Filmstudie (1926)

aka Film Study
Article 4793 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-5-2015
Directed by Hans Richter
Featuring Stella F. Simon
Country: Germany
What it is: Abstract short

Various shapes and images appear.

This is another in of the many experimental/abstract shorts made during the twenties and thirties, some of which have begun to appear in this series due to their inclusion in the Walt Lee guide. This one is considered an experiment in Dadaism, a sort of “anti-art” movement that arose during the first half of the last century. The main difference between this one and most of the others I’ve seen is that, rather than solely incorporating abstract images, it also uses more concrete images, such as floating eyeballs and a woman’s face, as well as shots of seagulls and a man swinging a sledgehammer. These images do give some variety to the proceedings, though I did find myself wondering how well these shorts would have worked during the silent era. The print I found had an obviously more modern soundtrack attached to it, and I wonder if there was specific music attached to it when it was first made. I would imagine that the musical score would be an important element for this type of film, and that a bad or badly chosen score could have a big impact on the reaction to watching the film. As it is, I found it interesting enough, though I was glad that it was pretty short.

Flying High (1931)

Article 4764 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-21-2015
Directed by Charles Reisner
Featuring Bert Lahr, Charlotte Greenwood, Pat O’Brien
Country: USA
What it is: Musical comedy

In order to get funding for his aerocopter to perform in a flying show, an inventor must marry a marriage-hungry woman who has the money.

Bert Lahr’s fame nowadays is primarily due to his having played the Cowardly Lion in THE WIZARD OF OZ; up to this point, I’m not sure I remember seeing him in anything else. Upon seeing him in a starring role in this, his first feature film, I made two discoveries: 1), that in playing the Cowardly Lion, he was just using his regular comic shtick, and 2) that comic shtick, which mostly consists of him repeating phrases twice and striking open-mouth poses, gets old very fast. I assume the shtick worked better on Broadway where he originated the role, but I suspect he didn’t tone it down when he appeared in the movie, and he ends up becoming more grotesque than funny. Fortunately, the movie does feature a solid comic performance from Charlotte Greenwood as the woman looking for a husband (Kate Smith performed the role on Broadway). The musical numbers are also fairly entertaining, though none of the original Broadway musical numbers were used. Still, the biggest attraction of this movie today is probably the pre-code sensibility of the movie, especially in a rather risque scene where a large number of chorus girls strip down to their underwear for a medical examination. For most of the movie, the fantastic content (the aerocopter invention) plays as a maguffin, but it gets used in the climax of the movie, so it finally does slip a little bit into science fiction at that time.

48 Hours to Live (1959)

48 HOURS TO LIVE (1959)
aka Med fara for livet
Article 4734 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-11-2015
Directed by Peter Bourne
Featuring Anthony Steel, Birger Malmsten, Lewis Charles
Country: Sweden / UK
What it is: Spy…uh…thriller

A reporter takes a ship to the island of Gotland to do an interview with a nuclear scientist. When the daughter of the scientist tells him she’s being held hostage by a pair of spies in order for them to get the scientist to divulge his secrets, he becomes embroiled in espionage.

Every once in a while I find myself thinking while I’m watching a movie, “I bet this is the director’s first movie… and probably his only one.” That started passing through my mind early on in this one, but I tried to cut the movie some slack by attributing some of the clumsiness and awkwardness to the substandard dubbing that no doubt took place to translate it from Swedish to English. However, that excuse went out the door when I discovered that it was filmed in English to begin with. The first half hour feels like a comedy with no sense of comic timing; the rest of it feels like a clumsily contrived spy thriller full of dead spaces. Even when it comes up with a fairly decent suspense sequence (involving two people in a deathtrap in a windmill), it fumbles it because it did such a clumsy job of setting up the method of their rescue earlier in the movie, so there’s no surprise. As for the fantastic content, there’s hardly any here; despite the spy trappings, there’s no gadgetry, and the secrets that the scientist is being forced to divulge are never discussed. That leaves only the rumor of the windmill being haunted to provide fantastic content. As far as I can tell, the English title means nothing. And, yes, this was Peter Bourne’s first and only directorial effort, though he kept busy enough as an actor.

