Cinq minutes de cinema pur (1926)

Article 5251 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-18-2016
Directed by Henri Chomette
No cast
Country: France
What it is: Experimental film

No plot

If the title translates as FIVE MINUTES OF PURE CINEMA, then I have to say that’s a good title for an experimental film; I’d expect it to be one with a title like that. In this case, what it amounts to is a series of shots of unidentifiable glassy objects followed by some shots of trees. Much of the film is static; we see an object and it fades out as a new object (or a new view of the same object) fades back in. There are a few segments which include movement, but not many. And, for me, that’s one of the problems with this one; I would think movement would be essential for a work to be “pure cinema”; static shots have the air of watching a display of photographs. In fact, in comparison with most of the experimental work I’ve seen, this one is rather dull. Still, there is a chance that the lack of a musical soundtrack in the copy I found might have had a detrimental effect on my viewing; this is the type of short that screams for music. As it is, it’s a bit of a disappointment, and doesn’t quite live up to the title. And I’m not sure anything about this one could be properly said to have any fantastic content.

The Little Chimney Sweep (1935)

aka Der kleine Schornsteinfeger
Article 5250 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-16-2016
Directed by Lotte Reiniger
Voice cast unknown
Country: Germany
What it is: Silhouette-animated melodrama

A little chimney sweep becomes embroiled in the plot of an evil nobleman to kidnap a young woman in order to get her money.

It’s always a treat to watch one of Lotte Reiniger’s excellent forays into silhouette animation, and this one is no exception; it’s full of character, very charming, and efficiently done. However, it is also an example of an animated movie that, outside of the fact that all the characters only appear in silhouette, has no fantastic content. The story is a realistic, straightforward melodrama with no fantastical touches, and if any non-human characters appear (there may be a dog or two), they are not anthropomorphic. It’s quite enjoyable, but I’m afraid this one really doesn’t qualify for this series.

The Country Cousin (1936)

Article 5221 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-3-2016
Directed by Wilfred Jackson
No voice cast
Country: USA
What it is: Disney Silly Symphony

A country mouse is invited to the city by his posh cousin to discover a world of plenty as well as a world of stress and fear.

One of the things I really like about many of the Disney cartoons is the degree to which the animated creations are given personality and character. Both the city mouse and the country mouse here are given their own distinct set of mannerisms, and much of the humor of the cartoon is character driven. This is actually quite a feat when you consider that there is no dialogue to the cartoon; the characters are developed through body language, with a bit of help from the musical score. Initially, it looked like it was going to be an early variation of the “Tom and Jerry” plot, but it’s quite a ways into the cartoon before the feline appears and it only remains in the action for about a minute. My favorite segment of the cartoon is near the end, where the country mouse ends up out on the street at the mercy of the city, and ends up being terrorized by free-floating blaring horns among other things. Sure, the country mouse/city mouse concept is pretty old, but Disney does a solid and satisfying job with it. I liked this one.

Calino a mange du cheval (1908)

aka Result of Eating Horse Flesh
Article 5200 by Dave SIndelar
Date: 7-8-2016
Directed by Romeo Bosetti
Featuring Paul Bertho
Country: France
What it is: You are what you eat in action

Calino, unhappy with his meal at home, goes to a butcher who deals in horse flesh and buys a cut. He brings it home, and eats too much of it. And then…

You know, there’s one good thing about so many of the silent era movies being lost; it spares me from having to watch the many variations on this theme that were made at the time. For the record, the result of eating horse flesh is the same as drinking a bottle of horse embrocation; you act like a horse. Is it obvious? Yes. Is it funny? Not really; most of the movie has the title character running around with a cart and creating predictable mayhem. It does come up with a creative ending gag, but that’s about it. As it is, it’s just another in a long line of shorts in which humans are made to act like animals for comic effect. Actually, I think I’ve only seen two of these (both involving men acting like horses); I know there’s quite a few of them finding ways to get men to act like monkeys.

The Cook in Trouble (1904)

aka Sorcellerie culinaire
Article 5192 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-25-2016
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies
Country: France
What it is: Comic curse

When a cook refuses to spare a crumb for an old beggar, the latter reveals himself to be a magician and places a nightmarish curse on the cook…

I don’t know about you, but there’s two things I always associate with the work of Melies – dancing girls and tumbling imps. Those partial to the former would be better off with one of his other shorts. Those who prefer the latter have hit the jackpot here; once the curse gets underway, there’s no end to the tumbling imp action here. They even have the ability to change color; if you get tired of the standard black tumbling imp, they’ll change to the new-style white tumbling imps. Still, under either color they’ll wreck your kitchen, ruin your cooking, and probably stuff you in the pot, but that’s what tumbling imps do. All in all, it’s another moderately entertaining Melies short.

The Congress of Nations (1900)

Article 5191 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-24-2016
Directed by J. Stuart Blackton and Albert E. Smith
Featuring Albert E. Smith
Country: USA
Company: Patriotic magic act

A magician pulls out flags from a hoop and then causes representatives of their nations to appear behind them.

