Crainquebille (1922)

Article 4632 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-17-2014
Directed by Jacques Feyder
Featuring Maurice de Faraudy, Felix Oudart, Jean Forest
Country: France / Belgium
What it is: Drama of French realism

When a thoughtless customer leaves a simple street vendor stranded in front of her shop waiting for his money, the latter gets into a tussle with a policeman who mistakenly thinks the vendor insulted him. The vendor is arrested and sent to prison, and must deal with a justice system he barely understands.

This is the kind of sad, powerful, and somewhat depressing drama that could easily drive away people who don’t like that sort of thing; however, I credit both director Jacques Feyder and actor Maurice de Feraudy (who plays the vendor) for making the movie a pleasure to watch. Part of this is due to the fact that they wisely find the humor in the story. Much of this is derived from the character of the street vendor; he is such a simple man that he never fully comprehends what is going on about him, and as a result, some of the indignities he suffers roll right off his back. Another reason is that the movie isn’t relentless in putting the character through the ringer; amidst the cruelty there are moments of generosity and kindness. Another factor is the creative direction, and this is where the fantastic content in the film comes into play. The trial sequence that takes up the middle of the film is shot more or less from the point of view of the tired, somewhat confused vendor who can’t see things clearly. As a result, we have scenes where certain characters turn into giants, others turn into midgets, and a statue of justice starts to move of its own accord. There’s also a dream sequence in which the judges turn into demons; oddly enough, it’s not the vendor who dreams this, but one of the witnesses. In the end, I really ended up being deeply moved by the movie, and enjoyed it thoroughly, though from a genre standpoint, it is somewhat marginal.

Un centenar de juegos (1906)

aka A Hundred Tricks, Les cent trucs
Article 4629 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-12-2014
Directed by Segundo de Chomon
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Trick short

A magician appears and performs several tricks for us.

This is Segundo de Chomon’s take on one of Melies’s more common subjects; basically, it’s nothing more than a series of cinematic magic tricks as performed by a magician. He actually does a fairly decent job of it as well, with some of the tricks very well timed. I don’t think it ever reaches to a count of 100 in its three-minute running time, but it is lively. On a side note, I like the clever way the short tried to protect itself from cinematic pirates (a common problem in the early years of cinema) by having one trick involving the name of the production company (Pathe Freres) written across one of the props. There’s nothing really new here, but it’s an amusing trifle.

Cinderella (1899)

aka Cendrillon
Article 4628 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-11-2014
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Barral, Bleuette Bernon, Carmely
Country: France
What it is: Fairy tale

With the help of her fairy godmother, Cinderella is able to go to the ball, but will she be back by midnight?

Georges Melies took two stabs at the Cinderella story, both of them extant. This, the earlier one, tells the story in five minutes and 41 seconds, so you can imagine that things are rather rushed. Also, given Melies’s love for special effects spectacle, it is perhaps no surprise that the fairy godmother first appears about ten seconds into the production and immediately starts in on all of the magic transformation of preparing Cinderella for the ball. Once she gets there, we get about ten seconds of dancing before the clock strikes midnight, and after being warned by the gnome of the clock (which I’m pretty sure is original to this version of the story), she turns back and rushes off, leaving the slipper. It’s here that Melies definitely goes off on his own tangent, as Cinderella arrives back home only to be tormented by creatures from the clock, which allows Melies to indulge in a lot more magical hocus-pocus. Then the prince shows up, tries on the slipper, and finds Cinderella, and the fairy godmother reappears to give her nice clothes to wear. The amazing thing at this point is that the movie still has about two minutes to go, so we have about one minute of a long wedding procession and then another minute of dancing girls. Well, I will say this much about the movie; it’s definitely true to Melies’s muse, and even with the padding in the last two minutes, it’s rather fun.

The Christmas Angel (1904)

aka L’ange de Noel
Article 4624 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-7-2014
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Christmas tear-jerker

In the cold of winter, a poverty-stricken man with a sick wife, no wood to heat the house, and on the verge of being evicted, sends out his daughter to beg for alms. However, bad luck prevails and the daughter is soon near death from the cold. But then….

