My third Poe/Corman/Price movie of the month, and not counting the ending of Pit and the Pendulum when he psychotically turns into his Inquisition-torturer father, it’s the first time Price has gotten to be truly evil. He is all kinds of evil here, a Satanist who lets almost everyone in the nearby village die of plague then has the survivors shot, who cheers when his party guests are murdered, and entertains himself by letting a girl choose whether her father or her lover will be killed.

So much death in this one that it’s hard to keep track of whether the young lovers survive – maybe they don’t? Eventually the Red Death (Price vs. himself) creeps into the castle, bathing all the revelers in blood, then joins a rainbow of other Deaths outside. Kind of a celebration of sadism (complete with another Inquisition-torturer ancestor) in widescreen with colorful costumes and sets (and a giant clock with a battle axe pendulum), stabbings and swordfights and a murderous falcon. And a dwarf setting a man in a gorilla suit on fire.

Jane Asher is appalled by Price’s murderous falcon:

Jane Asher is appalled by Satan-loving Hazel Court:

The peasant girl Price keeps by his side is Jane Asher (Deep End) – she’s our audience surrogate whose main job is to look appalled. The attention paid to Jane pisses off Price’s main girl Hazel Court (Lenore in The Raven), who tries to hold onto him through satanic ritual. The firestarting dwarf’s wife is upsettingly played by a seven-year-old dubbed by a grown woman. And Price’s horrible friend Alfredo is Patrick Magee (the victim-turned-torturer in A Clockwork Orange).

Magee, foreshadowing that he’s soon gonna be set on fire:

I was going to watch this right after Southbound then realized they were both anthology horrors, so spaced it out by a few days. My second Corman / Poe / Price movie this month after Pit and the Pendulum


Morella

“It’s Lenora, father.” Maggie Pierce (The Fastest Guitar Alive) hasn’t seen her dad Vincent Price in 26 years, and is visiting now because her marriage has failed and she has a mild cough (and therefore, since this is a movie, only a few months to live). Price still blames her for the death of his beloved wife Morella, is wasting away in his Miss Havisham house. Poor Lenora doesn’t even know how her mom died since she was an infant at the time, so Price explains that she collapsed at a party while yelling “it was the baby.” Hardly seems fair, but apparently Morella (Leona Gage of Scream of the Butterfly) still blames the baby, rises in the night to murder Lenora and burn the place to the ground.


The Black Cat

Montresor Herringbone is a hopeless drunk who steals from his working wife Annabel (Joyce Jameson, who’d costar with Lorre and Price again the following year in Comedy of Terrors) to get enough wine to stop the hallucinations. He’d be a hateful fellow if he wasn’t being played by Peter Lorre in comic mode… and speaking of comic mode, Price plays Fortunato Luchresi, a foppish wine expert whom Lorre challenges to a tasting competition in order to get free wine. Surprised by Lorre’s knowledge and (lack of) technique, Price follows him home and falls for Annabel. When Lorre finds out he chains them in his cellar and walls them in – the perfect crime if not for the black cat he accidentally bricks up, whose howls alert the police.

Loved the acting, the reptile hallucinations and dreams (Fortunato and Annabel playing catch with Lorre’s severed head, the picture smeared and distorted). Each scene ends with a 400 Blows zoom. Price calls the wife “my treasure,” but isn’t that what Lorre’s name “Montresor” means?


The Case of M. Valdemar

Valdemar (Price) is dying of an incurable disease, and mesmerist Carmichael (Basil Rathbone, Sherlock Holmes of the 1930’s and 40’s) agrees to relieve his pain for free in exchange for participation in an experiment – to mesmerise Price at the moment of death to see if they can extend it. Medical Doctor James (David Frankham, who worked with Price in Return of The Fly) is against all this, of course, but Price insists, and also wishes his devoted wife Debra Paget (the dancer in Fritz Lang’s Indian Epic) to marry Dr. James when he dies. But the hypnotist has other plans, and when he successfully has the dead Price’s soul trapped in mesmeric limbo, he holds it hostage until Paget will marry him instead. Price solves this problem himself, rising from his death bed and melting all over the amoral Carmichael.

