Les des magiques (1908)

aka Magic Dice
Article 4745 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-29-2015
Directed by Segundo de Chomon
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Trick short

Dice of various sizes are used in a series of magic acts and dance numbers.

At his best, Chomon manages to stake out an identity that sets him apart from his primary inspiration, Georges Melies. Unfortunately, he’s not at his best with this one. Its biggest problem is a certain lack of variety. The short has a fixed format; first, a trick involving the dice is performed, then a dancer or acrobat (or group of dancers or acrobats) appears and dances or performs acrobatics, then another trick, then more performers, etc. until the short finishes. Unfortunately, the short runs on long enough that you have enough time to spot and get tired of this pattern. The tricks aren’t particularly novel, and though Chomon makes more extensive use of running the film backwards than Melies does, here he overuses it. It’s pretty enough to look at, but the lack of surprises eventually takes its toll.

The Diabolical Church Window (1911)

aka Le vitrail diabolique
Article 4740 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-21-2015
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: A devil’s prank

A demon decides to torment an alchemist by having a woman magically form itself on a stained-glass window and having it come to life.

Most of the Melies shorts I’ve been seeing lately have been “magic trick” shorts, in which a magician performs a series of tricks. At least this one is a break from those, though it does illustrate another of Melies’s common themes; it’s one where a demon torments someone. At least once during these shorts, we have a scene where the torment involves the appearance of a beautiful woman who entices the victim, only to disappear or to turn into a monster. The special effects are quite good here, especially during the sequences where the woman appears piece by piece in the window, but I couldn’t quite escape the feeling that Melies is just repeating himself here; it’s really just a pale shadow of THE MERRY FROLICS OF SATAN, which was his epic take on the theme.

Dream City (1973)

aka Traumstadt, Dream Town
Article 4727 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-3-2015
Directed by Johannes Schaaf
Featuring Per Oscarsson, Rosemarie Fendel, Olimpia
Country: West Germany
What it is: Art film

An artist and his wife are invited to live in a hidden city where the residents have complete freedom to pursue their work. However, they discover that “complete freedom” has a way of taking its toll on the human condition.

IMDB lists one of the taglines for this movie as “Bizarre like Fellini. Surreal like Bunuel. Explosive like Cocteau.”. I can see that. It’s also sometimes maddening like Kafka and funny like Monty Python. The trouble is I’m not sure that the movie achieves transcendence like the best works of any of those other people. I’m also not sure whether the movie ultimately has anything more to say than the attempt at this sort of Utopia would result in chaos and madness, a concept that seems rather obvious to me. What I do know is that the more chaotic and out-of-control the situation gets, the more strident and annoying the movie becomes. Maybe that’s why I prefer the first half of the movie when the city comes across as colorful and eccentric. My favorite scene in the first half involves the artist trying to get an audience permit to meet the founder of the city; my favorite scene in the second half is when we finally discover where the white horse that carries bodies through the city is going. In the end, I half like and half dislike the movie, but so much of it seems self-indulgent that I doubt I’ll be giving it another viewing any time soon.

The Devil’s Man (1967)

aka Devilman Story
Article 4726 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-2-2015
Directed by Paolo Bianchini
Featuring Guy Madison, Luisa Baratto, Diana Lorys
Country: Italy
What it is: Pseudo-Spyghetti

A journalist investigates the kidnapping of a scientist. His trail leads him to a secret in an African desert.

Because our hero is a journalist rather than a superspy, this doesn’t entirely qualify as an example of “Spyghetti”. However, it could be argued that that is the only sticking point here; the way the movie is plotted is pretty much identical with one of those movies, and the hero could have just as easily been a spy. it does, however, have a significant degree of science fiction content above and beyond the usual gadgetry found in that genre; several of the villain’s minions appear to be under a hypnotic control, and the plot involves the creation of an artificial brain capable of being placed in someone’s head that is not susceptible to the flaws of our organic ones. I don’t want to be too hard on this one; it’s a bit of a rarity, and my copy is in fairly wretched shape, and that makes watching the movie a little difficult; however, based on what I can make out, the movie seems ordinary at best, and like yesterday’s movie, it feels churned out. I’d have to see a better copy before I could give a more detailed critique.

Deep River Savages (1972)

aka Il paese del sesso selvaggio, Man from Deep River, Sacrifice
Article 4680 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-13-2014
Directed by Umberto Lenzi
Featuring Ivan Rassimov, Me Me Lai, Prasitsak Singhara
Country: Italian / Burmese / Thai
What it is: The birth of the Italian Cannibal movie

A photographer exploring in Thailand is captured by a native tribe. When one of the native girls takes a liking to him, he is allowed to join the tribe… if he passes the rituals.

This movie is generally thought of as the first of the Italian Cannibal movies, one of the most notorious subgenres of horror. However, as is often the case of a movie that is the first of its subgenre, it is less hemmed in by the conventions of the form, because the conventions haven’t been set yet. This one doesn’t come across as a nihilistic exercise in assaulting the sensibilities; in fact, it almost gets sentimental at times as the civilized man eventually becomes one with the natives, with the promise of domestic bliss being the primary catalyst for this transformation. Granted, the print I saw was several minutes short of the full print, so there’s a chance I’m missing a lot of gruesome footage; however, in this form, it may be the most benign example of the subgenre I’ve encountered. Unfortunately, there IS a bit of the animal killing that would become a trademark of the form. At other times, it seems to be honing cliches from much older types of jungle movies; when the central character defies the witch doctor to try to cure a child, we’re in very familiar territory. One of the oddest bits of information I found about this one on IMDB is that the movie is something of a remake of A MAN CALLED HORSE, which implies that the Italian Cannibal movies had their roots in the American Western.

