An Eccentric Burglary (1905)

Article 4912 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-29-2015
Directed by Frank S. Mottershaw
Cast unknown
Country: UK
What it is: Odd trick film

Two Chinese men attempt a robbery, but end up on the run from two policemen.

The plot description above doesn’t give a hint of the fantastic content, and except for an anomalous moment where a horse mysteriously vanishes, there’s really no fantastic content in the story as such. However, in execution, many of the characters perform stunts that are either impossible or (at the very least) very strange. The movie makes extensive use of the technique of running footage backwards, and what sets this one apart a little from some of the others is that the scenes are often performed by the actors to give the illusion that the footage is not running backwards until you reach the impossible stunt. People jump from the ground to second story windows, slide up banisters and ladders, etc. Every once in a while the backwards footage is more blatant, such as a scene where the policemen are chasing a horse and buggy and we see them running backwards. It’s a little odd and it doesn’t quite work, but it does feel different from a lot of the other trick films of the time; I think this may be the first time I’ve heard of the director, though he did have quite a few credits under his belt.

Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)

Article 4869 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-12-2015
Directed by Irvin Kershner
Featuring Faye Dunaway, Tommy Lee Jones, Brad Dourif
Country: USA
What it is: American giallo

A fashion photographer who specializes in pictures that combine sex and violence discovers she has a psychic link with a serial killer who gouges his victims’ eyes out. Even worse, the targets of the killer are people in the photographer’s own inner circle…

I remember the media attention the movie received when it was first released in the late seventies, but I hadn’t thought about it for years until it popped up on my hunt list. It was only then that it occurred to me that the plot premise made it sound like an American version of the Italian “giallo” movie. As such, it is rather disappointing; though in some ways the movie is concerned with style, the direction is actually rather bland and ordinary for the most part. I do remember it being rather odd at the time that the theme song for the movie was being sung by Barbra Streisand though she didn’t appear in the movie (I gather this is the only movie where she does this in which she didn’t star). From reading the trivia section on IMDB, I discovered that she originally was intended for the title role, which eventually went to Faye Dunaway. Having seen it now, I wish Streisand had played the role; though I’m not a big Streisand fan, she would have brought a certain moxie to the role that would have made the title role a lot more interesting than it is here, and though Dunaway gives a professional performance, it’s not an inspired one and the character is rather dull. On the plus side, there’s a few good performances from Tommy Lee Jones, Brad Dourif and Rene Auberjonois, and there’s a couple of interesting plot elements; I particularly like that the movie plays up the fact that when Mars is having her psychic visions, she is blind to her own environment. However, the script is weak; there are some scenes that seem silly and forced, and I felt it became glaringly obvious who the real killer was. The script was originally written by John Carpenter, but was rewritten later without his involvement. I’m afraid this one didn’t really work for me.

The Egyptian Mummy (1914)

Article 4847 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-13-2015
Directed by Lee Beggs
Featuring Lee Beggs, Constance Talmadge, Billy Quirk
Country: USA
What it is: Comedy

A young lover is distraught because he doesn’t have enough money to marry the woman he loves. However, when the woman’s father offers a large sum of money to someone who can provide him with an Egyptian mummy so he can test an elixir of life, the lover hires a bum to portray the mummy.

This silent comedy short has two shots at fantastic content; the mummy and the elixir. As you can tell from the description, the mummy turns out to be a fake, and as it turns out, we never find out if the elixir really works or not. Well, at least the movie flirts with fantastic content, and skinny Joel Day looks pretty cadaverous as the fake mummy, so it’s close enough to get by. Overall, this one is pretty amusing, though I do find it pretty hard to swallow that our hero is able to sell the mummy, invest the gains into the stock market and get ten times his return in about ten minutes (maybe this is the real fantastic content). This one is not bad.

Ego zvali Robert (1967)

aka My Name is Robert
Article 4835 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-28-2015
Directed by Ilya Olshvanger
Featuring Oleg Strezhenov, Marianna Vertinskaya, Aleksey Dranitsyn
Country: Soviet Union
What it is: Science fiction comedy

A scientist creates a robot in his own image in the hopes of sending him to Vega. Since he wants the robot to be an accurate reflection of a human being, he sends the robot out into society to become more like them. Complications ensue.

I’m rather reluctant to pass judgment on this one. To my mind, it has a strange, low-key vibe to it that seems just a bit off. However, this strange vibe may well be the result of the English subtitles not really being able to effectively translate jokes and humor from another culture; frequently, I found myself wondering if I wasn’t getting the jokes because they were untranslatable. Still, there are moments that come through in this exploration of the difference between robots and human beings; for example, I really liked the explanation given for the robot’s fascination with children’s toys. Certain moments stand out in the movie; there’s a memorable scene where the robot attends a theatrical production, as well as one where another man is mistaken for the robot. Some of the humor is of the obvious “robot taking things literally” type, but mostly it’s trying for something more subtle. Though I’m not sure I can say I entirely appreciate the movie, it does have enough points of interest to merit a viewing.