The Fugitive Futurist (1924)

Article 4718 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-25-2014
Directed by Gaston Quiribet
Cast unknown
Country: UK
What it is: Comic special effects short

A down-on-his-luck gambler is approached by an inventor who has created a machine that can see into the future. The gambler is not interested, until he learns it can show him the winners of future horse races.

The concept of being able to make a fortune based on information from the future is interesting enough to make for a full-length movie; in fact, it seems that an 11-minute short is hardly enough to do justice to this premise. However, the premise isn’t really what this short is about; when you get down to it, the main purpose of the short is to give visual illustration to several “how it looks now/how it looks in the future” location scenarios, with scenes showing future conceptions of the House of Commons, Trafalgar Square and the Tower Bridge, for example. Actually, the scenes where the current shots of the locations melt away and rebuild into future versions of them is the most entertaining part of this short; they exhibit some clever special effects. it’s a good thing these scenes exist to give the short its fantastic content; they really only exist as one character’s imaginings, and if you consider the plot solely, it could be argued that there really is no fantastic content here. This just goes to show that the fantastic content of a movie can sometimes be based on what the movie chooses to show rather than what the movie says about those scenes.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921)

Article 4717 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-24-2014
Directed by Rex Ingram
Featuring Rudolph Valentino, Josef Swickard, Alice Terry
Country: USA
What it is: War movie

The two daughters of a wealthy Argentine rancher each marry a European; one a Frenchman and the other a German. After the death of the rancher, the husbands take their respective families back to their European homes. Then World War One breaks out, and they find themselves on opposite sides…

Given that this is a movie about WW1 rather than about the apocalypse, it’s no surprise that the title is meant to be interpreted metaphorically rather than literally. Nevertheless, the movie does give the horseman a visual representation, as well as the Beast that spawns them, and therein lies the fantastic content of this movie. To add to that content, we have the appearance of a ghost at one point (though it may be one character’s imagination), and there’s also the chance of some mystical content; a specific character may be a Christ figure, or possibly Christ himself.

As for the movie, it’s quite understandable why the Apocalypse would be invoked to represent the nastiness of World War 1, which was one of the most brutal and senseless wars in recorded history. The movie is most famous for having made a star of Rudolph Valentino, who is well cast as the libertine son of the Frenchman who finds he can no longer stand aloof from the conflict when he is on the verge of losing the woman he loves. The movie mostly focuses on his character as well as that of his father, who fled from France when he refused to serve in the military during a previous conflict; the movie focuses on the life lessons they must learn. It’s an excellent movie, well acted by all, and it has several memorable scenes. There are several other familiar names in the cast; Alan Hale plays the German father, Wallace Beery plays a German soldier, and Noble Johnson pops up as Conquest, one of the four horsemen. This one is recommended.

Der Fliegende Koffer (1922)

aka The Flying Koffer
Article 4716 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-23-2014
Directed by Lotte Reiniger
No cast
Country: Germany
What it is: Chinese fairy tale

A man visits a princess in a tower by using a flying trunk.

Several shorts by pioneer animator Lotte Reiniger have popped up on my hunt list, but this is the first one that I’ve been able to locate and see, thanks to YouTube. Unfortunately, the title cards were all in German, and I have to admit that the actual story eluded me; a reading of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale also proved not particularly helpful, as it doesn’t seem to quite match the story in this short. That being said, Reiniger’s silhouette animation technique is very striking, and if it doesn’t really manage to visually display plot details (those are hidden in the title cards), they do manage to express more than you’d expect; one can sense somewhat the emotional states of the characters. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Reiniger’s work, hopefully with English titles to help me as well.

The Frozen North (1922)

Article 4665 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-27-2014
Directed by Edward F. Cline and Buster Keaton
Featuring Buster Keaton, Joe Roberts, Sybil Seely
Country: USA
What it is: Comic melodrama

A bad man has a variety of adventures near the North pole.

This was listed in the Walt Lee guide, and according to this source, its fantastic content consists of the fact that the subway goes all the way to the North Pole. Well, that takes care of the opening gag of this Buster Keaton short, and that makes for slight fantastic content, but I spotted a possible second thing; there’s a scene of a policeman driving what can only be described as a “motorcycle sled”, a vehicle which I suspect doesn’t really exist (though I could be wrong). At any rate, any fantastic content in this short is fairly minor.

