A few of the most beautiful shadow-moments and one of the greatest monsters in all silent cinema hung around a flabby retelling of Dracula – it’s maybe my fifth-favorite Murnau film, but I was happy to watch it on the big screen with an excellent, tightly synchronized live band, Invincible Czars.
Alloy Orchestra returned, with a double-feature this time! First up was this highly ridiculous adventure story, full of corny nonsense, but also featuring some fabulous stop-motion dinosaurs and a cool monkey.
A beardy madman (Wallace Beery of wrestling picture fame) insists to a roomful of people, Lost City of Z-style, that his previous expedition had discovered a plateau where dinosaurs still live, but everyone on his team is now missing so he needs a new team. Sportsman Lewis Stone (Stars In My Crown, Queen Christina) would like to come find new creatures to shoot, and his buddy, romantic doof reporter Lloyd Hughes (title star of Rip Roaring Riley), gets himself invited to impress a disinterested rich girl. Professor Arthur Hoyt (the director’s older brother, mayor of The Great McGinty) comes too, and so does Beery’s dead ex-teammate’s daughter Bessie Love (her final film was The Hunger). Everyone proves to be pretty capable (especially the monkey) at getting into trouble and getting back out of it, and the doof falls for Bessie. More impressive than the “oh shit we’re dead, might as well die together” romance is that the dinosaurs, which would seem to have limited area to live and breed, are constantly killing each other and falling into tar pits. The humans manage to bring a live brontosaurus home to London, where it escapes and nearly goes full King Kong, finally destroying a bridge and either swimming away or drowning, it was hard to tell which.
The evening highlight was A Page of Madness, which had a more experimental score and blew everybody’s minds.
I can’t tell exactly what it’s supposed to be, perhaps a symbolic arthouse parody/critique of nuclear family life?
Sometimes it seems like psychodrama, sometimes comedy… sometimes we get effectively haunting phantom visuals and sometimes the kid is sitting on a toilet wiping his ass with bible pages.
Lighting can be complex, or scenes can be lit with a single spotlight with inky blackness all around. The actors often look distraught, and the kid spends half the movie crying (and 15 minutes playing with an aerosol can). Their movements can be theatrical, like they’re hitting the marks of a dance routine (in fact, one scene is presented as a stage performance). Camera has some unique methods of moving and reframing to change a scene without cutting, and the kid acknowledges the camera in at least one scene, waving it forward as the family lurches haltingly through a field.
The movie is fully silent, but in accordance with the Director’s Intent (presumably), I played John Zorn’s The Mysteries album followed by the last 20 minutes of Filmworks XXV.
The kid would grow up to be a painter, worked on Genealogies of a Crime, and his dad was an actor, appearing in Truffaut films around this time.
Already one of my favorite movies from having seen it on TCM a couple times in the 1990’s, but watching in a theater (from DVD, tho) with live music (stayed atmospheric for the most part, with even the opera singer keeping to tones and drones) was sensational.
I did not study the clothes of the time, and things like that. The year of the event seemed as inessential to me as its distance from the present. I wanted to interpret a hymn to the triumph of the soul over life … Rudolf Maté, who manned the camera, understood the demands of psychological drama in the close-ups and he gave me what I wanted, my feeling and my thought: realized mysticism. But in Falconetti, who plays Joan, I found what I might, with very bold expression, allow myself to call “the martyr’s reincarnation.”
Another great night with the Alloy Orchestra. Probably the number one advantage to living in Lincoln is that they come through every year with a different silent film – last year was Man with the Movie Camera, the year before was Son of the Sheik. Now I’ve bought their Phantom of the Opera on DVD, and I’ll see if I can sync the CD of their Lonesome score with the Criterion blu-ray – unlikely, but it’ll be fun to try.
