Ham and the Sausage Factory (1915)

Article 4207 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-20-2013
Directed by Marshall Neilan
Featuring Lloyd Hamilton, Bud Duncan, Charles Inslee
Country: USA
What it is: Slapstick shenanigans

Two starving bums are tempted into taking a job with a grocer who has a sausage making machine in his basement. One man makes the sausages. The other is assigned the task of providing the raw materials for the sausages; dogs, stray or otherwise.

This one ended up on my “ones that got away” list, but I was quickly pointed to a source for it. It’s your basic manic slapstick silent comedy, and let’s face it, it really isn’t in the best of taste. Still, I do think it is interesting to consider in the light of the fact that it’s one of the later manifestations of one of the earliest cinematic science fiction contrivances – the automatic sausage-making machine. In this one, some of the sausages even come to life and follow one of the men around a bit; this adds to the fantastic content. It’s hardly a comedy classic, but I do have to marvel at the chutzpah of this one.

The Hand of the Artist (1907)

Article 4199 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-8-2013
Directed by Walter R. Booth
Cast unknown
Country: UK
What it is: Trick short

Photographs come to life after having been manipulated by a pair of hands.

I found two videos for this short on YouTube; one was two minutes long, and the other was only one minute. The two minute video seems to consist of two shorts, both of which have the title THE HAND OF THE ARTIST; in one, an artist draws a photograph-quality picture of two characters who then come to life and interact. In the other, the hands tear in half a photograph of two people so that each person is in a separate half of the tear; he then crumples them and places them on a board where they come to life as their respective people and perform a cake-walk. The second video included only the second of these shorts.

Now according to IMDB, the plot description is “An artist draws a coster(sic) couple who come to life and dance a cakewalk.” Though I have no idea what the word “coster” means in this context (if it’s a misspelling, I have no idea what the word is supposed to be), I can’t help but notice that the description doesn’t quite match either of these two shorts individually; in the first, there’s no cakewalk, and in the second, there’s no drawing of the couple. The description does, however, work for both shorts taken together, so maybe it is a single short.

Another odd detail about the IMDB listing is that it is described in the trivia section as the “first British animated cartoon”. If so, then I’m wondering just where the “animation” is. When the pictures come to life, it’s obviously live action footage we’re seeing and not animation. The building of the picture in the first short might qualify, though it looks more like an interesting special effect than animation per se. On its own terms, it’s fairly entertaining to watch; it just seems to raise a few questions in the watching of it.

ADDENDUM: Since I wrote this, a fact came up that clarifies things. It appears the two-minute version I saw was really two clips from the whole short, which runs closer to six minutes. This explains the plot description questions I had, as well as making it quite possible that I never saw the part of the short that was animated.

How to Stop a Motor Car (1902)

Article 4164 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-23-2013
Directed by Percy Stow
Featuring Cecil M. Hepworth, T.C. Hepworth, Claude Whitten
Country: UK
What it is: Comic trick short

After a policeman is run over by a car he is trying to stop, he consults another policeman on the proper method of stopping a motor vehicle.

My hat’s off to Percy Stow for this one; it’s a one-joke premise, but it’s a pretty amusing joke, at least to my eyes. In a sense, I see it as something of a sequel to HOW IT FEELS TO BE RUN OVER, only this time, there’s some clear fantastic content; after the policeman is run over, he is scattered into several pieces, which reassemble themselves through the use of stop-motion animation, though it is clear that the policeman does suffer some trauma as a result of the accident. The correct method of stopping a car also falls under the category of the fantastic (I certainly wouldn’t try it in real life), but I refuse to give that away for anyone interested in seeing the film. This one was fun.

The Human Fly (1902)

aka L’homme mouche
Article 4149 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-5-2013
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Trick short

A Russian dancer is so talented he can even dance on the walls.

Though the cast isn’t credited, I’m assuming that’s Melies himself as the Russian dancer. If so, then I’m not only impressed with his ability to develop special effects (which come off smoothly in this short), but his dexterity and athleticism as a performer. He is constantly on the move here, dancing, doing gymnastic feats, and even crawling around all fours like a fly walking on the wall. This short isn’t in the best of condition, but the hand-coloring is also very well done. Though it’s not one of his major works, it’s very well done and a lot of fun.

How the Old Woman Caught the Omnibus (1903)

aka Stop That Bus!
Article 4148 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-4-2013
Directed by Percy Stow
Cast unknown
Country: UK
What it is: Comic trick short

An old woman is determined to get a ride on the omnibus, despite the fact that the bus does not want to stop for her and runs her over twice.

Since the old woman survives being run over twice, and is able to drag the omnibus backwards by hand, we’re dealing with superpowers here, so it easily passes the fantastic content test. The superpowers are the main gags of this comic short; the old woman here is somebody to be reckoned with, as the man who gets beaten with her umbrella twice will testify. It’s a silly, simple fun silent short.

How It Feels to be Run Over (1900)

Article 4147 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-3-2013
Directed by Cecil M. Hepworth
Featuring May Clark and Cecil M. Hepworth
Country: UK
What it is: Trauma by proxy

Oh, is that car coming straight for me? Yes, it is! They’re waving at me to move, but I can’t!! What’ll I do??? What’ll I do???????!

You die… or, at least the camera does. What we have here is your basic trick short in which a camera has been set up to catch the view of an automobile racing straight towards you and hitting you. Actually, I’m a bit curious as to how it was done, unless the camera itself was sacrificed in the making of the film. And I’m still not quite sure of the significance of the phrase “Oh, Mother will be pleased.” Nonetheless, this is an amusing silent short. Still, I’m not quite sure if there’s any fantastic content here; being hit by a car is horrible, but it’s not quite in the realm of horror, and though it could be argued that the final words are those of the camera (making it a fantasy), the camera is merely a substitute for the viewer. It’s an odd little silent short.

Die Hamburger Krankheit (1979)

aka The Hamburg Syndrome
Article 4146 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-2-2013
Directed by Peter Fleischmann
Featuring Helmut Griem, Fernando Arrabal, Carline Seiser
Country: France / West Germany
What it is: Epidemic black comedy?

When a plague breaks out in Hamburg, several people break out of quarantine and make their way out of the city… only to find that the plague is more widespread.

For the first half of the movie, the odd touches and eccentricities of some of the various characters weren’t prominent enough to shake me from the belief that the movie had a more or less focused story to tell. Then, at shortly after the halfway point, an event occurs that is so audaciously unexpected that you find yourself wondering where the story would go from there. Unfortunately, what does happen is that the eccentricities and weirdness that was kept in check during the first half take over in the second, and the movie turns from a drama into a freaky black comedy. It’s as if the inmates have taken over the asylum, removing the center of the movie and leaving us confused and rudderless. This still might have worked if the characters had been fun and interesting rather than unpleasant and annoying, but such is not the case. There’s still the odd moment here and there that works, but to me, this is a prime example of what happens when a movie goes off the tracks at the halfway point.