It’s a basic variation on the Melies-style magic shorts, only with a patriotic theme; the final flag to appear is the Stars and Stripes, with a tableau of the representatives of other nations appearing with Uncle Sam. The fact that it has a specific theme is the most striking thing about this one; the fact that it’s not done particularly well and engages in some stereotyping (when the Chinese flag shows up) are its biggest problems. The short is mildly interesting but far from great.

Cinderella (1914)

Article 5190 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-23-2016
Directed by James Kirkwood
Featuring Mary Pickford, Owen Moore, Isabel Vernon
Country: USA
What it is: Fairy tale

If you knew the story yesterday, you still know it.

At fifty minutes of length, this version of the classic fairy tale really has enough time to do what yesterday’s version couldn’t – flesh out the story. It also does a fine job. One big plus is Mary Pickford in the title role; she adds a number of touches which make the story seem more real and brings her character to life; for example, when she brings out the mice for the coach, it’s obvious she’s not too enthused about carrying a cage of rodents, and that’s just the type of detail that adds to the fun. Furthermore, the script fleshes out the story in ways that enhance the main plot line; the scene where Cinderella meets Prince Charming early on and a relationship is established at that point actually makes the rest of the story seem more immediate and important. It’s one of those versions that makes me see the story with fresh eyes, and makes me realize how much a familiar old plot can be revitalized by making the characters seem alive. This is a very solid take on the story.

Cinderella, or The Glass Slipper (1907)

aka Cendrillon
Article 5189 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-22-2016
Directed by Albert Capellani
Featuring Louise Lagrange
Country: France
What it is: Fairy tale

You know the story.

Sometimes, I despair at having to review adaptations of overly familiar stories, often because there are usually few surprises in the story. It’s even tougher with short silent versions of them which generally can’t find the time to flesh them out. However, this one from Pathe does have a few entertaining odd touches to it. For one thing, Cinderella, on top of her other problems, is also tormented by a bearded imp from hell; if he tumbled, I’d say he was a Melies refugee. The ball takes place out of doors, which is an unusual setting for that scene. I also like the way the movie creatively stages a dream sequence for Cinderella by having the back of the stage explode into pieces to reveal her dream. This may not seem like much, but it’s little touches like this which can keep that dreariness of seeing another version of an overly familiar story at bay.

Creation de la Serpentine (1908)

aka The Beginning of the Serpentine
Article 5172 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-31-2016
Directed by Segundo de Chomon
Cast unknown
Country: France
What is it: Dance movie with special effects

A fiddler is recruited by a devil to help in the formation of the dance known as the serpentine.

Fans of the very early days of cinema probably already know about the serpentine dance; it was featured prominently in several early movies. It consisted of a woman dressed in a long flowing robes with long sleeves waving her arms back and forth to cause the fabric to cascade in a very striking way; at times, the dancer almost seems to fade away beneath the illusion of flowing fabric. It’s easy to see why it was the subject of many early movies; it’s a visually striking dance. This short is a bizarre variation on the subject; it begins with a fiddler playing at a minute, but the entrance of another character (whom we find out is a devil) causes the dancers to vanish and the fiddler to be transported to his laboratory where he magically concocts the dance. The movie ends with seven women performing the serpentine all at once. It’s an eccentric short, but its eccentricities seem to be one of the touches that sets Chomon apart from Melies. This one is entertaining enough, though it spends a little too much time on the opening minuets.

Cold Sweat (1993)

Article 5117 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-25-2016
Directed by Gail Harvey
Featuring Ben Cross, Adam Baldwin, Shannon Tweed
Country: Canada
What it is: Erotic thriller

A frustrated businessman hires a hit man to knock off a business associate that is having an affair with his wife. Things go awry.

I tend to look askance at any movie classified as an “erotic thriller”; for every one of them that does something interesting with the concept (THE FOURTH MAN, for example), there are about ten others which are little more than variations of “I slept with a psycho” or ordinary thrillers with a lot of sex slathered on. This is one of the latter; it’s mostly “love triangle” type of thriller with an extra point, as the wife of the businessman is messing around with TWO other men rather than just one. One interesting touch is that the businessman is played by comic actor Dave Thomas from SCTV, and if he doesn’t quite succeed in the role of the movie as it is, it does give me a hint of as to how this movie would have worked better, and that is if it had fully gone the distance and become an out-and-out comedy. The plot is so ridiculous that it’s halfway there already. This brings us to the weirdest plot element and the one that provides the fantastic content; the hit man is haunted by the ghost of a female victim who became an inadvertent witness to his last hit. This serves as only a subplot to the main story line, and I myself would have rather seen the movie in which this was the main plot element. However, that plot wouldn’t have had all the gratuitous sex of the one the movie chose, so it wouldn’t have been an “erotic thriller”. After all, I’m sure the makers of the movie knew what they wanted.