Emil Jannings (same year as Tartuffe) is introduced as a sonofabitch who mistreats his woman, soon leaving her and their young child and running off with Lya de Putti (Murnau’s Phantom and the Joe May Indian Epic). They work circus acts until noticed by trapeze star Artinelli (Warwick Ward, who became a producer in the 1930’s) and asked to join his act. Artinelli easily steals away Emil’s girl while Emil spends all his time drinking and gambling (don’t trapeze performers have to stay in shape?), and when he realizes the betrayal he plots revenge. Some fun first-person shots from the trapeze were this film’s main attraction when it opened. Emil envisions his boss having a fatal “accident” – somehow he can’t bring himself to drop the guy, but is okay stabbing him to death
Ouch from Dave Kehr:
The blatancy that makes it so easy to teach is also its chief drawback as art. Expressionism needed the taste and insight of a Murnau to be transformed from a manner to a style; this film, untransformed, is the work of the negligible E.A. Dupont.
Quotes below are from Marilyn Brakhage’s program notes.
The Process (1972)
Flashing colors. Negative silhouettes of human figures (wearing hats). Increasingly recognizable scraps of home movies, but yeah, mostly it’s flashing colors. Listened to “Cosmetics (Secret Chiefs 3 Remix)” by Foetus, which had some nice moments of synchronicity, mostly served to make the film seem more sinister than was probably intended.
“Brakhage again addresses the interaction of internal and external sources of imagery, but in this case, as the sole subject of the film. Here, slightly displaced positive and negative versions of the same image create a feeling of insubstantiality.”
Burial Path (1978)
Opens with a dead robin in a box, so I took the title literally and assumed a funeral tone to all the defocused light that proceeds from there. The bird does get buried towards the end, and he intercuts scenes of live birds (not robins) feeding outside. Played the end of Brian Eno & Harold Budd’s “Ambient 2” album, a pleasant change from the previous soundtrack.
Burial Path “graphs the process of forgetfulness.” But Burial Path is also about death, and was sometimes referred to (by Brakhage) as the third part of a trilogy, with Sirius Remembered (1959) and The Dead (1960). (The “path” is also the route taken to visit Brakhage’s friend, the then-ailing literary scholar Donald Sutherland, to whom the film is dedicated.)
Duplicity III (1980)
All crossfades, all the time. The kids are going trick-or-treating, doing house work, playing with cards and toy guns, enacting satanic rituals, performing in school plays which involve ghosts, robots and an Indian chief. Deers and dogs towards the end. Played tracks 2-4 of Coil’s “The Angelic Conversation” which sometimes made the film seem doom-laden, sometimes gave the impression that it was taking place near the ocean.
Halloween: Fire Walk With Me
The Domain of the Moment (1977)
Liked this one a lot because it’s full of critters: baby bird, guinea pig, dog, raccoon, mouse, snake, all double-exposed and playfully filmed, with painted mothlight sections in between animal blocks. Played tracks 4-6 of Secret Chiefs 3’s “Book M”, which was inappopriately energetic at the beginning but worked rather well in the middle.
“A consideration of the consciousness of other life forms.”
Murder Psalm (1980)
Whenever Brakhage films a television it looks like the end of the world. One of his most music-video-looking films, full of increasingly sinister-seeming juxtapositions – pure texture interspersed with stock footage from a strange movie, an education film about brains, leftover autopsy footage from The Act of Seeing, war footage from 23rd Psalm Branch, reversal film of a highway at night. Played the end of Autechre’s “Exai”, which was a great idea.
“A collage of found footage of monstrous implications.”
M. Keller in Film Quarterly:
The most striking imagery comes from an educational film on epilepsy, and Brakhage’s film is structured around that preexisting narrative … Brakhage makes visual relationships between the ball, water in the birdbath, the girl’s hand, a scale model of the brain, a half of a wagon wheel, a covered wagon, and a semicircular tunnel. Circular imagery is cut in half by the frame to make semicircles or hemispheres. The material about epilepsy is transformed into a meditation on the social and cultural circumstances of childhood trauma via a visual string of semicircular imagery. By substituting one image for another – e.g., the model of the brain for the covered wagon – Brakhage links their meanings and implication. The girl’s seizure is made part of the social organism through visual rhyme.
