Wednesday, April 17, 2013

1909 - Princess Nicotine; or, the Smoke Fairy

Another short special effects comedy that I chose for the preposterous name. It's mostly about smoking and mischievous fairies. The fairies play pranks on the much larger smoking protagonist. For example, they hide in his corn cob pipe and cover themselves with tobacco:
Ha! What a foolish smoker! He is about to smoke a MAGICAL FAIRY without even knowing it. Fans of psychedelic drugs may not find this so foolish, of course: Given the chance, a mind-expander would EFFING LOVE the chance to smoke a (n apparently willing) magical creature in their pipes. Anyway, the film still represented a milestone for me. This smoking fairy rose flower:
... eventually broke down into petals, and those petals rolled themselves into a cigar, all in stop motion. That's right: This is the first stop-motion animation I've seen in this project, which made it pretty rad. Even though the things being animated were mostly boring.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

1908 - Fantasmagorie

One of the world's first animated films, by Émile Cohl, this film is less than two minutes long. Here is what watching the film is like:

"Ha ha! What an outrageous hat! I wish I had a hat like that. Oh, now he's..... Wait he's.... WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING"

I can see why Wikipedia considers him part of the "largely forgotten incoherent movement".

But do not mistake me: this film as rad.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

1907 - Laughing Gas

Another Edwin Porter/Thomas Edison film, Laughing Gas is a comedy starring Bertha Regustus. Regustus is a Black woman, so we can now date the loss of funnyness among women to some time in the 100 years between this movie and this article, which you shouldn't bother asking me about since I don't plan to read it.

At any rate, the film is a 9-minute morality play about how you should definitely do nitrous and then interact with as many people as possible. Sure, you may [SPOILERS] steal seats on the trolley, destroy the milkman's livelihood and get taken to court for it, and dump soup on the people that you're a domestic servant for, but nobody will care.  They will laugh their asses off. Because you are.

Also, the survey for 1916 is still up. Thanks for your responses so far.

1906 - The Story of the Kelly Gang

I watched this early Australian film and thought it was fairly incoherent. If raised arms weren't a gesture of surrender I probably would have understood even less. Maybe 1/4 to 1/5 of the film looked a lot like this:
 Oh, well, I thought, this is early film, and I still got to see a shootout with the rad-looking bulletproofish Kelly Armour:
But then I looked it up to see why I chose it. It turns out that what I actually watched were the 20 or so surviving minutes of the World's First Feature Length Film, put together with added intertitles by whoever made this video.

Then, to remind myself how old this film was I wikipedia'ed around a bit and found out that the shootout shown above took place in 1880. 26 years before the film was made. I.e., by the time people saw this film, the action it depicts was 5 years more recent than the Thriller album is today.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

A Choice, and Next Week's Films

I think I'll plan 6 films a week max. Here's what I'll watch next week, probably starting tomorrow:

1906 The Story of the Kelly Gang
1907 Laughing Gas
1908 fantasmagorie
1909 Princess Nicotine; or, The Smoke Fairy
1910 Thomas Edison Frankenstein
1911 Little Nemo

More importantly, the following week involves the first time we have to choose the two films to actually watch. In 1916, there are three films listed:

20,000 leagues under the sea, which Wikipedia seems to describe as the first expensive special-effects blockbuster (including pseudo-underwater photography) to bomb, losing money and dooming its genre for years. Apparently Stephin Merritt thinks enough of it to have recorded a score for it in 2010, which I think recommends it.

Intolerance, which is supposed to be D.W. Griffith's masterpiece, and his response to public criticism of the film I'll be watching the previous day.

And Where Are My Children? which is fascinating for at least two reasons: First, it was written and directed by women (Including Lois Weber, who I'll get back to in '21), something that's still too rare almost 100 years later. Second, it is about ABORTION. Like, There's a film from 1916 about Abortion. What the hell did they think about abortion in 1916? How did they talk about it? Obviously I'd like to find out.

So, take this 12-second survey to help me choose two films. Check as many boxes as you want. Go crazy.

1905 - The Misadventure of a French Gentleman Without Pants at the Zandvoort Beach

Man, everything you think is a new idea, they did it a hundred years ago at least. First off, I chose this film based on its title, not knowing much about it. It turns out it's like a 100-year old episode of Candid Camera. Or, if you want to feel cooler while watching it, a scene from Improv Everywhere.