Equinozio (1971)

aka Equinox
Article 4733 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-10-2015
Directed by Maurizio Ponzi
Featuring Claudine Augur, Paola Pitagora, Giancarlo Sbragia
Country: Italy
What it is: Strange psychic Sci-Fi

A virus causes men to have memories of past lives, but women are not affected. When it is concluded that from this that only men reincarnate, it has repercussions…

This movie was almost ready to go to my “ones that got away” list when a copy turned up. Unfortunately, my copy was in Italian with French subtitles, and though I’d dredged up a few clues to what was going on in the movie (a man’s ESP mistaken for mental illness, a rebellion of women against men), I was quite unable to piece together what was going on in the movie until I found a short description that connected the various pieces of the puzzle, which I’ve paraphrased in the plot description above. Still, even with that to help me, I don’t feel I can really pass any judgment on this one; too much of what’s going on is tied up in the dialogue for me to adequately follow the story. Unfortunately, there’s not much on a visual level to make the movie particularly appealing, so I didn’t get much pleasure out of that. Therefore, there’s little I can do on this one rather than cross it off my list and hope that someday an English translation will allow me to give it another chance.

Electric Transformation (1909)

Article 4700 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-5-2014
Directed by Percy Stow
Cast unknown
Country: UK
What it is: Trick short

A scientist demonstrates how electricity can be used to transform and redesign objects.

This title just recently was dropped from my hunt list onto my “ones that got away” list, and upon that announcement, a friend of mine posted a link to a condensed version of the short which, though not complete, was coherent and contained everything important from the short. There was enough there to merit my coverage of it. That being said, the most interesting thing about this film is the striking use of special effects. IMDB claims that the electricity is used to “melt faces”, which I thought would turn out to be a simple form of double exposure, but instead we actually do get transformations that look like melting (sometimes in reverse), and that’s certainly an effect I’ve never seen from Melies. It’s similar to the distortion effects that popped up in a couple of Abel Gance shorts, but it’s mostly like the destruction of the city in THE PHANTOM EMPIRE. It’s this striking effect that sets this one apart from many of the other silent trick shorts of the era.

Extraordinary Illusions (1901)

aka Dislocation mysterieuse, An Extraordinary Dislocation
Article 4657 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-16-2014
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Andre Deed
Country: France
What it is: Trick short

A clown has a novel way of reaching for and using things that are out of his normal reach.

Given the events that occur during this Georges Melies trick short, I’d have to say the alternate English title (AN EXTRAORDINARY DISLOCATION) is much more descriptive than the relatively vague title under which I found this. The clown is able to have his limbs and head detach from his torso to reach the out-of-the-way objects, though sometimes the limbs seem to take on a will of their own. It’s one of Melies’s more focused trick shorts, in that it is specifically designed to demonstrate a certain trick and see how much he can do with it. As such, this is a simple and satisfying short that doesn’t wear out its welcome.

L’eventail anime (1909)

aka The Animated Fan
Article 4656 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-15-2014
Directed by Etienne Arnaud and Emile Cohl
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: History of the fan

The fan is portrayed in its various incarnations throughout history.

I’m assuming the Emile Cohl sequence of this short is the opening special effects sequence, in which an animated fan opens up and various women waving fans appear in the feathers; that’s it for the fantastic content as well. From there we get a serious of live-action set-pieces in which we see various women from history and around the world using their fans. That’s pretty much all this short features. It might have been more interesting if we saw the women and their fans in close-up, but they’re all medium shots with not particularly engrossing events happening around them. As it is, it’s only mildly interesting and not much fun, and those who are fond of Cohl’s animation will find little of interest here.

The Enchanted Glasses (1907)

aka Les verres enchantes
Article 4655 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-14-2014
Directed by Segundo de Chomon
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Magic short

A manic magician makes a female magician appear; the latter then performs several tricks with dancing girls.

What we have here is a variation on the Melies-style magic short, in which a magician appears and does a variety of tricks. The glasses in question are not spectacles, but drinking glasses; they come into play about halfway through the short in which the magician captures the essences of the dancing ladies in some drinking glasses, and then makes them appear and disappear in the glasses as she pours water to and from them. This is easily the most striking sequence in the short. The rest of it is smoothly done, but there’s not much here that I haven’t seen before; still, it is moderately entertaining.

The Eclipse: Courtship of the Sun and the Moon (1907)

aka L’eclipse du soleil un pleine lune
Article 4654 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-13-2014
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies
Country: France
What it is: Comic special effects short

An astronomer hosts a get-together so that he and his fellows can observe a rare occurrence; an eclipse of the sun by the moon.

I’ve always been rather fond of this Melies short, largely due to the sections that do work. However, I did notice on this watching that it’s somewhat marred by the opening and closing sequences with the astronomer; though overtly comic, it’s not really all that amusing and takes up too much of the running time. The best part of the short is the special effects sequences in the middle. There’s a sequence where various heavenly bodies pass by, including the cranky guy on Saturn (a regular Melies character) who gets into a tussle with another heavenly body over a woman lying on a crescent moon. There’s also a surreal and oddly beautiful segment showing various heavenly bodies raining down from the heavens. However, the high point of this one is easily the eclipse itself, largely because it turns out to be something of a racy joke; watch the faces of the sun and the moon during this sequence and you should get an idea of what is REALLY going on here. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised; after all, the title does mention the “courtship” of the sun and the moon. This would be one of Melies’s best shorts if the beginning and ending sequences were trimmed down.