Arabic 12 (1982)
Light asterisks: a film of reddish, star-shaped light artifacts. Wonder if this is what ashtray epic The Text of Light is like – hopefully not, since I lost patience in this 17-minute movie towards the end. Felt like Autechre’s “spl9” was trying to give me a panic attack, but the next track slowed things down for the film’s more diffuse second half.
The adventures of a prankster clown and his transforming world. One of the strangest animations ever, setting the stage for everything from Betty Boop to Don Hertzfeldt. Seen this before, of course.
Le Cauchemar du Fantoche (1908)
The Puppet’s Nightmare: Stick-figure man is sleeping when the world revolts on him, the line-drawing nature of his surroundings morphing into an endless series of free-association torments.
Un Drama Chez Les Fantoches (1908)
Back to unreliable stick-figure world. In this one, a woman gets her dress torn off, and later possibly murdered, but these being stick figures I guess there’s no fear of censorship. The stick-figure violence is less surreal than the others, so potentially more disturbing, until the two identical fighting dudes melt into puddles and the woman refashions them into a boa, then we’re back in Fantasmagorie territory for a spell. All four characters bounce back and take a bow at the end, just to make sure we know they’re alright.
Hat guy going to jail for murdering that woman:
Le Cerceau Magique (1908)
A man with Meliesian powers of stopping/starting the film to replace objects is approached by a little girl whose hoop has broken. The man transforms his cane into a new hoop, displays its new magic abilities, then the girl quickly tires of her magic hoop and hangs it on a wall, where it becomes a frame for some goofy animations, which are frankly not too exciting, and barely decipherable through a haze of film decay for half the time.
Le Petit Soldat Qui Devient Dieu (1908)
Return of the hoop girl… she runs off then stop-motion soldiers maneuver in front of a child-drawn house and ride paper boats into the river, where they’re discovered by a grotesque gang of shoddy blackface actors. Not sure what any of these things have to do with each other, unless Cohl was creating a universe of interrelated shorts which all take place within the hoop-girl’s imagination.
Les Freres Boutdebois (1908)
Acrobatic Toys: Stop-motion acrobats on a tiny stage self-assemble then perform tricks until the film ends abruptly. I liked the quirky xylophone music.
L’Hotel du Silence (1908)
Flabbergasted man enters hotel where things move on their own. The actor expends much effort trying to convince us how insane this all is, but 108 years later it’s more tedious than insane. Cool set design, though. The flabbergasted man is impressed by the hotel’s wizardry, but eventually he’s dirty and tired and hungry and overcharged, wishing Yelp existed so he could give this place a scathing review. IMDB says it’s a Méliès remake.
Actors take turns looking into a peephole where they see different animated horrors, which is a better framing story than the girl with her magic hula-hoop (better animations, too). The proprietor laughs at each customer, who leaves angrily. I don’t understand his business model. Also, couldn’t all of Cohl’s films have been titled Transfigurations?
Holy shit, the Lumière films have been remastered in HD and look incredible. I understand no spoken French, so played the music-only track on the blu-ray, though I’ll bet the narration is super interesting. Hope this comes out in the U.S. eventually.
Sortie d’usine III (1896)
Sortie d’usine II (1896)
Sortie d’usine (1895)
Three takes shown in reverse order (and with declining picture quality). There are dogs (the same dog?) in all three, and dudes who need help riding their bikes.
Débarquement du congrès de photographes à Lyon (1895)
The first self-reflexive movie? A photographer notices he’s being filmed, his own camera aiming towards our camera.
Repas de bébé (1895)
This baby would be 120 years old now.
Hammering and cranking – right as the film ends the anvil guy is being poured a drink. Can’t help but notice how clear the scene looks even with the fast hammer motion. I wonder what (approx) framerate this was shot at. Reportedly a remake of an Edison kinetoscope from 2.5 years earlier.
Arroseur et arrosé (1895)
Classic hose gag, ends in a spanking.