Let’s face it; dramas are not Melies’s forte, and this one has its fair share of flaws, such as some over-theatrical acting and a story that tries to push the pity buttons a little too insistently. Nevertheless, this is perhaps one of Melies’s more successful forays into drama; the story is efficiently told and easy to follow (even without the English narration), the sets are wonderful, and it maintains the right mood. There’s only a single element of fantastic content to the story, and that can be found in the title; it doesn’t appear until near the end of the short, but you can probably figure out how it plays into the story. It’s one of Melies’s better departures from his usual style.

A Canterbury Tale (1944)

Article 4622 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-4-2014
Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Featuring Eric Portman, Sheila Sim, Dennis Price
Country: UK
What it is: Unusual comedy/drama

An American soldier, a British solder, and a girl from London all en route to Canterbury end up in a small farming town called Chillingbourne. The girl encounters an assailant who pours glue in her hair, and it is discovered that she is one of eleven girls who have been so assaulted. She vows to solve the mystery of the identity of this man, and the two soldiers assist her.

There’s no way to adequately describe this offbeat, gentle, bizarre and sometimes moving movie. Though it initially plays itself out like a mystery of sorts (via the investigation of the Glueman’s identity), this plot line is mostly a framework from which we can examine the various characters and the losses that each one has endured in their lives. This is all tied to the fact that these characters, like the ones in Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales” (from which the movie derives its title) are, in their own way, on “pilgrimages” of their own, and their own personal stories will play their way out when they finally arrive in Canterbury during the last quarter of the film. It’s an engrossing movie for those willing to sit back and let the movie take its own time in unfolding; those only interested in the mystery aspect will probably find the movie frustrating. The fantastic content here is subtle but intentional; the historic significance of the Road to Canterbury is sprinkled with mysticism, and the story ultimately culminates with a series of “miracles” (the quotes are here to indicate that there is certain amount of ambiguity as to the degree to which they might be called “miraculous”). It also bears mentioning that the concept of the Glueman may be one of the strangest and least sinister variations on the horror concept of a serial killer. It’s an entrancing movie, but I’ve always come to expect something a bit special whenever Powell and Pressburger combine their forces, as they do here.

Le cerceau magique (1908)

aka The Magic Hoop
Article 4621 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-3-2014
Directed by Emile Cohl
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Trick / animation short

When her hoop breaks, a little girl gets a replacement from a magician, and this hoop has magic powers.

This short adds a little variety to the oeuvre of French animator Emile Cohl. About half of it is a live-action trick film, with the magic hoop showing its ability to change its size and to make the person looking through it change their clothing. This part is entertaining but standard trick-film fare for its time. The animation section only begins at about the halfway point when the hoop is hung on a wall by itself; at that point, animated events occur within the confines of the hoop. During this sequence, Cohl toys with stop-motion animation, with some of the special effects involving pieces of paper being folded into origami shapes. Part of it is the usual stream-of-consciousness animation we’ve come to expect from Cohl, but about a minute of the footage is hard to make out, due to the extreme deterioration of the print. As a result, this isn’t quite as enjoyable a watch as it might have been (though that is not Cohl’s fault), but it is fun seeing him vary the routine somewhat.

Le cauchemar de fantoche (1908)

Article 4620 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-2-2014
Directed by Emile Cohl
No cast
Country: France
What it is: Early animation

Fantoche has a nightmare.

So, what kind of nightmare would Fantoche have? Well, given that this is directed by Emile Cohl, I’m guessing it involves stream-of-consciousness animation, and that’s exactly what we have here. Fantoche is set upon by any number of of shapeshifting objects, such as coffeepots, funnels, giant heads, elevators, fishermen, etc. He even gets to play with his own head like a ball for a bit. It moves pretty fast, runs only a little over two minutes, and has no real ending, but then, it has no real story; it’s just a succession of surreal images and events. As such, though, it’s a fun short to watch, and doesn’t go on so long that it gets old.

NOTE I’ve been informed that Fantoche is not a name, but the word for puppet. I stand corrected.