The Good Doctor and Good Wife:

Third version of this story I’ve watched, after the Svankmajer short and the Stuart Gordon version, with which this has almost nothing in common. This was the second full-color Corman/Price Poe adaptation after House of Usher, and everyone was in top form.

In the mid-1500’s, Mr. Barnard (John Kerr of The Cobweb) shows up at reclusive Price’s spooky old castle wanting to know how his sister has died, is taking no shit from anybody. Price gets to be his haunted, tormented self for the bulk of the movie, explaining that his young wife died tragically of illness (but later changing his story), and later while bemoaning his dreadful family legacy he gets to be an evil maniac in flashback portraying his own father, an enthusiastic Inquisition torturer.

Also in the castle is Price’s sister Catherine (Luana Anders of Dementia 13 & Night Tide) and doctor Antony Carbone (art cafĂ© boss in A Bucket of Blood). The place is being haunted by strange noises and Price has a phobia that his wife wasn’t dead when she was buried, so finally they dig her up and sure enough:

Of course I’d seen Barbara Steele’s name in the credits and recognized her face in paintings of the “dead” woman so was fully expecting her to show up. She’d fallen for the doctor and this is all a plot to drive Price mad so they can run off together. Unfortunately for them, Price’s madness takes the form of reverting to his family’s torture legacy, and he locks up Steele then puts poor Barnard under the razor pendulum while fighting off the others, eventually falling to his death in the pit (the only detail unchanged in the Stuart Gordon movie).

Screenplay by Richard “I Am Legend” Matheson, in lovely widescreen with some fun color-filtered anamorphic Raimi-effects and crazy oil-color swirls over the credits. I hope the other 1960’s Corman movies are this good.

Everyone in a Poe adaptation is weak, white and willowy, and it’s expected that at least one of them will die of consumptive illness, as did Poe’s own wife, as we learned in the D.W. Griffith bio-pic. Here it’s Usher’s wife (played by Marguerite “wife of Abel” Gance), but not for a while. First, portrait-painting-obsessed Usher (Jean Debucourt, decades later the jeweler in Madame de…) has his “dear and only friend” over for the season, then mostly tends to his paintings (which move and blink) while his wife dies (shades of Dorian Gray).

I love how this silent film portrays music. Everything starts moving in slow-motion until Usher plays his guitar, then his playing is illustrated with quick cutaways to nature shots. Overall lots of camera movement for 1928, with crazy angles and ghostly superimpositions – a slow and moody film. Excellent looking except for the fake castle (in wide shots) and owl.

This is the third House of Usher movie on the blog after the Watson & Webber and the Ken Russell, but the first to tell the Poe story in a way I can follow. IMDB says assistant director Luis Bunuel quit over liberties taken with the adaptation. In the Poe story Madeline is his twin sister instead of his wife, but otherwise doesn’t seem too dissimilar. Epstein made this the year before his amazing Finis Terrae.

Ed Gonzalez in Slant:

The film’s tour-de-force is a hulking funeral procession of overlapping visual textures and animal-like camera movement, a startling vision of metaphysical passage and metamorphosis. With the castle’s dripping candles in ominous tow, the men proceed through land and water toward the netherworld of Usher’s catacombs, with Madeleine’s veil weighing them down like an arm digging into the ground; all the while, an owl keeps ominous watch and two toads get their groove on. Madeleine will not go gently into this sinister night, nor will Usher let her, insisting that her coffin remain unnailed, which, in effect, precipitates a supernatural spill between worlds.

Berenice (1954, Eric Rohmer)

An Edgar Allen Poe story about a talky, sickly shut-in who stares at everyday objects all day is an odd choice for your first film. The guy (Rohmer himself!) lives with an epileptic cousin, becomes monomaniacally obsessed with her teeth, and eventually they get engaged since neither can deal with the outside world. But she dies one night, and he takes this very melodramatically, then awakens from a fugue days later having dug up the grave and stolen the teeth. It’s all narration and sound effects, shot by Jacques Rivette, still a couple years before his debut short.

