Excelsior! (1901)

Excelsior! (1901)
Article 5639 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-25-2019
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies
Country: France
What it is: Melies magic film

A magician performs a series of tricks, often with the help of a hapless assistant.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve covered a Melies short, but I’m not surprised there’s still a handful of extant ones that I’ve not yet covered. This is another example of one of his most common themes; a cinematic version of a stage magician at work, though often with cinematic tricks rather than sleight of hand. There’s not a whole lot here that I haven’t seen from him before, but his showmanship and humor help carry this one. In fact, I’d say this one is one of his better magic trick shorts.

Electrocuting an Elephant (1903)

Electrocuting an Elephant (1903)
Article 5632 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-17-2019
Director unknown
Featuring Carl Goliath, Topsy
Country: USA
What it is: Unpleasant documentary.

Topsy the elephant is electrocuted.

One of the unexpected things I found myself contending with as a result of this movie-watching/review project was dealing with movies that someone considered as belonging to the fantastic genres but which, to my eyes, didn’t seem to fit; I often had to stretch my mind to conceive as to why someone would classify them as such, and I included those guesses in my reviews. For example, I never would have expected this silent short to qualify for my project, but someone on IMDB decided to classify this one as “horror”. Well, I will agree it’s horrifying, but that’s not quite the same thing. Still, I can understand someone making this classification.

Well, whether it qualifies or not, it is definitely an upsetting viewing experience, especially for animal lovers. I’ve heard the movie was made by Edison to demonstrate the dangers of alternating current. I’ve also heard the animal was electrocuted as a publicity stunt to promote Luna Park at Coney Island, and that the animal had become impossible to handle. It doesn’t matter to me which explanation is correct; it doesn’t change the fact that the movie is exploitation at its nastiest; it’s an elephant snuff film. Despite its historical value, I wouldn’t recommend this short to anyone.

Erlebnisse der Puppe (1966)

Erlebnisse der Puppe (1966)
aka The Adventures of a Doll
Article 5627 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-24-2019
Directed by Franz Winzentsen
No cast
Country: West Germany
What it is: Surreal animated short

A doll with elephant legs plays games and explores the world around her.

The animation is of a style somewhere between a Terry Gilliam animation and FANTASTIC PLANET, and though it feels somewhat comic in the beginning, it takes a darker and more disturbing turn as the short progresses. That’s not to say there’s a whole lot to point to that clearly makes it disturbing (though there’s a shot of what looks like a badly hurt duck at one point); it’s the generally ominous air of the imagery that starts to put you on edge. There doesn’t seem to be an easily summarized story line here, nor can individual events be easily described, as it involves encounters with unidentifiable creatures and things. This is one strange foray into animation.

Electric Earthquake (1942)

Electric Earthquake (1942)
Article 5602 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-19-2018
Directed by Dave Fleischer
Featuring the voices of Bud Collyer, Joan Alexander, Jackson Beck
Country: USA
What it is: Superman short

An irate native American demands that Manhattan be returned to his people. When he is turned down, he unleashes an electric earthquake from his underwater laboratory. Can Superman save the day?

For some reason, I really liked this one; the plot seems a little better thought out, the animation seems particularly well done, and there are some nice surprises here and there. In some ways, it’s similar to the first one in the series, but manages to avoid being merely an imitation. This is another good entry in the series.

Les escargots (1966)

Les escargots (1966)
aka The Snails
Article 5593 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-6-2018
Directed by Rene Laloux
No cast
Country: France
What it is: Animated short

A farmer discovers the only way his crop will flourish is to water them with human tears. He does so, but the crop attracts snails, who eat them and grow to tremendous size…

There are comic touches in the other works of Rene Laloux, but they tend to be muted by the general tone of darkness that pervades his works. This one is the reverse; the darkness is here, but the comic sense predominates, especially in its final twist. But then, I’d expect it to be a bit comic; it is, after all, a marauding giant monster movie, though it is less concerned with how humanity defeats the monsters than with what happens once the snails have laid waste to the world. At any rate, this is easily the most enjoyable of the three Laloux shorts I’ve seen recently.

