is: Magic film

A wizard from Singapore performs tricks with a giant egg.

Melies made so many “magic trick” shorts (and they all seemed to come up at once in my viewing system) that sometimes I’m at a loss for anything to say about them. This one, however, made me realize that he was probably the best maker of this type of short. They were certainly about the tricks, but Melies paid quite a bit of attention to the other details, such as set design, movement, touches of dance and pantomime, visual presentation, and a certain visual wit. This one mostly consists of tricks involving a giant egg, and it uses a giant scale as one of its props, and both the egg and the scale have the advantage is that they’re interesting to look at, as well as the other aspects of the production. This makes the short watchable even if the tricks themselves aren’t particularly engaging. In short, there’s really only so much interest value in a “magic trick” short, but if I wanted to watch one, I’d prefer one from Melies.

Lure of the Range (1927)

aka Speeding Hoofs
Article 4713 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-20-2014
Directed by Louis Chaudet
Featuring Dick Hatton, Elsa Benham, Ray Turner
Country: USA
What it is: Weird Western

A heir of a ranch returns to the west. He is there to find a hidden treasure, but is told that the house on the ranch is haunted. Villains are also after the treasure.

I will give this silent foray into the realm of the weird western credit for pulling off one thing; it does give us a real ghost. On the down side, the real ghost (that of the heir’s deceased father) only appears fleetingly, and most of the rest of the running time is filled with a gaggle of fake ghosts and the antics of the obligatory terrified unfunny comic relief black servant. In fact, the movie seems to care hardly at all for its main plot line; after setting up a few expository scenes, the movie putters around with filler and comic relief for most of its running time, and only bothers to get back to its story during the last ten minutes of the movie. I wish I could say that it was an enjoyable experience, but you can only squeeze so much humor out of people running in fear from fake ghosts, and the udders are long dry by the time this movie gives up that shtick.

Coeur fidele (1923)

aka The Faithful Heart
Article 4712 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-29-2014
Directed by Jean Epstein
Featuring Leon Mathot, Gina Manes, Edmond Van Daele
Country: France
What it is: Drama

A woman is forced into a love affair with a worthless drunk by her step-parents, though she is truly in love with a dockworker. When a fight between the two men results in the stabbing of a gendarme, the drunk escapes and the dockworker is held accountable. Once the dockworker gets out of prison, he discovers the woman is married to the drunk and has a child. He tries to help her out.

When I found this one, I knew it wasn’t going to have English title cards, so I armed myself with a plot synopsis I found on Wikipedia. One thing that I noticed was that the story didn’t appear to have any fantastic content, and the Walt Lee guide (from which I culled this title) didn’t list any. I did notice, however, that the movie was directed by Jean Epstein, a director I had encountered before when I watched his very stylish adaptation of THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER, and I figured that what fantastic elements there were would be contained in some expressionistic and surreal imagery that were part of his style. Sure enough, there’s a very short sequence where we get a drunk’s-eye view of the distorted face of a woman, and though I’d hardly call that significant fantastic content, it was there.

As for the movie itself, the plot itself isn’t particularly novel. What makes the movie interesting is the way Epstein bounces his cinematic style off the story, and it is his imagery and editing that make the movie a special experience. It wasn’t a commercial success, but it was quite influential with other film-makers, and is nowadays considered his best film. I do find it interesting that the script was written by Epstein and his sister, Marie, and the two main characters in the story are also named Jean and Marie. It’s not really within the genres of this series, but it is highly recommended.

The Imperceptible Transmutations (1904)

aka Les transmutations imperceptibles
Article 4711 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-17-2014
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Magic trick short

A princely magician performs magic with a cardboard tube, making a dancing girl and a princess appear and disappear.

I wouldn’t exactly call the transmutations on hand here imperceptible, but I imagine Melies had to work hard to come up with a real variety of titles for all of the magic trick shorts he’s done. This one is fairly minor; it mostly consists of making the characters appear and disappear in the tube or making the dancing girl and the princess appear in each other’s place. It moves quickly and is very typical of Melies’s magic shorts.