Khan Khanne (2014, Jean-Luc Godard)

“This is not a film anymore, although it is my best.” What Godard sent to this year’s Cannes instead of appearing in person. Godard is his usual latter-day self, acting the scatterbrained professor, possibly quoting Hannah Arendt and/or referencing Chris Marker, cutting in excerpts from Alphaville and King Lear, using camera shots and sound editing that make it seem like he doesn’t know what he’s doing, ultimately making little sense to me, but with a weirdo bravado.

Adieu a TNS (1998, Jean-Luc Godard)

Swaying, smoking, Godard recites a singsongy poem over gentle accordion in three parts, the framing tighter each time. I’ve read that this was “a bitter and mournful farewell to the National Theater of Strasbourg.”

The Accordion (2010, Jafar Panahi)

Two brothers play music for spare change, not realizing they’re outside a mosque. A guy threatens to report them to the police, takes their accordion and runs. But it turns out he’s just a poor bastard hoping to earn money with the instrument, so the kids join him instead of killing him with a rock, which had been the other option.

The Nest (2014, David Cronenberg)

Single-take nine-minute shot from first-person perspective of surgeon (Cronenberg) interviewing patient (Evelyne Brochu, Tom’s ally/coworker in Tom at the Farm) who claims she has a wasps nest inside her left breast. Doubles as a commissioned short for some exhibition and a trailer for his first novel, Consumed, out this fall.

Gradiva (2014, Leos Carax)

Another gallery commission featuring a naked girl. This time the girl has gone to buy cigarettes, returns and has a short conversation with Rodin’s The Thinker.

The Legend of Hallowdega (2010, Terry Gilliam)

Unfunny fake investigation into haunted goings-on at the Talladega racetrack from a Daily Show writer. Just terrible. I won’t give away the twist comedic ending because I’m too embarrassed. Ends with a nice Wolf Parade song, at least.

On demande une brute (1934, Charles Barrois)

Early Jacques Tati, who wrote and starred as a hapless actor who accidentally signs up to be a wrestler. Despite all the time spent on audition scenes and the wrestling match, the only good bit is when he tries to keep his shrew wife from absentmindedly eating a pet fish at the dinner table.

Gravesend (2007, Steve McQueen)

Beautiful shots that seem to go on longer than they should, check, yep it’s the guy who made Hunger. One of those art installation pieces that is very cool to read about and less fun to watch. I wanted to like it, and almost did…

From the official description:

Gravesend uses a documentary approach to focus on the mining of coltan, employed in the manufacture of cell phones, laptops and other high-tech apparatus. The film cuts between two sites: a technological, highly automated industrial plant in the West where the precious metal is processed for the final production of microelectronic parts, and the central Congo, where miners use simple shovels or their bare hands to extract, wash and collect the ore on leaves. .. coltan, traded at an extremely high price, represents one of the key financial factors in the armed conflict of the militia in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where decades of civil war have cost several million human lives.

Away From It All (1979, John Cleese & Clare Taylor)

Fake travelogue disguised to look and sound like a real one (unless you recognize John Cleese’s voice), very gradually straying from the company line, slipping in notes of humor and aggression. Stock footage takes us from Rome to Venice to Ireland to Bulgaria to Vienna to New York, back to Venice to Acapulco, to a rapid montage of vacation spots as the narrator begins ranting about existential terror. Accompanied Life of Brian in British theaters.

The Signalman (1976 Lawrence Gordon Clark)

A fellow with too much time on his hands stops to visit a train signalman (Denholm Elliott of Brimstone & Treacle), whose apparent job is to live in a little house next to a train tunnel signaling whether another train is approaching or not, never leaving his post. The signalman tells of a ghostly visitor, who appears next to the tunnel apparently warning him of something, always shortly before a train accident. The final time he sees the spectre, he runs out to confront it and is killed by a train. Based on a Charles Dickens story, a good little movie.

Anger Sees Red (2004 Kenneth Anger)

Guy in red hat visits Rudolph Valentino’s grave, lays down, walks about.
Looks like this was shot by just anyone with a camera, not by a sixty-year filmmaking veteran.

