Jean Taris, champion de France (1931)

aka Taris, roi de l’eau; Jean Taris, Swimming Champion
Article 4860 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-1-2015
Directed by Jean Vigo
Featuring Jean Taris
Country: France
What it is: Documentary

Jean Taris swims.

Thanks to Walt Lee’s “Reference Guide to Fantastic Films”, this project is taking me into some truly unusual areas. I certainly didn’t expect to be covering a sports documentary as part of this series, but that’s what this short appears to be. The copy I found was narrated in French without English subtitles, but from what I gather, the documentary is supposedly about learning how to swim like French champion swimmer Jean Taris. That’s all well and good, but where’s the fantastic content? I’d have to say it’s the cinematic style of Jean Vigo. He uses any number of cinematic techniques to enhance the visual aspect of the production, including running the film backwards (there are reverse shots of Taris diving into the water), slow motion, and double exposure; the final technique pops up in the end where a fully clothed Jean Taris appears to walk on water. The emphasis often seems to be upon the texture of the water, especially during the slow motion segments where the foam and bubbles of the water seem to take on a life of their own. The end result is a movie that, despite being a documentary, often looks like an abstract work of art; if you didn’t know you were watching footage of someone swimming, you’d not be sure what you were seeing at times. As a result, the movie slips into the realm of the fantastic by its non-realistic values. It’s very interesting, and in some ways, I don’t think it matters I couldn’t understand the narration; it works just as well without it.

Julius Caesar (1910)

aka Giulio Cesare
Article 4806 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-25-2016
Directed by Giovanni Pastroni
Featuring Giovanni Pastroni, Luigi Mele
Country: Italy
What it is: Shakespearean adaptation

Brutus is drawn into a conspiracy to assassinate Julius Caesar when the latter is crowned emperor.

I’ve never really quite grasped the purpose of doing silent movie versions of Shakespeare’s plays; after all, it’s the words that are the main appeal, and that’s the one element that silent versions can’t really use. Therefore, they end up being more celebrations of the declamatory acting style associated with productions of the bard’s works, so we get a lot of arm-waving. This short version of the play wisely tries to emphasize the spectacle, so we get parades through the city and (of course) the assassination sequence, though the latter is marred by the fact that it is painfully obvious that not one of the knives is in danger of breaking Caesar’s skin. The fantastic content includes a precognitive dream of the assassination and the appearance of a ghost in the final moments. In some ways, this cinematic adaptation is decent enough for what it is, but it’s certainly not the best choice for a full enjoyment of the original play.

J’accuse (1919)

J’ACCUSE (1919)
aka I Accuse
Article 4783 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-17-2015
Directed by Abel Gance
Featuring Romuald Joube, Severin-Mars, Maryse Dauvray
Country: France
What it is: Anti-war epic

A poet is in love with a married woman who is married to a brutish and jealous man. When war breaks out, the woman is kidnapped by German soldiers, and both the poet and the husband join the army, and end up in the same unit.

Like the last feature length silent movie I’ve seen (CIVILIZATION), this is an anti-war movie. However, there are at least two major differences between the two movies. Whereas the earlier movie was made before its American audience got involved in World War I, this one (intended for French audiences) was made after the war had ended and people were ready to take stock of the event. Also, whereas the earlier movie suffered from preachiness and a tendency to be simplistic, this one chose instead to anchor itself in a solid story and to take a good look at the cost of the war to the human soul. Usually I don’t care for movies where the central plot element is a love triangle, but they’re rarely used to as good an effect as this one does. I’m impressed that the movie goes in unexpected directions; for example, when the poet and the husband end up in the same unit, I wasn’t expecting that their love for the same woman would end up actually making them bond. I also admire the way they ultimately manage to make the brutish husband a sympathetic character and one capable of growth. I also think the ultimate message of the movie is more complex than simply “War is Bad!”; rather, it seems to saying that if there is war (and there will be), than it is up to the survivors to live their lives in a way that actually made it worth being fought. As for the fantastic content, there is a certain grotesque feel to some of the scenes, and there’s a repeated visual motif of dancing skeletons. However, the primary content occurs at the climax, but since it’s the most famous scene of the movie, it’s not a huge spoiler; those who died in the war rise from their graves and march on the living, and even though it may be a mass hallucination, the movie leaves the reality of the event rather ambiguous. I found this one powerful and immensely moving.

