Excursion dans la Lune (1908)

aka A Trip to the Moon
Article 4204 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-16-2013
Directed by Segundo de Chomon
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Mimicked Melies

A scientist concocts a scheme to take himself and a bunch of travelers to the moon.

This movie entered my list as A TRIP TO THE MOON (1903), though it was actually made several years later, but I gather that a great variety of misinformation made the rounds about this one. One thing is for sure; it is a blatant imitation of the Melies film from 1902. Every scene here has an equivalent scene in the Melies film, and the story arcs are largely identical. Still, it isn’t a slavish imitation; for one thing, this one is much shorter and more compact. Chomon also restages and retools certain scenes so that the effects are slightly different; for example, the rocket doesn’t hit the eye of the moon, but enters through its mouth, giving it indigestion. Oddly enough, one of the biggest differences between the two movies is that Chomon adds a dancing girls sequence to the “court on the moon” scene; though no dancing girls appear in that scene in the Melies film, it is exactly the sort of scene you’d expect from Melies. No, it’s not as significant a film as the original, but it’s fairly entertaining in a “variations on a theme” way.

Eagle of the Night (1928)

Article 4160 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-18-2013
Directed by James P. Fulton
Featuring Frank Clarke, Shirley Palmer, Earl Metcalfe
Country: USA
What it is: Serial thrills

A new invention that muffles the sounds of airplanes is the target of a gang of smugglers. Can the U.S. Government test pilot defeat their plans?

Nearly half of this ten-episode serial is missing; the first halves of episode three, five, six and ten are gone, as well as episodes seven, eight and nine in their entirety. Still, it doesn’t seem as if any major plot points are missing, but that’s also because the serial is one of those that seems to be written with the “bare-bones serial writing approach” I’ve encountered before; set up the premise in episode one, resolve it in the final episode, and fill the rest with incidental action. The fantastic content is also disappointing; the airplane silencer is pretty much a Gizmo Maguffin of the first order, and the fact that it is used a couple of times during the surviving footage doesn’t really change the fact its use not only has no impact on the plot, but that there’s something very disappointing about this particular fantastic content, as it is a pretty unsatisfying one from a dramatic standpoint for a silent serial; what’s the fun of not being able to hear the airplane with the silencer when you can’t hear them without it either? So the appeal of this serial is a combination of the airplane stunt work, which is pretty good (even if the most striking one in which an airplane lands on and takes off of a moving train is more a trick of editing than anything else), and the fact that the villains are pretty brutish in this one; you’ll be really glad that the heroine is as feisty as she is, because these guys are creeps. This is one of the lesser serials I’ve seen.

The Enchanted Drawing (1900)

Article 4119 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-29-2012
Directed by J. Stuart Blackton
Featuring J. Stuart Blackton
Country: USA
What it is: Early trick short

An artist draws a face and several items on a large pad. The face reacts as the artist pulls the various items from the pad and uses them.

This is a simply conceived but well-executed trick film. It’s basically the simple trick of stopping the camera and substituting new items, but it’s done with a sense of wit. It isn’t quite an animated film, but it does point in the direction of animation and can be seen as a film connecting the dots between animation and the simple substitution trick. Blackton himself seems at ease as the artist at work, and this also makes the short fun to watch.

Explosion of a Motor Car (1900)

Article 4098 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-5-2012
Directed by Cecil M. Hepworth
Featuring Cecil M. Hepworth, Henry Lawley
Country: UK
What it is: Black comedy

An overcrowded motor car explodes on a city street, leaving a local policeman with the unpleasant job of sorting out the mess afterwards.

This movie dovetails nicely with yesterday’s movie. Once again, the movie isn’t a horror movie; exploding motor cars don’t automatically qualify as horror, or else I’d have to contend with ninety percent of the action movies ever made for this project. But since the explosion results in the blowing to pieces of the passengers (with a sequence in which the body parts rain down from the sky), we find ourselves immersed in another common horror theme in much the same way that the decapitation in yesterday’s movie did. Granted, this movie plays it less for horror and more for black comedy, especially as the annoyed policeman sorts through the body parts to figure which part goes with which. This may make the movie one of the earliest black comedies in existence, and I did find myself both appalled and amused at the same time.

The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots (1895)

Article 4097 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-4-2012
Directed by Alfred Clark
Cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Historical reenactment

Mary, Queen of Scots, is executed.

No, it’s not a horror movie in the strict sense. However, if you keep in mind that this is the first movie to feature an on-screen decapitation, than it does serve at least as a touchstone of horror themes. It’s only 21 seconds long, and at first, I didn’t see the edit during the execution sequence, making me suspect that the trick was done with a person with a fake head. On reviewing it, I saw my mistake; the edit took place when I wasn’t expecting it.

Well, this made for a quick day of movie watching.

Escape (1937)

ESCAPE (1937)
Animated short
Article 4095 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-1-2012
Directed by Mary Ellen Bute, Bill Nemeth and Ted Nemeth
No cast
Country: USA
What it is: Abstract musical short

While Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” plays, a triangle tries to escape an abstract prison.

The above plot description can be taken very loosely; it’s merely my interpretation of the visual scenes in this abstract musical short. Whether this can strictly be called genre, I’m not sure, but it could be argued that when the action gets this abstract, it falls into the realms of fantasy. At only four minutes long, it’s tight enough that the concept doesn’t wear out its welcome, and I quite enjoyed the short; in fact, it looks somewhat more modern than its 1937 date would indicate. Yet I remembered that I had already seen an abstract interpretation of the musical piece in question; for the record, the first segment of Disney’s FANTASIA was also an abstract visualization of the same piece. Yet this short predates that movie by four years. Is there a chance that Disney may have gotten the idea for that sequence from this little short? I can’t say for sure, but it is food for thought.

The Enchanted Well (1903)

aka Le puits fantastique
Article 4094 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-30-2012
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Amusing fantasy short

When the owner of a local well refuses to give an old crone a handout, she curses his well so that it is inhabited by demons.

This Melies short has more plot than his “magician” shorts, though the plot is a pretty simple revenge one; a man offends a witch, and pays the price. It’s a fun but typical Melies short with the well going through various transformations, and demons and monsters appearing out of it to torment the owner. Oddly enough, there’s no tumbling imps in this one, but that’s only because they appear in frog costumes, so we’re treated to tumbling amphibians. The owner is also attacked by what looks like an early version of Ollie (as in Kukla, Fran and…). It’s a good example of some of Melies’s lighter work.