La legende de Rip Van Winkle (1905)

La legende de Rip Van Winkle (1905)
Article 5643 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-6-2019
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies, Andre Melies
Country: France
What it is: Another version of the Washington Irving story

Rip Van Winkle goes out to the woods and has a dream.

Melies marched to the beat of his own drummer, so I’m not really surprised that this version of the Washington Irving story only partially follows the original story; after all, he wasn’t particularly faithful to his other literary adaptations. So, instead of bowling dwarfs, we’re treated to that Melies favorite – tumbling imps. Rip Van Winkle also fights a giant snake and meets a gaggle of ghosts (if that is the correct term for a group of ectoplasms). Nevertheless, this isn’t one of his stronger works; Melies didn’t always know how to keep things consistently interesting, and so we get a few dull scenes here and there, such as one long sequence where a group of people carrying lanterns journeys through the woods, an event which brings the plot (such as it is) to a screaming halt. Still, it has its moments, and the color brightens the proceedings.

The Ghost Train (1901)

The Ghost Train (1901)
Article 5642 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-28-2019
Director unknown
Cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: A special effect

A ghostly train is seen rolling down the tracks.

In essence, all we’re seeing here is a train passing by on the tracks, but like CATCHING AN EARLY TRAIN, this silent short becomes fantastically themed by the application of a single cinematic trick; the previous movie ran its footage in reverse, and this one runs its footage in negative photography. This renders the train a ghostly white color against a dark background. It’s tempting to dismiss the film, but in truth I have to say that it does make the thing look rather eerie; I’ve seen some horror movies that don’t have a single image as effective as the one here. So I’m going to give it credit; it may be a one-trick film, but the trick is effective.

Catching an Early Train (1901)

Catching an Early Train (1901)
Article 5641 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-27-2019
Director unknown
Cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: In reverse

A man needs to dress in time to catch an early train. Will his clothes cooperate?

One thing I wonder about the very early years of film-making is at what point certain novelties started to get old. For example, this movie’s sole trick is a simple one; they filmed a man entering a room, quickly undressing, and jumping into bed, and then ran the footage backwards so it looks like he’s getting up and dressing with the clothes jumping into his hands from wherever they were thrown. Sure, it’s a fun trick if used right, and I’ve seen it used in a few other films, but I wonder if the trick still had a freshness about it at this point. And even at that, it isn’t as fun as the tricks Melies was using at this point in his career.

Birth of the Pearl (1901)

Birth of the Pearl (1901)
Article 5640 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-26-2019
Directed by F.S. Armitage
Cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Early adult film

On a stage, a woman rises from the shell of an oyster.

This is classified as a fantasy on IMDB, and insofar as women don’t grow in oyster shells, I suppose it is. But obviously the fantastic content isn’t the selling point here; the fact that the woman is wearing a skintight leotard that makes it look like she might be naked is. I suppose this is called “erotica”, which I usually take to mean it’s like sexploitation, only artier. It may have been hot back then; today it’s just a curio.

Excelsior! (1901)

Excelsior! (1901)
Article 5639 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-25-2019
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies
Country: France
What it is: Melies magic film

A magician performs a series of tricks, often with the help of a hapless assistant.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve covered a Melies short, but I’m not surprised there’s still a handful of extant ones that I’ve not yet covered. This is another example of one of his most common themes; a cinematic version of a stage magician at work, though often with cinematic tricks rather than sleight of hand. There’s not a whole lot here that I haven’t seen from him before, but his showmanship and humor help carry this one. In fact, I’d say this one is one of his better magic trick shorts.

Stealing a Dinner (1899)

Stealing a Dinner (1899)
Article 5638 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-24-2019
Director unknown
Cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Trained animal antics

A dog steals a man’s dinner and frames a cat for the crime.

From what I see here, I’m guessing that this film is a recreation of a trained animal act on the vaudeville circuit; the AMB catalogue refers to a certain Professor Leonidas and his trained cats and dogs. The fantastic content comes toward the end of the short, which implies that dogs have a police force; at least, that’s how I interpret the dog in the police costume who appears at the climax. It’s probably funnier seen live; in this short, the action is a bit too frantic and abrupt to be really funny.

Le squelette joyeux (1898)

Le squelette joyeux (1898)
Article 5637 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-22-2019
Directed by Louis Lumiere
No cast
Country: France
What it is: The first dancing skeleton film?

A skeleton dances despite the fact that he keeps falling apart.

Here’s another fantastically-themed Lumiere short, and in some ways, it has even less in the way of special effects as FAUST: APPARITION DE MEPHISTOPHELES had; it’s a photographed puppet show. Still, it is an entertaining puppet show, and there’s a lot more energy in the presentation here, so this is a lot more satisfying. I also wonder if it’s the first dancing skeleton movie; I’ve seen many animated dancing skeleton shorts, and in some ways, they may have gotten their start here.

Addendum: I have since learned this is not the first dancing skeleton film; it’s predated the THE DANCING SKELETON (1897). Thanks to doctor kiss for the correction!

Faust: apparition de Mephistopheles (1897)

Faust: apparition de Mephistopheles (1897)
Article 5636 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-21-2019
Director unknown
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Lumiere tries Melies

Faust has a vision of a woman and is visited by Mephistopheles.

The Lumiere brothers mostly did documentary slice-of-life shorts; this appears to be an attempt to try a little Meliesian special effects wizardry. There are two trick moments. One involves a sliding cabinet door opening to reveal a woman (this appears to be a stage trick of some kind), while the other is more cinematic as it involves Mephistopheles magically appearing in the scene. Nice to see Lumieres trying to stretch out a bit, but you can tell their heart’s not in it; the presentation is stodgy and dull.

Rip Passing Over the Mountain (1896)

Rip Passing Over the Mountain (1896)
Article 5635 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-20-2019
Directed by William K. L. Dickson
Featuring Joseph Jefferson
Country: USA
What it is: The eighth episode of the first serial

Rip climbs up a hill.

When you get right down to it as far as the three individual episodes of the Rip Van Winkle serial, none of them really show their fantastic content as stand-alone movies; they have to be seen together and taken in the context of the original story. This one has the least overt fantastic content; all you really see is an old man climbing a hill. That being the case, it must be said that sometimes identifying fantastic content is a matter of context and perspective; it’s what you bring to the table that helps you decide. Granted, what I’ve said here doesn’t amount to a review of such, but I think it’s a fitting way to end this series of reviews of these shorts.

Rip’s Toast to Hudson (1896)

Rip’s Toast to Hudson (1896)
Article 5634 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-19-2019
Directed by William K. L. Dickson
Featuring Joseph Jefferson
Country: USA
What it is: The fifth episode of the first serial

Rip Van Winkle makes a toast and has a strange reaction.

I’ll dispense with a repeat of the historical context of this short that I covered in the second episode. This is perhaps one of the more entertaining of the episodes; he’s partying with the dwarfs and makes a toast, but then starts having a strange reaction. I suspect that it’s the moment when the grog he is drinking is starting to overcome him and he’s preparing for his deep sleep. The story as a whole has definite fantastic content, but like the previous one I’ve covered, the primary fantastic content here is the presence of the dwarfs, although if you didn’t know the story, you probably wouldn’t know who they were.