Whimsical Illusions (1910)

aka Les illusions fantaisistes
Article 4710 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-16-2014
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Magic short

A magician performs tricks.

When you consider the lovely hand-coloring here as well as the smoothness of some of the camera tricks, it’s a little tempting to see this one as one of Melies’s more accomplished efforts at the “magician doing tricks” shorts that made up a large percentage of his works. Nevertheless, I have to count myself among the disappointed as far as this one goes. This may largely have to do with the fact that this one is from 1910, and I was a little surprised that he was still churning out shorts like these at that late a date. Furthermore, I don’t really see him pulling off any types of tricks that I haven’t seen him try before. However, there is a bit of novelty in how he stages some of the tricks, such as the one where he makes Santa Claus appear… and then dismembers him. It’s probably that sequence that most sets this one apart from the pack.

I Love to Singa (1936)

Article 4709 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-15-2014
Directed by Tex Avery
Featuring the voices of Billy Bletcher, Tommy Bond, Johnnie Davis
Country: USA
What it is: Warner Brothers cartoon

A jazz-hating music-teaching owl discovers that one of his sons has an ear for jazz. He throws the child out, much to the distress of his mother. The child decides to audition for a spot on “The Jack Bunny Show”.

During the thirties, the Warner Brothers cartoon unit was still mostly in its formative phase, and there really aren’t a lot of memorable cartoons from the studio during this time. This is one of the most noteworthy exceptions, and I’m willing to bet a lot of you out there already have the title song running through your head. I think the sheer catchiness of the song is one of the reasons it works so well, as well as the fact that it’s a perfect choice for the story of this cartoon, which is a parody of THE JAZZ SINGER (the young owl’s name is Owl Jolson). I’m also willing to bet that when the title song stops running through your mind, you’ll also find yourself remembering the painfully shrill rendition of “Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes” that serves as the musical counterpoint to the main song. It’s only with this viewing that I realized that the cartoon was directed by Tex Avery, who was still developing as an animator himself; there’s a couple of gags here that hint at the later Avery style, but it’s one of his least wild cartoons. The only fantastic content is the talking/singing animals. Nonetheless, this is one of Warner Brothers’ true classics of this era.

Stalker (1979)

STALKER (1979)
Article 4708 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-14-2014
Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky
Featuring Alisa Freyndlikh, Aleksandr Kaydanovskiy, Anatoliy Solonitsyn
Country: Soviet Union
What it is: Metaphorical Science Fiction

A writer and a professor hire a guide (called a Stalker) to lead them into a forbidden area known as the Zone, a place that is believed to contain a room that will grant each person’s innermost wish to them.

Since I’ve seen SOLARIS, I’ve encountered Tarkovsky before, and the two-and-a-half-hour plus running time of this one certainly gave me an idea of what to expect; that’s a pretty hefty length for a movie that mostly consists of three men wandering around a partially decayed urban environment being reclaimed by nature. I’m not surprised that some people find this one boring. However, at about the halfway point in this movie one of the characters begins musing about the nature of music, an art form that has virtually no contact with reality but still manages to reach the souls of men. That is perhaps about as good a metaphor as any to describe how this movie managed to fascinate and entrance me even when there was nothing I could point to on the surface was giving me cause for interest. Part of the appeal was no doubt Tarkovsky’s fascinating visual sense, especially in his use of shifting color palettes as the action moves from location to location. Furthermore, all of the locations are fascinating to look at, even if they’re certainly not pretty or beautiful in any conventional sense. I won’t pretend that I understood all of the subtleties of the dialogue or the motivations of the characters (and, given that this is a Russian movie on which I have to rely on translation into English, I may never pick up on everything), but there is enough here to get a sense of the sadness of human nature and the ultimate tragedy of the Stalker’s life. I was especially surprised when the movie managed to get a laugh out of me at one point (in a scene involving a telephone). Ultimately, I was fascinated by the movie, and I hope to be able to watch it again sometime now that I have an idea of what events it is leading up to; there appears to be a great deal of food for thought here.