Die Jungen Jakobiter (1960)

aka The Young Jacobites
Article 4638 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-25-2014
Directed by John Reeve
Featuring Francesca Annis, Jeremy Bulloch, Frazer Hines
Country: UK
What it is: Children’s adventure tale

In the eighteenth century, the Bonnie Prince Charlie, on the run from the British army, takes refuge in a castle on the Isle of Sky. A group of children on the island become the Young Jacobites, who plan to aid and protect the prince until a ship arrives that will take him to France.

This movie from the Children’s Film Foundation eluded me when it was first on my hunt list, and eventually made it to my “ones that got away” list. Fortunately, it came to light on a German DVD that (also fortunately) featured the English soundtrack. It appears that the movie originally was serialized in nine parts, but it appears to have been edited into three parts on the DVD. I’ve seen quite a few CFF movies now, and this is easily the best of the bunch, as well as one of the earliest; it has action, comedy, generally fine acting and, except for some bad sword-fighting here and there, it generally avoids cheesiness. The original ran about 139 minutes, while this copy runs under two hours, though the missing footage may include repeated credits and overlap scenes; there does not appear to be anything significant missing.

However, there is the issue of the fantastic content yet to deal with, as you’ll notice I give no mention of it in the description. That’s because the fantastic content consists of what amounts to little more than a framing device. Two of the children are from modern times, and they stumble across a threshold stone that takes them back into history, where they apparently existed in previous lives; while in the past, they make no mention of the present, nor do they seem to be surprised they have gone back in time. In fact, with a slight change at the beginning and ending, it could have easily been shot without the fantastic content, so in this case, it seems little more than a gimmick.

Journey to the Far Side of the Sun (1969)

aka Doppelganger
Article 4625 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-8-2014
Directed by Robert Parrish
Featuring Roy Thinnes, Ian Hendry, Patrick Wymark
Country: UK
What it is: Science fiction

When it is discovered that there is a planet on the other side of the sun directly opposite the Earth in the Earth’s orbit, an expedition is sent out to investigate it.

I saw this movie many years ago, so this viewing is in essence a return to it. Unfortunately, this is one of those cases that a re-viewing is bound to be a very different experience from the first viewing. If you’ve seen the movie already, than you know that the movie builds up to one humdinger of a revelation, and I’m willing to bet that if anything sticks in your memory about this movie, it will be that revelation. My problem is that it’s one of those revelations that, if you stop to think about it, raises more questions and issues than it answers, and while I watched this movie this time, those questions and issues were always foremost in my mind and colored the movie considerably, whereas they simply didn’t exist on my first viewing. I won’t go into more detail here except to say that the revelation involves a “coincidence” that seems to go beyond all scientific explanation in favor of poetical or mystical explanation, and that the movie never quite addresses the “why” of the revelation. Still, despite this problem, the movie is an enjoyable watch, at least partially because the solid acting from everyone involved, the appeal of the special effects and scene design (which is something I’d expect from the work of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson), and some of the details of the story. There are things that don’t work, though; there’s an espionage subplot that is brought up only to be summarily dropped, the movie indulges in trippy sequences similar to those in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY for no good reason, and once the big revelation is made, the movie doesn’t really have anywhere good to go with it. It is worth catching at least once, if for no other reason that it might make a subject for interesting discussion afterwards.

Jaws of Satan (1981)

Article 4598 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-4-2014
Directed by Bob Claver
Featuring Fritz Weaver, Gretchen Corbett, Jon Korkes
Country: USA
What it is: A mess

A druid curse results in Satan taking the form of a giant cobra with the intent on killing a priest who is descended from an ancient enemy. When other people are also killed, doctors try to investigate while authorities try to hush it up for fear it will interfere with the opening of a new dog track.

This movie attempts to be a rip-off of JAWS, a “nature on the loose” animal attack flick, and an “ancient curse coming down on the offspring” movie all at one time, with a few touches of THE OMEN and THE EXORCIST thrown into the mix. If this sounds like an awkward and unwieldy mix of fantastic subgenres in theory, it’s even worse in practice. Part of the problem is that the types of horror involved are incompatible; the ancient curse premise implies a specific individual is to be tied to the horror, but the other premises imply that the horror would strike anyone. The movie makes no sense because it never even tries to resolve this contradiction; it tries to have it both ways. It’s almost painful watching how badly this movie tries to tie in the government cover-up/dog track subplot with the main story, and you know the only reason the movie is doing this is to make the story more similar to JAWS; a good screenwriter wouldn’t have strained himself to work it out, but would have dropped the subplot altogether. The movie is badly edited (there are moments where it’s impossible to tell just what happened), has unnecessary scenes (such as the attempted rape), and is just not scary. There are worse movies out there, but not very many that are even more ill-conceived than this one.

