Spiritualist Photographer (1903)

SPIRITUALIST PHOTOGRAPHER (1903)
aka Le portrait spirituel
Article 4265 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-15-2013
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies
Country: France
What it is: Magic film

A magician turns a woman into a portrait of herself, and then back.

This is a pretty ordinary Melies trick film, and I’d probably be largely finished with this review if it weren’t for one interesting little touch. It opens with a man holding up two placards, one in French and one in English, which convey to the viewer the knowledge that a dissolve effect will be demonstrated in the short without the use of a black background, and that this is a novel effect, and, if the truth be told, I do remember that this particular trick was almost always done with a black background up to this point. I don’t know just how difficult it was to switch to a technique using a white background, but it must have been tricky enough for Melies to take the trouble to explain the change in the film itself. If anything, this does demonstrate that the purpose of some of these magic shorts was to experiment with new techniques, which makes this short at least a little more interesting historically.

Soviet Toys (1924)

SOVIET TOYS (1924)
aka Sovietski igrushki
#4264
Date: 7-14-2013
Directed by Dziga Vertov
No cast
Country: USSR
What it is: Animated Soviet propaganda

A greedy capitalist devours everything and gives nothing back. Can the worker and the peasant force him to put his excess funds into the state bank?

What we have here is another foray in Soviet propaganda; it’s basically an allegory about conditions that arose in USSR at the time that Lenin instituted a New Economic Policy that resulted in the rise of greedy entrepreneurs. Much of the imagery is grotesque, especially the sequence where the capitalist gorges himself, vomits into a barrel, and then drinks the contents of the barrel. It verges into fantasy several times, the most striking of which is the merging of the peasant and the worker into a single two-headed creature that was capable of extracting the funds from the capitalist. The animation has a vaguely Emile Cohl-ish quality to it, which makes it a bit primitive for the time. I found it somewhat interesting but also quite predictable at times, and it is best viewed as a product of its time and place.

Captain Applejack (1931)

CAPTAIN APPLEJACK (1931)
Article 4249 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-14-2013
Directed by Hobart Henley
Featuring John Halliday, Mary Brian, Kay Strozzi
Country: USA
What it is: Almost an “old dark house” movie

An aristocrat, bored of his staid existence, decides to sell his ancestral home and take off for a life of adventure. He finds himself in the middle of one when he encounters a Russian duchess on the run from a spy. In the process, he discovers that the ancestral founder of the home was a pirate, and that a fortune may be hidden in the house.

This movie features hidden passages, a concealed treasure, travelers dropping by the mansion in the middle of rainy night when their car breaks down, and a spiritualist. Put these elements together in a different way and you’d have the makings of an “old dark house” thriller for sure, but this one doesn’t arrange them in the usual way, and isn’t trying for that type of thrill. Actually, the most interesting fantastic element in this one is the implication that the main character may actually be something of a reincarnation of his pirate ancestor, and one sequence of the movie takes place aboard a pirate ship, with the various cast members taking on dual roles as pirates and their victims. It’s based on a play, and the first half suffers somewhat from being rather stage-bound, but it opens up a bit in the second half. It’s also rather racy at times in a way that certainly wouldn’t be allowed when the Code went into effect. All in all, this is an interesting curiosity.

The Cabbage-Patch Fairy (1900)

THE CABBAGE-PATCH FAIRY (1900)
aka La fee aux choux, ou la naissance des enfants
Article 4120 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-30-2012
Directed by Alice Guy
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Novelty short

A woman displays babies found in a cabbage patch.

Sometimes the title is the main source of the fantastic content of the movie; if this one had been called WOMAN FINDING BABIES HIDDEN IN A GARDEN, no one would have seen any fantastic content at all. It’s the title that tells us that the woman is a fairy, and the garden is where the babies come from. Well, at least the movie doesn’t steal any special effects from Melies, but that’s because there are no special effects to speak of; the babies are hidden behind garden displays, and she just finds them and sets them down in our line of vision. And that’s about all this slight little short gives us.