Edgar Allen Poe (1909 DW Griffith)

Woman (played by Linda Arvidson, Griffith’s wife) awakens and stumbles around a room before collapsing into bed. Poe (Barry O’Moore, who’d later find fame as Octavius, the Amateur Detective), dressed like Jeffrey Combs in The Black Cat, gesticulates wildly towards a Melies-trick raven, dashes off a quick poem and runs to the newspaper, where he’s roundly dismissed, gesticulating wildly. But he argues his way into the editor’s office, sells the poem, runs home with blankets and food, but his wife has just died. He responds by gesticulating wildly.

Jabberwocky (1971 Jan Svankmajer)

A stop-mo masterpiece from the ass-slapping percussive opening credits on. A girl reads the poem on the soundtrack for the first couple minutes, then Jan runs out of poem and just riffs for the next ten. Love how objects appear and grow using replacements of progressively larger objects. As usual, he obsesses over dolls and food. Funny that two very different stop-motion animators would make Jabberwocky movies in the 1970’s.

Herzog and the Monsters (2007 Lesley Barnes)

Motion graphics, 3D camera moves, typography and a groovy song tell the story of Herzog, living in his grandmother’s house full of books but not allowed to touch them.

Johnny Express (2014 Kyungmin Woo)

Overrated delivery man has a scale problem when attempting to deliver a microscopic package to a tiny planet, wrecks planet, kills everyone. But it’s very funny.

The Dover Boys at Pimento University (1942 Chuck Jones)

Gag-filled parody of stories where square college boys save damsels from drunkard villains.

Sculpting Sound: The Art of Vinyl Mastering (2014 The Vinyl Factory)

Only six minutes – I wouldn’t have started watching it if it’d been three times longer, but now that I’ve watched, and half its runtime was stock footage of archaic gear and focus-pulls on the modern engineers’ dials and knobs, I want to know more specifics, for instance to follow a song through the recording, engineering, mastering and pressing process, hear exactly how the nature of the sound changes at each step. Can somebody do this please? Music in the doc by James “UNKLE” Lavelle

Also: saw more making-of footage of The Day The Clown Cried online, now with an on-set Pierre Etaix interview (in french).

Tales of Mystery and Imagination is the title on the print, and IMDB calls it Histoires extraordinaires. An anthology film with three shorts based on Edgar Allen Poe stories, its reputation is of a brilliant Fellini film saddled behind a harmless Malle and terrible Vadim – but I like the Vadim (and I watched it twice, so I’m sure) and found the Malle unpleasant.


Metzengerstein (Roger Vadim)

Started watching this on DVD in French with bad dubbing – I noticed Jane Fonda was mouthing the words I saw in the subtitles, though I was hearing French voices. So after this segment, I started over with the British blu-ray, which has a great picture-quality advantage even if some of the voices are still dubbed. IMDB claims Vincent Price is narrating, but it sounds more like Rod Serling.

Jane Fonda, happiest when someone is getting hanged:

Frederique (Jane Fonda a few months before Barbarella) is a countess who wears outrageous clothing and hangs out with her rich friends and exotic pets (a blue/gold macaw, a baby leopard) taunting the peasants, sometimes to death. She meets a distant relative who lives on neighboring land (Fonda’s actual brother Peter, between The Trip and Easy Rider). She’s infatuated with him, but he doesn’t fall for her power trip, so she orders his barn burned down and he dies trying to save his prize horse. Just then a black horse appears at her castle, and she becomes obsessed with riding it, finally riding into some burning fields to be with her deceased cousin. It’s not much of a story, but I liked its mix of gothic brooding and 1960’s decadence. Also I liked Peter’s baby owl.

Francoise Prevost, a conspirator in Rivette’s Merry-Go-Round, plays “friend of countess” – not sure if that’s the friend Jane was fondling naked in a bathtub or not. The Poe story (in which the Jane Fonda character was male) was filmed again in the 1970’s by some French people I’ve never heard of.