Jack the Ripper (1976)

Article 4456 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-20-2014
Directed by Jesus Franco
Featuring Klaus Kinski, Josephine Chaplin, Herbert Fux
Country: Switzerland / West Germany
What it is: Jack the Ripper movie

A doctor who specializes in charity cases is murdering and mutilating prostitutes. The police try to catch him.

The movie is focused and coherent, which is something I can’t always say about a Jesus Franco film. The acting is generally good, though it is sometimes difficult to tell through a dubbing job that isn’t particularly good. It’s also nice that the sex scenes are actually relevant to the story, and that’s usually a sign that it’s one of Franco’s better films. It is also a bit on the obvious side, not particularly original, and though it does generate a bit of suspense on occasion, it has some dull stretches. Still, it is one of Franco’s films that can be enjoyed by people who aren’t particular fans of the director, and it does look like he took a little more care with this one.

Jubilee (1978)

JUBILEE (1978)
Article 4387 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-8-2013
Directed by Derek Jarman
Featuring Jenny Runacre, Nell Campbell, Toyah Wilcox
Country: UK
What it is: Postpunk art film

Queen Elizabeth is transported by her astrologer into England 400 years in the future to witness a punkish, post-apocalyptic vision of the future.

This is an art film, and though I don’t object to giving them a try, I must confess that I’m no expert on them. So instead of trying to analyze what the movie is trying to do and how it’s trying to do it, all I can do is try to give a vague sense of whether the movie speaks to me in any way. It was quite a ways into the movie before I began to sense that there was a point to it all, and that was only when the movie showed a few hints of having some sort of a story; up to that point, the movie seemed to me to be a pretentious exercise in stylistic overkill on the theme of nihilistic meaninglessness. It might be more meaningful to someone who was part of the English punk scene in the late seventies, but I wasn’t there, and though I do enjoy some of the music of that era, I have little use for its attitude and fashion statements, and those are the aspects that get most of the attention here. There’s lots of sex, lots of violence, some music, and lots of dialogue that, if you don’t find it utterly fascinating, is more likely to make your eyes glaze over. In the end, I can’t say that I got much out of this one.

Jupiter’s Thunderballs (1903)

aka Le tonnerre de Jupiter
Article 4169 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-1-2013
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies

The fearsome god Jupiter prepares to wield his terrible thunderbolts… that is, if he can get them to work and not hurt himself in the process.

Quite frankly, this is one of Georges Melies’s stranger shorts, a circumstance that is only made even more prominent by the fact that the soundtrack on my copy substitutes sound effects for music. There seems to be a bit of a story involving him trying to recharge his thunderbolts and to try to get it to rain so he can use them, but the actions is more than a little confusing at times. Melies plays Jupiter as a rotund buffoon who is his own worst enemy. It’s interesting, but I don’t think he quite pulls this one off.

Joan of Arc (1900)

JOAN OF ARC (1900)
aka Jeanne d’Arc
Article 4165 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-24-2013
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Bleuette Barnon, Georges Melies, Jeanne d’Alcy
Country: France
What it is: Biography of a saint

Joan of Arc is called on by visions of saints to help France defeat their English conquerors.

It might be interesting some time to make a list of real-life people whose life stories have qualified in one way or another for this series. This adds another one to the list, as the appearances of the saints to Joan does qualify as fantastic content, and the movie does include that scene, as well as a sequence at the end where we see Joan in heaven. This appears to have been a very ambitious project for its time; it runs over ten minutes. The movie is also hand-tinted, and has a narrator. One of the more interesting things about the latter is his tendency to go off on tangents about the movie itself, commenting on the appearance of Georges Melies in several different roles, as well as pointing out how the parade sequence used the same extras again and again (having them run around the back of the scenery to reappear), and even pointing out the Melies logo in the corner in one scene for copyright reasons. It’s more historically interesting than it is fun to watch, but it has its moments.