As for the short itself, my copy opens with a note that the short exists only in fragmentary condition. If it does, it’s rather hard to tell, as there doesn’t appear to be any real story; it’s just a series of gag set-pieces involving either the snowy locale or tied to the fact that the short is a parody of the movies of William S. Hart. Now I’ve seen a handful of William S. Hart shorts, but hardly enough to be really familiar with the man’s work, so there’s a chance that some of the parody is lost on me. Still, there are some fun moments here (such as his robbery of a casino), and I enjoyed it despite the fact that it is a bit uneven. Still, it’s not one of Keaton’s better shorts.

A Fantastical Meal (1900)

aka Le repas fantastique
Article 4660 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-20-2014
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Comic trick short

A family sits down to dinner but encounters difficulties when their food, and their table starts exhibiting strange behaviors.

The strange behaviors include such typical Meliesian touches as the the chairs disappearing from under their seats, the table becoming really tall, really short, vanishing and reappearing around the room. It gets weirder as it goes along when a ghostly figure appears over the table and turns into a box of dynamite (identifiable because the word “dynamite” is emblazoned across it) just as the master of the house attacks it. It’s a typical Melies short, but it the touches of humor work and it’s a fairly fun short, though I’m not quite sure how to describe the weird ending where one of the characters seems to be transformed into a bouncing bundle of clothes.

Farewell to Space Battleship Yamato: In the Name of Love (1978)

aka Saraba uchu senkan Yamato: Ai no senshitachi
Article 4659 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-19-2014
Directed by Toshio Masuda and Leiji Matsumoto
Featuring the voices of Kei Tomiyama, Yoko Asagami, Goro Naya
Country: Japan
What it is: Space opera

When the members of the Space Battleship Yamato discover that the ship is going to be retired from action and the crew split up, they defy orders and return to the ship and take off. They intend to do battle with an evil empire hidden within a white comet.

This is my first encounter with the Space Battleship Yamato, and it appears I’ve definitely come in at the wrong end. It began life in 1974 as a Japanese TV series (known as STAR BLAZERS in the United States) and then became a feature film. This was the follow-up to that film, and it was meant to mark the end of the story of Yamato, though the movie itself would spawn a second TV series on Yamato that would retell the movie with several changes. At any rate, the movie appears to be intended as an emotional end to the series for longtime followers, and to be perfectly honest, there’s no way for a first-time delver into the series to fully appreciate the intended impact.

It’s basically a two and a half hour anime space opera, and you’ll need to be used to the limited animation techniques of the form to appreciate it. Though it was intended as a feature film, I do feel it could have been easily broken up into five thirty-minute TV segments in which each section tells a discrete section of the story arc. Though I do get slightly annoyed with the climax-upon-climax-upon-climax approach to the storytelling, it does become apparent at about the two hour mark that this movie is not joking in its intent to be an end to the series. I found it a little hard to sit through the whole thing at one sitting; the animation style works better in smaller increments, and most of the movie consists of action scenes that get a bit tiresome. I do find myself really fascinated about some of the decisions that were made near the end of the movie; in particular, I admire the decision the movie makes in its approach to the ultimate climax of the film, which I didn’t expect. I doubt that the movie draws me into a desire to experience the whole series, but I suspect that this does a good job of bringing things to a close.

Formula C-12 Beirut (1966)

aka Agent 505 – Todesfalle Beirut
Article 4592 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-28-2014
Directed by Manfred R. Kohler
Featuring Frederick Stafford, Genevieve Cluny, Chris Howland
Country: West Germany / Italy / France
What it is: Spyghetti

An Interpol agent is sent to Beirut to track down a four-fingered villain called The Shiek who has an evil plan to kill all off all of the city’s inhabitants.

There’s plenty of gadgetry to add to the science fiction content of this heaping helping of Eurospy, and the plot also seems outlandish enough to also add to the fantastic content. On the plus side, the movie has some good scenes and a sense of humor. On the minus side, the story is fairly predictable, the editing is rather confusing at times, and Ennio Morricone’s score (which mostly consists of an abrasive three-note theme that gets trotted out at tense moments) is more annoying than thrilling. Overall, it’s a pretty run-of-the-mill example of the genre, making it a passable but unmemorable time-killer. I do find it interesting, however, that a pivotal character in the movie shares the same name as the director.