Number 1 (1939)

NUMBER 1 (1939)
Article 4286 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-9-2013
Directed by Harry Smith
No cast
Country: USA
What it is: Abstract animation

No plot.

After noticing that this one had 46 votes on IMDB, I checked for user comments and didn’t find any. I’m not really surprised; when it comes to abstract animation, even if you can decide whether you like it or not, it’s rather difficult to capture in words your experience. I found this on YouTube, though it seems edited together with two other movies by the same director, NUMBER 2 and NUMBER 3, and since there’s no real break in the musical background (which makes me suspect that the music wasn’t added until all three were edited together), I would be hard pressed to say exactly where each one begins and ends. I’m assuming this one is about the first two and a half minutes, and though no plot is apparent, I do think part of it is an abstract meditation on sex, conception, and growth in the womb, based largely on a sort of Rorschach-style interpretation of the abstract symbols. I won’t cover the other two here, but I do think there is a difference between the patterns of the symbols that do seem to indicate three different segments. Interesting, but, as stated above, difficult to describe.

A Nightmare (1896)

aka Le cauchemar
Article 4232 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-18-2013
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Very early trick film

A man dreams that a beautiful woman appears on his bed… but she turns into a minstrel and then a clown, and then things get weird.

One of Melies’s common motifs was of the innocent bystander (or, in this case, bysleeper) who is befuddled and put out by the transformations made possible by the use of special effects. This may be the first such example of this type of movie, as our sleeper is startled by the sudden appearance of a beautiful woman, who suddenly turns into a minstrel singer, and then a clown. Then the moon tries to eat his arm, so the sleeper has to punch the moon back to its proper place in the sky. It’s simple and short, and sets a template that he would return to several times. As such, it is historically one of his more important films, and it is quite entertaining in its own way as well.

The Night Watchman (1938)

Article 4229 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-15-2013
Directed by Chuck Jones
Featuring the voices of Mel Blanc and Margaret Hill-Talbot
Country: USA
What it is: Animated lesson in bravery

A young cat must take over his father’s night watchman duties in the kitchen due to the latter’s illness. There he encounters a gang of tough, bullying mice. Will he be brave enough to face them down?

Let’s face it; in animated cat-and-mouse stories, cats are rarely the heroes; they’re mostly portrayed as scary monsters terrorizing these cute little mice. Occasionally, it’s been pointed out to me that in real life, people would probably prefer to have a cat around than to have their homes overrun with mice. Well, here’s an example that reverses the usual animated approach; the cat is the sympathetic character, and the mice are ugly and brutal, and you’re looking forward to the moment when the cat gains the courage to give them their comeuppance. Granted, in order for this to work, the mice have to be bigger than the cat (which they are), which, come to think of it, is why mice are usually the more sympathetic characters in these cartoons, because they’re the tiny ones. This is a typical example of early Chuck Jones, with more of an emphasis on whimsy than outright humor; in fact, the cartoon emphasizes the story over the bits of humor that do appear. This is still not the Warner Brothers animation department at its best, but one can definitely see an improvement over the revue-styled entertainments they churned out only half a decade earlier.

The Night Before Christmas (1905)

Article 4228 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-13-2013
Directed by Edwin S. Porter
Cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Christmas tale

Santa prepares for his yearly journey, and so do the children waiting for him.

This is a charming little Christmas short, alternating scenes of Santa preparing for his journey and scenes of a family preparing for Santa’s arrival. It’s simply conceived; we see scenes of Santa feeding the reindeer, making toys, and checking his naughty/nice list mixed with scenes of the children hanging up their stockings, trying to sneak out of bed, and having a pillow fight. The best scene in the short is a continuous special effects shot of Santa and his reindeer trotting through the landscape on their way to deliver the presents. The scene also answered a nagging question I had. If Santa doesn’t have any help (he’s seen working alone in each of his scenes), how can he possibly get all the work done in time? Well, the answer is simple. During the delivery sequence, we see Santa bypassing several places (including a whole city) without stopping or even slowing down. I can only conclude from this that there were a lot more naughty children than nice ones on this particular year, thereby making it unnecessary for him to employ the extra elf help that is his wont. And, considering that he makes toys the old-fashioned way, it’s good that he has enough magic to decorate the whole tree with a sweep of his hand; the last thing I wanted to see was Santa spending ten minutes hanging tinsel.

Neptune’s Daughters (1900)

Article 4226 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-11-2013
Director unknown
Cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Trick dance short

Ghosts turn into dancing girls who ply their trade while superimposed over a ship.

Back when I saw DAVEY JONES’ LOCKER (which consisted of footage of a dancing skeleton superimposed over a ship), I was mostly taken by the pointlessness of the exercise. This one manages to be even slightly less interesting. According to IMDB, it was edited from another short called BALLET OF THE GHOSTS by superimposing the ship image with that one. Let’s write it off as another dancing girl short, and move on, shall we?

The Naked World of Harrison Marks (1967)

aka The Dream World of Harrison Marks
Article 4205 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-17-2013
Directed by George Harrison Mark
Starring George Harrison Marks, Chris Bromfield, Deborah DeLacey
Country: UK
What is is: Bizarre nudie

The life of photographer/movie-maker Harrison Marks is explored, and he is featured in several dream sequences.

Here we take another foray into the world of exploitation. Harrison Marks was a nudie director who must have made something of a name for himself, and if this movie is any indication (a fake documentary about himself as a photographer of beautiful women), he at least had some peculiar and offbeat ideas about how to approach his subject. Perhaps the most interesting thing conceptually about this one is that it deals with the subject of identity; there’s a lot of discussion about how Marks sees himself in contrast to how he is seen by others, and the dream sequences are sometimes his own, and sometimes those of other people. This is an interesting enough subject that I really wish his skill as a film-maker was strong enough to pull it off, but when you consider that his ultimate goal was probably to see how many topless women he could get on the screen, maybe it’s no surprise that the movie is more of a curious oddity than anything else. It’s the dream sequences that push this one into the realm of the fantastic, with the final sequence (a parody of a horror movie in which he finds himself in a script being judged for his faults by a vampire-like character) being the most notable in this regard. Let’s chalk it up to being another one of those odd types of movies that this project occasionally throws my way.

N.P. il segreto (1973)

N.P. IL SEGRETO (1973)
aka N.P.
Article 4153 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-10-2013
Directed by Silvano Agosti
Featuring Francisco Rabal, Irene Papas, Edy Biagetti
Country: Italy
What it is: Dystopian political science fiction

An industrialist (who is on the verge of implementing an industrial automation solution that eliminates all workers) is kidnapped and brainwashed, and then left to wander the streets with a blank mind.

I had to rely on the Phil Hardy Overlook guide on science fiction for the above plot description; since my copy of the movie is in unsubtitled Italian, I found it nearly impenetrable, even with the plot description for help. I think the movie consists of roughly three segments; the first features the main character’s abduction and brainwashing, the second has him wandering around the city as something of a homeless zombie, and the third has him becoming a worker and being politicized. Still, I do have trouble telling what is going on most of the time; I found myself wondering during the brainwashing sequence whether some of the events were really happening or all in the character’s mind. I can catch certain distinct moments; I know that one sequence involves a visit to an automated Catholic mass, and I have a certain sense of what’s going on at the end of the movie. But not being able to understand Italian is a huge setback here, and even if I did, I might find the rather distracted directorial style would have made the movie difficult even if I did understand the language. So I’m going to have to withhold judgment on this one, though I do suspect that the movie isn’t quite as satisfying as it might have been.