Fun in a Butcher Shop (1901)

Article 4107 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-15-2012
Director unknown
Cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Sausage machine

Butchers buy animals and turn them into sausage with their handy sausage machine. But they don’t stop at animals…

When I first got this movie, it was suggested I check out the synopsis from the original Edison catalog on IMDB to clarify some of the action. Though I originally didn’t think the action needed clarification, I’m glad I did. Basically, a curious man is also tossed into the machine, which took the science fiction aspects of this short and pushed it in the direction of horror. What I didn’t notice and what the synopsis clarified was two points. First, the curious man is supposed to be a Chinaman. The second is that after he is thrown into the machine, what emerges is not sausages, but rats. These two facts, taken together, point to a truly ugly racism underlying the short, a fact which pretty much curdled any enjoyment I would have gotten from it. That’s one of the perils of delving into other periods of time; you find yourself occasionally confronted with some modes of thinking that are hard to stomach.

Fantasmagorie (1908)

Article 4106 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-14-2012
Directed by Emile Cohl
No cast
Country: France
What it is: Abstract animated adventure

A clown in a theater has to deal with a woman with an enormous hat sitting in front of him, but soon embarks on a series of abstract adventures.

Emile Cohl was the first director of animated shorts in film history, and this may be his earliest work in that mode. It starts out with a simple comic situation, but soon the clown begins to warp through space, becoming a jack-in-the-box, encountering an elephant, escaping from the police, riding away on a horse… no story, just a series of scenarios that mutate into each other. This would largely remain his style, and it took Winsor McCay and his short GERTIE THE DINOSAUR to really bring character animation as such to the fore. Yet there’s something really fascinating about Cohl’s early experiments with the form, and this is a good place to start.

The Famous Box Trick (1898)

aka Illusions fantasmagoriques
Article 4102 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-9-2012
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies
Country: France
What it is: Magic short

A magician does several tricks on a small child that he pulls from a box.

This is one of Melies’s magic shorts, where a magician appears and does a variety of tricks. This is one of his earlier examples, and I couldn’t help but notice that he seems to have taken extra care with the jump cuts in this one; they’re some of the smoothest I’ve seen from his oeuvre. My favorite bit has him using an ax to cut the boy into two duplicates of himself. In and of itself this one is nothing special, but at least it was made early enough in his career that it doesn’t feel that he just churned this one out.

Fantasmas en Buenos Aires (1942)

aka Ghosts of Buenos Aires
Article 4089 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-25-2012
Directed by Enrique Santos Discepelo
Featuring Pepe Arias, Maria Esther Buschiazzo, Chelo Cordero
Country: Argentina
What it is: Ghost comedy

After a clerk has an encounter with a woman who has been dead for 25 years, he finds himself becoming something of a celebrity… and is hired by a couple who believes he may be a natural medium.

This Argentine movie is in unsubtitled Spanish, but I was armed with a short synopsis to give me an idea of the general direction of the story. I do admire one thing about it; the basic premise involves a well-known urban legend (basically the same story that inspired ORSON WELLES’ GHOST STORY) but rather than using the story for the entire length of the movie, it makes it the opening act in an extended series of events involving the repercussions of the experience. Nevertheless, the synopsis I was given was only intermittently helpful; most of the comedy in this one is verbal, and the few visual gags depend on the verbal context for them to make sense. Still, I was able to figure out enough from the ending scenes to be able to say whether there were some true supernatural events going on or whether there was another explanation. Still, this is one of those movies where the plot is secondary to the comic situations, and the latter could not be appreciated by me due to the language barrier. Therefore, I will refrain from making any sort of evaluation on the effectiveness of this one.

Das Feuerzeug (1959)

aka The Tinder-Box
Article 4031 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-13-2012
Directed by Siegfried Hartmann
Featuring Rolf Ludwig, Heinz Schubert, Rolf Defrank
Country: East Germany
What it is: Fairy tale

A wandering soldier discovers a magic hollowed-out tree where three giant dogs guard a fortune in gold. He decides to use his money to win the love of a princess, but when he loses his money, all he has left is a tinder-box that he also found in the tree. However, the tinder-box is far from ordinary…

For the third day in a row, I’m saddled with a foreign movie sans English subtitles. However, this one is a fairy tale, and I’ve discovered that these movies are some of the easiest to follow, since the plot elements are usually pretty familiar. I’ve not read the Hans Christian Andersen story this one is based on, but it’s very easy to scope out; it’s basically a variation on the Aladdin story. Some of these German fairy tale movies are pretty dull, but this one seems solid and charming, and is perhaps one of the better ones of its ilk. Furthermore, the special effects are actually pretty decent. I enjoyed this one, even with the language problems involved.

The Fall of the House of Usher (1928)

Article 3940 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-24-2012
Posting Date: 5-28-2012
Directed by James Sibley Watson and Melville Webber
Featuring Herbert Stern, Hildegarde Watson, Melville Webber
Country: USA
What it is: Arty Poe adaptation

A traveler arrives at the house of Usher to discover that Roderick’s sister has been buried alive.

This isn’t the only adaptation of this Poe story from 1928; I covered the striking Jean Epstein version some time ago. Yet this one is equally striking, and it uses some truly astonishing camera tricks. At only 13 minutes, it is an extremely condensed version of the story, and I suspect if you aren’t familiar with the story, you’ll have a pretty tough time figuring out what’s going on. Still, I would be hard pressed to pick between the two versions; both are highly effective and have compelling imagery, with this one using the image of a hammer quite effectively. It’s worth catching.

The Force on Thunder Mountain (1978)

Article 3915 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-23-2012
Posting Date: 5-3-2012
Directed by Peter B. Good
Featuring Christopher Cain, Todd Dutson, Borge West
Country: USA
What it is: Your chance to see stock footage

A man takes his son on a camping trip to hike to Thunder Mountain. Many animals are encountered. A UFO is seen. Strange things happen.

This is one of those movies that seems to be an experiment on how little you can have happen during a movie and still call it a movie. About ninety percent of the movie is banal dialogue, hiking scenes, and animal stock footage. Sporadically, something mysterious happens, but except for a sequence where the hikers vanish from the forest and end up in a desert, the mysterious happenings are incredibly tepid. Eventually the movie works itself up to revealing the secret of Thunder Mountain, and though I’m tempted to call the revelation disappointing, the truth of the matter is that my expectations were so low by this time that the movie would have to have worked pretty hard to lower them any further. The movie has a rating of 1.6 on IMDB, and I’d say that’s pretty accurate. If I myself found the movie a bit on the painless side, that’s only because I have a weak spot for animal footage. If you don’t, then you’ll probably want to avoid this one like the plague.