Sonicman (1979)

SONICMAN (1979)
aka Supersonic Man
Article 4060 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-19-2012
Directed by Juan Piquer Simon
Featuring Antonio Cantafora, Cameron Mitchell, Jose Luis Ayestaran
Country: Spain
What it is: Superhero hijinks

Supersonic Man comes from outer space to prevent an evil genius’s plan to conquer the world.

If you’ve committed to making a low-budget rip on SUPERMAN and you know it’s going to end up bad, you could do worse than make it at least colorful and goofy, which this one does. It has Cameron Mitchell as the villain, a flame-throwing robot, lots of people running around with blasters, a comic relief begging wino and a stupid theme song. Granted, it’s not in the same league as INFRA-MAN as far as inspired goofiness goes, but it’s at least much better than THE PUMA MAN. And, truth to tell, I would have liked to see a sequel… but only if they followed up on the ending of this one and gave the comic-relief wino the super powers as they seem to be doing. But I’m not going to hold my breath for the release of SUPERSONIC WINO.

I Killed Einstein, Gentlemen (1970)

I KILLED EINSTEIN, GENTLEMEN (1970)
aka Zabil jsem Einsteina, panove
Article 3905 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-13-2012
Posting Date: 4-23-2012
Directed by Oldrich Lipsky
Featuring Jiri Sovak, Jana Brejchova, Lubomir Lipsky
Country: Czechoslovakia
What it is: Science fiction comedy

When a new bomb causes women to grow beards, a desperate government decides to fix the problem by having the inventor of a time machine go back into time and assassinate Albert Einstein, the father of modern physics, thus preventing the development of the bomb. However, meddling with history isn’t always easy, and has its side effects…

What we have here is a variation on the old idea of going back in time and assassinating Hitler before he became a dictator, and the movie does give the original concept some lip service in a rather amusing scene. The movie opens with a scene which looks for all the world like two men kissing, but you’ll quickly find that that’s not what you’re really seeing. However, it is a great way to catch your attention and it drew me into a movie that, at least for the first half, is one of the funniest comedies I’ve seen in a long time; I found myself laughing out loud quite a few times during this part. It loses a bit of steam in the second half, mostly due to the fact that the addition of a resistance group that is trying to prevent the assassination of Einstein complicates the plot enough that you’re distracted from the humor by trying to figure out who everybody is and what is going on. Still, there’s a few clever moments in the second half as well, and the style of direction makes me wonder if Terry Gilliam might have seen this movie. Despite the weaker second half, I still think the movie is a creative and interesting comedy overall, and I highly recommend it .

Vargtimmen (1968)

VARGTIMMEN (1968)
aka Hour of the Wolf
Article 3879 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-19-2012
Posting Date: 3-28-2012
Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Featuring Max von Sydow, Liv Ullmann, Gertrud Fridh
Country: Sweden
What it is: A descent into madness

An artist, tortured by memories and unable to sleep at nights, shares his darkest memories with his wife. He is invited to a party by the owner of the island… but what do the owner and his friends intend for him?… and are they even real?

Many Bergman films have touches of horror to them; I’ve had the chance to cover several of them already. However, this is the one that is usually thought of as his horror film, and, given some of the events and imagery during the final half of the movie, I’d say that’s fairly accurate, though it’s certainly not one that can be easily parsed out. It most reminds me of REPULSION and THE TENANT, and both Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann are excellent as the artist and his wife who has loved him so long that she has begun to see the ghosts that haunt him. Some of the imagery and events are truly haunting; there’s a shocking encounter with a young boy on a cliff side, and a nightmarish sequence where a woman finally removes her hat. It’s not Bergman at his very best; for one thing, it does take a little too long before things get moving. But even with that in mind, it’s fascinating. The script is apparently a scaled-down, reworked version of an earlier one called THE CANNIBALS, which Bergman abandoned because he thought it would have been too expensive and involved to make; however, I would love to have seen that one.