L’araignee d’or (1908)

aka The Gold Spider
Article 4125 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-6-2013
Directed by Segundo de Chomon
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: A moral tale

A poor man follows a group of gnomes who discover a spider that can make gold. He steals the spider for himself, but will he be able to profit from his catch?

The first half of this special effects short is on the dull side; it spends way too much time having the man follow the gnomes around in a swamp. It’s only once we get to the grotto of the gnomes that things pick up; there are some neat special effects sequences of the spider making coins, as well as of other insects engaged in other magical activity (including one that is painting a butterfly). Things seem to go all right for the poor man until he shows he has no intention of sharing his riches with a wandering beggar, and then he discovers the price of his greed. All in all, this is a quite entertaining piece from Chomon, and it does show how at this point of time, he was besting Melies at his own game.

Aunt Sallie’s Wonderful Bustle (1901)

Article 4032 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-14-2012
Director unknown
Cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: comic short

Aunt Sallie falls over a railing. Can her bustle save her?

You know, when your movie’s fantastic content consists solely of a visual gag, it’s rather difficult to argue that it’s legitimately genre. However, when your movie is one minute long and the whole point of it is that single gag, at least you can argue for inclusion a little more convincingly. I hope this doesn’t mean I’m going to be covering a rash of bouncing bustle movies; I don’t think you can really go very far with the concept. And, once again, it will probably take you longer to read this review than watch the movie on YouTube, where I found it.

An Animated Luncheon (1900)

Article 4027 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-8-2012
Director unknown
Cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Trick film

A couple tries to have dinner at a restaurant, but the food they order turns into living animals.

IMDB lists a plot description that explains the action in some detail; for example, it points out the chickens appear when the diners crack the eggs. Actually, this is pretty useful in following the short; the copies I found on YouTube are in such ratty condition that it is somewhat difficult to make out just what the diners are doing when the chickens appear, for I certainly couldn’t make out any eggs. It’s basically an attempt to tap into the Melies special effects films of the period, but compared to Melies’s work at the time, this one is extremely primitive. Granted, a better print might help.

Alice’s Wonderland (1923)

Article 4026 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-7-2012
Directed by Walt Disney
Featuring Virginia Davis, Walt Disney, Hugh Harman
Country: USA
What it is: Animated cartoon

A young girl is enthralled by her visit to an animation studio. That night, she dreams she enters an animated land. All goes well until several lions get loose…

Despite the title, this has little to do with the Lewis Carroll books. Instead, it’s the first of the Disney “Alice in Cartoonland” series, in which a live girl interacts with animated characters. There’s really no plot, but the short can be cut into three sections – 1) the visit to the cartoon studio, 2) her welcome in Cartoonland, and 3) her chase by the lions. It’s really a series of setpieces showcasing the combination of live-action and animation. It’s fun for what it is, though a bit too long; the lion chase goes on too long, for one thing. I enjoyed it well enough, but I suspect it will go over a lot better if you’re a fan of animation with an interest in the history of the form.

Alice in Wonderland (1903)

Article 4023 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-4-2012
Directed by Cecil M. Hepworth and Percy Stow
Featuring May Clark, Cecil M. Hepworth, Blair
Country: UK
What it is: Lewis Carroll adaptation

Alice falls down the rabbit hole and has adventures.

Being only about eight minutes long, it can’t tell much of the story; however, the story, which is pretty episodic and meandering, isn’t really the main attraction of the book to begin with. However, since I find the primary appeal of the books is the verbal banter, the movie, being a silent, can’t really capture that either. That gives us the middle ground of the visuals, and it looks like the movie has some scenes that seem modeled directly off the Tenniel illustrations which are pretty charming. It also gives the filmmakers a chance to play with some special effects, especially during the “Eat me/Drink me” section of the story where Alice keeps changing size. This was clearly an ambitious undertaking; I just wish my copy wasn’t it such poor shape, but that’s about the best we can expect from some of these old silents; we’re lucky they still exist at all.

Ali Baba et les quarante voleurs (1902)

aka Ali Baba
Article 4022 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-3-2012
Directed by Ferdinand Zecca (?)
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Arabian nights story

Ali Baba discovers a magic cave which contains the loot of a band of forty thieves.

Though in some ways this Arabian Nights epic uses the techniques of Georges Melies, it doesn’t quite throw out the special effects with the wild abandon of its model; except for the repeated effect of the cave opening and a beheading sequence, it saves most of its effects for a flashy final tableau. The hand tinting adds a lot of appeal to the short, but it seems to be one of those shorts where the makers assume you know the story already. Though I’ve encountered the story before, it’s not fresh in my memory, and outside of the cave sequence, I have trouble sorting out what’s going on in the rest of the scenes. The question mark after the director’s name has to do with the fact that there appears to be a little controversy as to who actually directed it; I’ve heard that Romeo Bosetti may have actually been the real director. All in all, this one is interesting enough to look at, but if you want to experience the story, you may want to look elsewhere.

L’agent a le bras long (1909)

Article 4021 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-2-2012
Directed by Romeo Bosetti
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Comic trick short

A cop uses his super-powers to help citizens and catch criminals.

There’s no English title listed on the IMDB listing for this movie, but it wouldn’t take a genius to come up with THE LONG ARM OF THE LAW. That’s the cop’s super-power; he can stretch his right arm out to unbelievable lengths. This is one of the funnier shorts I’ve encountered from the era; my favorite sequence is when the cop stretches out his arm over a canal so someone can walk across on it, only to have a variety of other people show up and decide to take the same route, including a man with a wheelbarrow. The final sequence has him chasing a criminal to the roof of a house, but when the criminal ducks down a chimney, the cop has to reach his arm into several different chimneys and ends up disturbing perfectly innocent residents. Many of these sequences have stop-motion animation.