Episodes in the Life of a Gin Bottle (1925)

Episodes in the Life of a Gin Bottle (1925)
Article 5563 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-22-2018
Directed by Bela von Block
Featuring John Ince and Rex Lease
Country: USA
What it is: Muddled prohibitionist propaganda… or is it?

A gin bottle passes from hand to hand. Women see a handsome man inside the bottle.

On the surface, this short seems to be a propaganda piece about the evils of alcohol; however, one of the user reviews on IMDB points out that prohibitionist propaganda wasn’t necessary at this point in history (as Prohibition was already in place), and that the short may be about a side issue of adulterated alcohol, which I take to mean “tainted” or “poisonous”; this was a real danger during the era. This makes sense to me, and this might explain the significance of a man appearing inside the bottle (as something that shouldn’t be there), though why it should be seen only by women is a mystery to me. The message aside, the special effect is an interesting one; I just wish there was more of a story to flesh out the message, as in its present from, it’s a little elusive and confusing.

Les exploits de Feu-Follet (1912)

aka Nipper’s Transformations
Article 5232 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-19-2016
Directed by Emile Cohl
No cast
Country: France
What it is: Animated film

An animated man has several stream-of-consciousness adventures.

This short movie made it to my hunt list under the title of NIPPER’S TRANSFORMATIONS, where it languished until it dropped off into my “ones that got away” list. Then a friend of mine tracked down that the movie was actually a retitled copy of this animated short by Emile Cohl. If you’re familiar with Cohl’s work, it won’t surprise you to find out that it’s mostly a plotless stream-of-consciousness excursion into mutating animated objects, though it does follow something of a story in the middle where the title character takes a balloon to the moon but ends up swallowed by a fish in the ocean. I myself enjoy Cohl’s work, but I can see it boring some people, but since the short is only four minutes long, it doesn’t wear out its welcome.

Extraordinary Illusions (1903)

aka Illusions funambulesques
Article 5206 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-15-2016
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies
Country: France
What it is: Magic short

A magician performs tricks in which he creates a woman from his magic box, only to have her turn into a cook.

It’s another magic short from Melies, and like many of the others, it only runs about two minutes long. Some of the special effects seem quite sharp this time, including scenes in which the magic box and a table move of their own accord. Beyond that, this is pretty much run-of-the-mill Melies, but I did take note that he might have geared this one to audiences who speak English; despite being a French film-maker, I noticed that the Magic Box was marked as such in English.

An Extraordinary Cab Accident (1903)

Article 5205 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-14-2016
Directed by Walter R. Booth and Robert W. Paul
Cast unknown
Country: UK
What it is: Comic trick short

A man is run over by a horse-and-buggy when he crosses the street. The cop catches the driver, but is the pedestrian dead?

There’s not much to write about on this one-minute short, either in terms of its plot (it’s basically a joke story with a punch line) or its fantastic content (which is the punch line itself). Suffice it to say that the story involves either accelerated healing or resurrection from the dead. Oops, did I give away the ending without a spoiler warning? Well, so be it, but when the movie’s this short, it’s unavoidable. Still, it plays its surprise ending fairly well.

Entr’acte (1924)

ENTR’ACTE (1924)
Article 5203 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-12-2016
Directed by Rene Clair
Featuring Jean Borlin, Inge Friss, Francis Picabia
Country: France
What it is: Dada weirdness

Plot: Yes, there is one… sort of…

This avant-garde short was originally shown as part of an opera; the first two minutes were shown before the ballet, and the rest of the movie was shown between the two acts. With a cast that includes Francis Picabia, Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray, there’s one thing you can be sure of, and that is that you’re in deep Dada territory, but the presence of Rene Clair also adds a strong dose of humor to the proceedings. There is something of a plot involve a runaway wagon carrying a coffin, but it’s mostly there as a frame from which to hang the bizarre and sometimes amusing visuals. There is some fantastic content; for example, we have a man rising from a coffin and making people disappear with his wand, as well as a cannon that moves of its own accord. There are lots of abstract and experimental films out there, but this is one of the most fun that I’ve seen.