William Wilson (Louis Malle)

Opens with the jump-cuttiest scene of a man running intercut with a rag doll falling off a church tower. Alain Delon (year after Le Samourai, two before Le Cercle Rouge) barges rudely into a confession booth and subjects a priest to his flippantly-dubbed flashbacks. First, as a psychotic young boy (fun fact: 27 years later, the actor playing young Delon would appear in Stuart Gordon’s Castle Freak), Wilson was tormenting his classmates when another boy named William Wilson showed up, frustrating him. “Several years later I entered the school of medicine out of curiosity,” and as a psychotic young man, he rapes and tortures some girl on the autopsy table in front of his colleagues, again is frustrated when another William Wilson (now clearly played by Delon himself) shows up. Finally as a psychotic adult, Wilson is cheating a rich woman (Vadim’s ex-wife Brigitte Bardot, a few years before her retirement) at cards then whipping her (!) when Other Wilson arrives and reveals the fraud.

That’s the autopsy girl, not Bardot:

I don’t know what Wilson wanted the priest to do about all this, and I’m not sure if he’s just bringing up a few specific examples of the many times WWII turned up in his life, or if the guy only arrives once a decade. WW goes running outside, fights his doppelganger in a duel, and either stabs himself or leaps off the church tower, it’s hard to tell which. Good. It’s a misogynistic little film with diabolically bad dialogue. The Poe story (which has less nude-woman-torture, and fewer leaps from atop church towers) was filmed before in the silent era with Paul Wegener and again with Conrad Veidt, and I can tell just from its wikipedia entry that the original story is better than Malle’s visualisation.

William the Second:


Toby Dammit (Federico Fellini)

A drugged-out British actor arrives in Italy to appear in a film, for which he has been promised a ferrari. After suffering through his flight, cast and crew meetings and a party (haven’t seen it in a while, but looks like they’re partying on the set of Satyricon), he gets his hands on the ferrari and drives through the confounding Italian countryside, finally leaping an out-of-order bridge but failing to notice the steel wire just at neck level.

A decadent little film – every shot is crazy and imaginative and essential. Terence Stamp (year after Poor Cow) was so good in this, that it will now be necessary for me to watch everything he did between it and The Limey. Creepiest is the devil girl with a white ball who alternately torments and provokes the volatile Stamp without any dialogue. The Poe story actually features a character named Toby Dammit’s bridge-jumping beheading – though not in a ferrari, obviously.


Bonus image – a Jean Cocteau snowball fight:

“Help me someone! There’s a crazy woman in here trying to castrate me!”

The Poe-injected story goes that rock star Roddy Usher killed his wife in a fit of madness so now he’s in hospital under the care of Dr. Calahari. But “story” is just an excuse for Ken. He got himself a DV camera (with built-in microphone), grabbed every silly prop and goofy actor he could find, and set to work making a camp comic “horror” flick. The credits say “Designed, Photographed, Edited, Produced & Directed by KEN RUSSELL (who also did the Cooking),” so this was a backyard hobby project. That page doesn’t even mention writing (he shares credit with Poe) or acting.

Starring: Ken Russell

And have I mentioned it’s a musical? Full of puns and hammy awfulness and prank props and silly-ass music. Sounds nightmarishly awful, and I’m not some super-freakish Ken Russell fan who would forgive him a terrible movie. But, surprise! Shock! It’s not a terrible movie! At least I didn’t think so, as I quickly went from groaning at the self-conscious awfulness to laughing along. Mad Ken must be on the same camp-wavelength as me, which I should have guessed after seeing his Trapped Ashes episode.

Usher:

Of course it helps that I liked the music, composed by Usher himself James Johnston (who also played a rock star in Clean – Maggie Cheung’s dead husband). Upsettingly, Nurse ABC Schmidt (Marie Findley) hasn’t appeared in other films. Sweet Annabelle Lee (Emma Millions) played “Tart” in Ken’s short Lion’s Mouth – bad move not including that on the Usher DVD. Russell’s wife played Usher’s sister (also a mummy in the second half) and the guy who played Igor (he stayed behind a mask) has been in Russell movies as far back as the 60’s.

This guy, an experimental patient whose life Ken has been prolonging through chemicals or electricity or something, portrayed “Death” in a recent Woody Allen film.

Oops…

I’d be afraid to watch this again. It doesn’t seem in retrospect like anything I would’ve enjoyed, so it might’ve just caught me in a perfectly receptive mood. As of this viewing, my only complaint is that there weren’t enough musical numbers in the second half.

Amazingly, this nearly decade-old movie is Ken’s most recent full-length, coming a few years after his string of not-at-all-acclaimed TV movies.