Dreams of Toyland (1908)

Article 4646 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-5-2014
Directed by Arthur Melbourne Cooper
Cast unknown
Country: UK
What it is: Early stop-motion animation

A mother takes her little boy to a toy store, where he picks out an assortment of toys. That night he dreams the toys come to life.

This short is half real-life and half stop-motion animation; it is the dream that is fully animated. At heart, it seems like a pretty standard trick short with no real plot; once you get to the dream, you expect nothing more than whimsical, happy scenes of toys moving of their own accord. Then you start to notice things; the little toy who is running from a bus that is trying to chase him down, the bear attacking passers-by, various animals attacking the toys and vehicles running them down…no, this short is anything but whimsical and happy, and the word “dreams” can be taken rather ironically here. The stop motion is fun, if primitive, and I did like how the dark turn added some variety to the action at hand. I managed to find this on YouTube.

Un drame chez les fantoches (1908)

aka Drama Among the Puppets
Article 4645 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-4-2014
Directed by Emile Cohl
No cast
Country: France
What it is: Animated story

A woman finds herself beset upon by suitors, but a helpful cop comes to her rescue.

This animated short by pioneer animator Emile Cohl is a bit of a rarity in that it actually seems to tell a story rather than to merely set forth an array of shifting images. Granted, the plot isn’t particularly strong, and I had to read another description of the short to figure the motives for the characters that were bothering the woman. There is a bit of abstract animation, such as a scene where the cop mutates into the bars in the window of a prison cell, but these transitions are kept to a minimum. Though it’s interesting to see Cohl stretching himself a little here, I didn’t find it as intriguing as his more abstract shorts.

Daisy Doodad’s Dial (1914)

Article 4634 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-20-2014
Directed by Laurence Trimble
Featuring Florence Turner and Tom Powers
Country: UK
What it is: Comic short

A husband and wife both decide to enter a silly face competition being held by a local actors’ group. When the wife is ill the day of the competition, the husband wins first prize. The wife vows to win a follow-up competition, but complications arrive when she is arrested for disturbing the peace by practicing making faces in public.

Let’s face it; this is a one-joke comedy. And, if it weren’t for the fact that Florence Turner is capable of twisting her face into some truly memorable grimaces, it would die on that one joke; as it is, I found myself laughing a lot more than I really care to admit. In short, I really enjoyed this comedy. However, making funny faces does not in and of itself constitute fantastic content. What qualifies the short is the ending of the movie, where the main character has a nightmare in which she is terrorized by a succession of grotesque faces… all of them her own. When you get down to it, this makes for pretty slight fantastic content, but I’m still glad I got a chance to see this one.

Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend: Bug Vaudeville (1921)

Article 4618 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-31-2014
Directed by Winsor McCay
No voice cast
Country: USA
What it is: Early animation

A bum takes a nap after getting a handout, but the food makes him have strange dreams. He dreams he is in the audience of a vaudeville show featuring insects, but it takes a dark turn…

I recently picked up some DVDs of very early animation, and most of the cartoons from the period from 1910 through the mid twenties were pretty primitive; in many cases, they were like barely animated comic strips. Within this context, it is easy to see that Winsor McCay was one of the best and most ambitious animators of his time, though he never quite caught again the magic of GERTIE THE DINOSAUR. This one was from a series of shorts he did called DREAMS OF THE RAREBIT FIEND, and it’s mostly made up of setpieces in which various insects perform dance routines, acrobatics or athletics; there’s a dancing daddy long legs and a scene of two potato bugs boxing, just to give examples. It’s well animated, though it’s not up to the level of GERTIE, and, possibly because the cartoon doesn’t really give the animator to do much with character, it gets a little dull. The dark turn doesn’t come until the very end of the cartoon, and given the fact that we know our main character is having a nightmare, we’re not really surprised. It’s one of McCay’s less interesting efforts.

Les delire des sens (1977)

aka The Naked Lovers, La fille a la fourrure, Porno Zombies
Article 4617 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-30-2014
Directed by Claude Pierson
Featuring Ursula White, Alain Saury, Didier Aubriot
Country: France
What it is: Exercise film, foreign style

A man, just married to his second wife, sees his dead wife watching him through a window. It turns out her body has been possessed by an alien from the planet Eros who has come to Earth to learn about love and enhanced breathing exercises.

I’m thankful for small favors. I review my movies under the title that appears on the screen of the print I saw, and since I’m in embarrassment mode here again (see my review of THE ORGY MACHINE if you want to know what I mean), I’m just grateful that I didn’t review it with the title I found it under (PORNO ZOMBIES, a title which I find singularly unerotic). On the down side, the fact that I reviewed it under one of its foreign titles also clues you into the fact that my copy was neither dubbed into nor subtitled in English. Nevertheless, I find it rather interesting to compare this foreign movie to the American-made TOM (an acronym I like better than the full title). Whereas that movie refused to take its silly premise seriously, this one seems to be taking itself very seriously indeed; if it’s intended to be comic in any way, it doesn’t show. Perhaps it has some sort of political subtext, though since I can’t understand the dialogue (of which there is some here), I certainly can’t interpret it. At least the exercise sequences here (you know that’s a euphemism, right?) seem to have been shot for this movie rather than lifted from elsewhere, and the actors seem to be actually making the sounds I hear on the soundtrack, which wasn’t the case in TOM, where it sounded like the sounds were thrown in randomly. As for the space aliens in the plot, don’t look for a spaceship or anything like that; the only clue you can get that they are space aliens is that they talk haltingly in an alien way. The most striking scene here has five couples in the forest engaging in synchronized enhanced breathing exercises, and even this isn’t as impressive as it sounds. Though I can’t really fully judge the movie without understanding the dialogue, I’m not sure that this movie is appreciably better than TOM, though I will say it is somewhat less embarrassing.