Because that's basically what it was. A "Frenchman" confederate stranded above six inches of water decides that that's too deep for his pants and takes them off. Then he gets chased through town by cops, who are also probably confederates, and random locals who decide to join in the chase unawares. They keep looking at the camera and smiling or waving into it. Eventually, when they [SPOILER] catch the Frenchman, now dressed as a woman, they parade through town with him on their shoulders, the unsuspecting Dutch civillians smiling that much more broadly at the cameras now that the man committing pantslessness was safely contained.

But they just got punked. In 1905. On camera.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

1904 - The Impossible Voyage

Another Méliès sci-fi film about a trip to space. This one felt sooooper long, at just under 20 minutes. I wasn't always clear on what was happening.  For the first half of the film I thought it was about how much of a pain in the ass it is to get to the airport.

But then a train flies off a cliff and into the sun. Into the sun's open mouth, in fact, and the sun belches goodness knows what as a result.....
... exactly the same gag that the Méliès ripoff used 4 years later with the moon. And here I thought at least that much was original.

The film _might_ reveal some beliefs that are surprising given that they're new enough to be on film. The fact that the trip back to earth is achieved by falling off a high enough cliff; the way someone uses dried wood to make a fire so he can melt some ice while he's on the surface of the sun. But maybe this was more soft sci-fi than hard sci-fi, even in its time. 

1903 - The Great Train Robbery

World's first Western, The Great Train Robbery. While the previous films mostly used special effects to bemuse the audience or inspire wonder in them, this film uses special effects to have a bandit bash a man's skull in with a rock and throw him off a train.
The dummy was a much better actor than most of the actual humans when it came to death scenes, though. The humans mostly died like this:
By the end of the film, [SPOILER ALERT] all of the bandits are dead, and justice seems to have been done. Then it cuts to probably the first close up shot of anyone that I've seen yet. And the shot is bizarre: One of the now dead bandits stares at you, the audience, as he slowly fires shots from his revolver until after it's been emptied. Then the film ends.

1902 - A Trip to The Moon

This time I watched the real one, which was way better. None of the matte paintings in the 1908 ripoff gave anywhere near the sense of depth that this one does:
Which may not seem like a big deal to you, but after watching the films listed below, I was _stunned_ by how good this shot looked.

Also, even in 1902, Women were integral to the space program, loading the launch capsule and then breaking the fourth wall:
[Edit: Oh! And apparently they recreated the filming of this movie for the last episode of a miniseries about travelling to the moon which should be EXTREMELY RAD

Thursday, April 4, 2013

1908 - Excursion to the Moon

Tricked! By an inferior copy!  I watched this film thinking it was the Méliès classic, and was mightily confused when the spaceship avoided the moon's eye and went straight into its mouth.

It turns out someone at Pathé made a complete ripoff of the original. And it wasn't as good - the hand colouring was exciting until I saw how much better the colouring was 6 years earlier.

So, I guess what I watched is my first ripoff remake. I'll watch the real one next, I guess. The difference in quality should make it look AMAZING.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

1901 - The Man With the India Rubber Head

First foreign film in the project, a French film by film pioneer Georges MélièsMéliès and Thomas Edison seem to have made most of the films I'm watching for the first 10 years.

Anyway, this film is HORROR COMEDY. Because first there is a terrifying, sentient, confused giant head (Note the person inflating it to the right, for scale):


1901 - President McKinley Inauguration Footage

The President McKinley Inauguration Footage is fairly boring. There's a two minute video that's basically a parade of horses and swords and Americans in silly-looking old-fashioned military costumes. Then there's a fifty second video that's like a combination of two of your friends with poor seats each filming the least interesting part of a concert. Still, it was the first film in the project, I think, that includes two scenes from different angles.

I loved seeing the real-life president - and real-life regular people, going about their business - on film this early, but I probably should have watched the first or third films in the McKinley trilogy instead.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

1900 - Sherlock Holmes Baffled and The Enchanted Drawing

These films are pretty rad! Two special-effects-heavy comedies. The special effects are almost perfect, and I'm glad someone was using film trickery right from the start. 

Also, in The Enchanted Drawing here is how disappointed you look with only booze
 Then if you get a cigar, you become somewhat happy. And creepy.
 But once you have a top hat you TOTALLY LOSE YOUR SHIT: