The Electric House (1922)

The Electric House (1922)
Article 5807 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-10-2020
Directed by Edward F. Cline and Buster Keaton
Featuring Buster Keaton, Virginia Fox, Joe Keaton
Country: USA
What it is: Buster Keaton short

Due to a mix-up of diplomas, a botanist is mistaken for an electrical engineer and hired to electrify a rich man’s house.

Most of the shorts and features I’ve covered by the classic silent comedians have been ones where the fantastic content was pretty marginal. Not so this one. Not only is it packed to the gills with bizarre modern-house gadgetry, but the gadgetry is front and center in terms of the comic content; you’re laughing at all the strange technical marvels in the place. Things get a little wilder when the man who should have gotten the job in the first place seeks revenge, but that just adds to the fun. Keaton is in prime form this time, especially when he has to contend with a staircase that turns into an escalator. And there’s even a little bit of horror content as well, when one of the staff of the house is mistaken for a ghost at one point. This one was a lot of fun.

Education for Death: The Making of a Nazi (1943)

Education for Death: The Making of the Nazi (1943)
Article 5806 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-7-2020
Directed by Clyde Geronimi
Featuring the voice of Art Smith
Country: USA
What it is: Wartime anti-Nazi propaganda

It’s the story of a young German boy named Hans, and how he is indoctrinated into the Nazi mindset.

Anybody who has seen and liked the movie JOJO RABBIT might be interested in hunting down and checking out this Disney wartime exploration of the dissemination of Nazi propaganda to the youth of Germany. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a little exaggeration in this short (both sides engaged in propaganda), but for the most part this short rings alarmingly true about how youth can be seduced, manipulated, and pressured into becoming a tool for a tyrant state. Make no mistake; this short takes itself very serious indeed, and rightfully so. It’s also something I probably wouldn’t cover if it didn’t have a sequence in which it is shown how the story of “Sleeping Beauty” is rewritten to teach Nazi philosophy; the witch is democracy, and the knight in shining armor is Hitler himself. Unfortunately, this sequence also marks the short’s biggest stumble; it abandons its serious approach and turns the ending of the Sleeping Beauty story into a slapstick farce where Sleeping Beauty is revealed to be an overweight beer-guzzling German woman who is too fat for Hitler to lift on his horse. This kind of mocking caricature is out of place here, because ultimately you feel sad at seeing children’s spirits being snuffed out to serve the Nazi cause. Nevertheless, despite its flaws, this is a powerful short.

Entente cordiale (1912)

Entente cordiale (1912)
Article 5665 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-16-2019
Directed by Max Linder
Featuring Max Linder, Jane Renouardt, Stacia Napierkowska
Country: France
What it is: Max Linder comedy short

Max allows a friend to stay in his apartment. When they both fall in love with a beautiful maid, the rivalry causes them to engage in a duel.

Yes, there’s no apparent fantastic content in the plot description, and given that I recently covered a Max Linder short that (to my mind) was mistakenly classified as a fantasy, I found myself wondering if the same problem would crop up in this one. However, such is not the case; there is some clear fantastic content to be found here in the final scene, which involves dancing inanimate objects. There’s also some implied fantastic content when several characters believed dead come back to life, and though it’s clear they were faking being dead, I couldn’t help but note that one of the characters was a chicken, which certainly seems rather outre. Then there’s a touch of surrealism to the short, such as the scene where a piano is hitched up to the rear of a horse and buggy. As for the short itself, I found it genuinely amusing and a clear example of how Max Linder paved the way for Charlie Chaplin; there are some great comic bits here and there. This one is a lot of fun.

Une excursion incoherente (1909)

Une excursion incoherente (1909)
Article 5658 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-27-2019
Directed by Segundo de Chomon
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Pretty strange

Some people go on a disastrous picnic followed by a visit to a haunted mansion.

This short by Chomon is a very good example of how he had his own vision beyond what he borrowed from Melies. There are four major setpieces in this short – the picnic, the scene at the fireplace, the scene in the bedroom, and the scene outside the mansion. The fireplace scene and the scene outside the mansion are very reminiscent of Melies, but the other two scenes are something else. The grotesque picnic sequence is as surreal as something you’d expect from Luis Bunuel, and there is apparently some speculation as to whether he was influenced by this short. The scene in the bedroom makes some very interesting use of shadow imagery and animation, with the latter element showing a possible influence by Emile Cohl. There’s no real plot to the short; it’s a series of bizarre setpieces, and as is implied by the title, it is incoherent. Nevertheless, it still makes for an interesting viewing experience, and certainly feels different from other shorts of the same era.

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.