Partie d’écarté (1896)
While drinks are poured, cigars are smoked and cards are played, the waiter in the background is overreacting to the scenario, single-handedly inventing silent-film ham acting.
Arrivée d’un train à La Ciotat (1897)
It’s coming right at us!
Démolition d’un mur (1897)
I’d like a hand-cranked wall-demolisher. Everything was hand-cranked those days – construction equipment, cameras, fireplaces. Afterward this film is played in reverse, which is apparently a thing projectionists did to blow minds, a post-post-production effect.
Panorama de l’arrivée en gare de Perrache pris du train (1896)
Looking out the side of a train, with nice view of a horse-and-wagon bridge. “Panorama” apparently meant “moving camera”.
Arrivée d’un train à Perrache (1896)
Another train arrival (possibly the train we rode in the previous film). The behavior is what’s odd here. Bunch of uniformed mustache fellows waiting anxiously for the train to arrive, motioning at it, grabbing its handles seemingly in an effort to make it stop faster, then opening all the nice-looking cushioned side doors as a Napoleon-hatted man in the distance slowly paces.
Place des Cordeliers (1895)
Nice angle on a busy street. Horse-drawn double-decker bus!
Place Bellecour (1896)
Some of these are probably really special if you’re familiar with the corner today. Wonder if that hotel being built in the background is still standing. Unexciting until right at the end, a car reading “Absinthe Premier” appears on the right side. An advertisement like we put on tops of cabs and sides of buses, or – still my heart – an absinthe delivery truck??
Quai de l’Archevêché (1896)
It must have been unusual that this street would be flooded, given the huge audience of people watching from the sidewalk as cars pass by. But maybe not, since there’s also a boat. Don’t these people have somewhere better to be? Ah, “floods of the Saône river during the first week of November, 1896” says IMDB.
Place du Pont (1897)
Camera glides beautifully down a trolley line, but Lumiere didn’t have great timing with this one, as we stop to allow a rubble truck to pass. I guess those are simply bus ads for alcohol after all, since here we’ve got “Dunoise liquor exquise” and “Alcool de menthe” (probably De Ricqlès). My new theory is that these are party buses full of college students, who hop from one to another when they want to try a different spirit.
Concours de boules (1896)
A pretty damned exciting game of boules with a big crowd of suit-wearers, who are apt to dash into the middle of the court right when someone’s about to throw.
Shorts! I have discs and discs of shorts and rarely watch them. I’m awfully excited about the new blu-ray of avant-garde shorts from Flicker Alley, but how can I justify buying it when I’ve got a hundred shorts collections just sitting around unseen? Let’s watch some, shall we? And what better place to start than with a Kino collection called The Movies Begin?
The Great Train Robbery (1903, Edwin Porter)
Stunts, explosions, color, brutal murders, thievery, daring escapes – and dancing! Bandits rob the train of its lockbox loot and all its passengers of their wallets, then escape on horseback. Local bunch of ruffians is alerted to the crime and rides off to kill the perpetrators. All this in ten minutes – more economical than the Sean Connery remake.
One of the more famous shots (haha “shots”) in cinema:
Fire in a Burlesque Theater (1904)
Either this was ineptly framed or I’m seeing a cropped version, because there aren’t nearly enough burlesque dancers with smoke inhalation on display here.
Airy Fairy Lillian Tries On Her New Corsets (1905)
Hefty Jeffy helps her out… then faints. Was this a comedy?
From Show Girl to Burlesque Queen (1903)
A woman removes her costume – but the good part is done behind a screen. The title was better than the feature, making this the A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence of its time.
Troubles of a Manager of a Burlesque Show (1904)
Troubles because the women are angry at the crappy clothes he expects them to wear, and they flee and throw things when he tries to molest them.
The Whole Dam Family and the Dam Dog (1905, Edwin Porter)
So many lost films in history, and this dam thing survives. Hilarious title for a movie without any jokes in it, making this The Ridiculous Six of its time.