Ken looks dismayed at his lack of DVD sales:

November was Shorts Month! All shorts were watched at home on video, except for an outing to the November edition of Bizarro Saturday Morning, at which I fell asleep during the only theatrical short, tired out by episodes of Casper, Ultraman and Rocket Robin Hood, so it’s sadly not represented here.

The Policemen’s Little Run (1907, Ferdinand Zecca)
Tedious, undistinguished little romp, wherein cops chase a dog for stealing food, then the dog chases the cops. Fakey backgrounds ensue. Ferdinand Zecca, director of Kissing in a Tunnel (not the 1899 original or the 1899 remake, but the 1901 remake), later co-directed one of the first feature-length (well, 45 minutes) films.
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Troubles of a Grasswidower (1908, Max Linder)
The Mr. Mom of its time. Dude is an asshole so his wife leaves him, goes home to mother. Dude then fails to do the simplest household tasks until everything is in ruins and his wife returns to shame him. Terrible! Well, it’s slightly more bearable than the cops chasing the dog. Linder must’ve played the widower; he wrote and starred in plenty more shorts, such as Max’s Hat, Max Takes Tonics and Max and Dog Dick (?!)
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Winsor McCay, the Famous Cartoonist of the N.Y. Herald and His Moving Comics (1911)
Now that’s more like it. Winsor announces he’s going to make an animated moving picture, some blowhard dudes laugh at him, then he damn does it and it’s brilliant. One should never doubt the author of Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend.
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Winsor at work:
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Dream of a Rarebit Fiend (1906, Edwin S. Porter)
Most of the movie is the guy drinking, eating and going home, with finally some actually dreaming there at the end. His shoes fly off on strings, some stop motion, some Exorcist bed-bucking and Little Nemo bed-flying. The best part, with little devils beating him from above, looks like a Melies-lite advertisement for headache powder. One assumes he’s speaking the punchline at the end, but there’s no intertitle. Comic strip was better!
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Winsor would later create his own animated Rarebit films, and Melies would make the probably unrelated Dream of an Opium Fiend in 1908.

The Telltale Heart (1928, Charles Klein)
I love total Caligari-ripoff expressionism in cinema, and there isn’t enough of it so I was happy to find this. Completely excellent, probably my favorite Telltale Heart yet. I don’t mean to disparage the recently-watched Ted Parmelee animated version and I do miss the rich voice of James Mason, but everything works here – the Caligari sets and fonts, the acting of the lead fellow, his crazy-POV version of the inspectors and the montage and effects (overlays and mirrors).
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Depending who you believe, this was either directed by Klein (a writer/director up to the 40’s) or Leon Shamroy (cinematographer through the 70’s who worked with Fritz Lang, also shot The Robe, Caprice and Planet of the Apes).
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Fall of the House of Usher (1928, James Watson & Melville Webber)
Every version of Telltale Heart re-tells the story with narration or titles, but this film tells the Usher story through mystifying visuals… and since I’m not familiar with the story I still don’t know exactly what happened, but boy was it awesome.
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What if cinema had ended up looking more like this? What if poets were directors? The mind boggles. I’ll bet Cocteau loved this (or despised it since he didn’t think of it first).
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dream sequence from When The Clouds Roll By (1919, Victor Fleming)
A semi-remake of Rarebit Fiend! Douglas Fairbanks eats some Welsh rarebit (melted cheese on toast) along with mince pie, lobster and an onion. Not a drunken fool like the original rarebit fiends, DF is conned into eating the nightmarish midnight snack by a mad doctor. He then runs around doing stunts on horses, trampolines and camera-trick houses, pursued by ghosts, a party of society women and giant costume versions of the foods he ate. I am definitely dressing up as rarebit next halloween.
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Oramunde (1933, Emlen Etting)
Woman in a too-long white dress dances on the rocks to express her sadness. Made me sad so I guess it’s pretty good.
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Hands (1934, Ralph Steiner & Willard Van Dyke)
Hands, falling, against black, doing stuff. Montage of hands doing stuff on location. Hands getting money for doing stuff. Hands buying stuff, taking vacation, getting married to other hands. Counts as propaganda somehow.
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