The Golden Beetle (1907, Segundo de Chomón)
Ornate, hand-colored, dangerous-looking Meliesian disappearing act. I think a man tries throwing a golden beetle in the fire, and she torments him with showers of sparks before burning him to death. This is great.
Rough Sea at Dover (1895, Birt Acres)
Two shots of the rough sea. Were any other 1895 movies more than one shot long?
Come Along Do! (1898, RW Paul)
Supposedly the first film to feature action carried over from one shot to the next. But I watched it twice, and it appears to be only one shot. Is there an invisible Birdman-like cut in there somewhere? Or did I get the descriptions of the previous two films mixed up? Anyway, two drinkers on a bench outside some mysterious establishment with an “Art Section” and “Refreshments” opt for the art section.
Extraordinary Cab Accident (1903, RW Paul)
Cabs being horse-drawn at the time, a guy stumbles into the street, is trampled to death, then mysteriously recovers and runs off. I’ve seen guys transformed via editing into scarecrow dummies then thrown off trains in The Great Train Robbery, but this one does a good job transforming the dummy back into a guy.
A Chess Dispute (1903, RW Paul)
There is a violent dispute over a game of chess. Mostly this dispute is waged just under the camera’s view, thrown punches and bottles and clothing flying up into frame.
Buy Your Own Cherries (1904, RW Paul)
Awful brute man causes a drunken scene at a bar, then another at his home, then after a quick visit to church he’s wonderful and generous. Extra long at four minutes. Paul also produced the great The ? Motorist, which I had credited to director Walter Booth.
The Miller and the Sweep (1898, GA Smith)
Just a silly half-minute fight/chase in front of an operating windmill. But it’s a really nice shot of the windmill.
Let Me Dream Again (1900, GA Smith)
Happy couple at a party wake up as grumpy old couple in bed… so the movie’s title is the punchline. Smith invented the pull out-of-focus to indicate shift from dream to reality.
Sick Kitten (1903, GA Smith)
Kino says Smith invented the POV shot, and the idea of breaking a scene down into shots from different angles, which he does here. Kids dressed as grownups feed a kitty from a spoon. As is true today, cat films were incredibly popular back then, so this is a remake of his 1901 cat film which had worn out from overduplication.
The Kiss in the Tunnel (1899, GA Smith)
Train goes into tunnel, GA Smith and wife have a quick smooth, train back out of tunnel.
The Kiss in the Tunnel (1899, Bamforth & Co)
A remake! Two different people kiss in a different tunnel (the train shot from different angles than Smith used), in a cabin with worse production design.
A Daring Daylight Burglary (1903, Frank Mottershaw)
Action thriller with multiple shots and locations, reminiscent of The Great Train Robbery. Kino says some plot action in the silent doesn’t make sense because the showman was supposed to provide benshi narration during the screening.
A Desperate Poaching Affray (1903, William Haggar)
Men with guns chase men with nets. Oh damn wait, the poachers have guns too, and blast at least three of the pursuers. Poaching was deadly serious business. Just a big chase scene, really.
Attack on a China Mission (1901, James Williamson)
A man’s house is attacked, he defends with rifle, then more groups keep arriving and I’m not sure what side they’re on. Kino says it’s a reenactment of the Boxer Uprising, which must have been a confusing uprising. Kino says JW was famous for moving action across multiple shots, mainly during chase films, which sounds like what everyone was famous for in 1901.
An Interesting Story (1905, James Williamson)
Mustache man pours coffee in his hat, injures the maid, wrecks some children’s fun, and keeps running into things because he won’t put down his book (just like kids today with their cellular telephones). Satisfying conclusion as he gets run over by a steamroller, but some passing bicyclists inflate him, using the ol’ dummy-replacement trick last seen in Extraordinary Cab Accident.
Electrocuting an Elephant (1903, Thomas Edison & Edwin S. Porter)
Never forget, no matter what his achievements in human history, Thomas Edison once electrocuted an elephant for fun and profit.