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Effets de vagues

Movies of waves crashing on rocks were a staple of early cinema. Sometimes they were in Portugal, sometimes elsewhere, but they were fine examples of motion. Indeed, they preceded the earliest of what we now strictly consider to be motion pictures -- flexible, continuous frames, proceeding one after the other, usually with a Latham loop and sprockets to keep the film stabilized. They extend back into painting.

So what makes this example from Gaumont, as late as 1899, stand out from earlier examples? Well, editing for one thing. There are three shots stuck together in an early example of editing. There's also some camera movement in the second shot, attained not, I believe, through moving the camera, but by turning it on its tripod; that sort of camera only became available in the year of this movie's release.


Hammering Home The Sex
Stefanie Powers is a musicologist doing her thesis on a recently dead composer. To further her research, he goes to visit the dead man's family and discovers they are a weird mob. In particular, James Olson, the wheelchair-bound son of the composer (whom he also plays) has a strange dependency on his mother, played by Margaretta Scott.

It's A Jimmy Sangster screenplay, so there is plenty of sexual innuendo in the script, besides the outright sex scenes; there's a snickering, leering sort of edge to a lot of cheaper British movies in this period, almost certainly intended to appeal to the adolescents who were still going to them in this period. I think it casts a pall over much of the industry, from James Bond, through the Carry On films, to efforts like this one, so much so that I didn't bother to make a joke about Peter Schickele and another about Superman that I might have. Feel free to make them yourself.

The Protégé

How Is There Anyone Alive In The World?
Maggie Q is a professional assassin. When her mentor, Samuel L. Jackson, is killed by the Rumanian Mafia, she decides to get some vengeance. Equally skilled assassin Michael Keaton meets with her to warn her off in a collegial manner.

Director Martin Campbell is a specialist in films about violent people in horrible situations, like several entries in the James Bond series, and GREEN LANTERN. This one is stylishly directed, as is his wont, but I find the story itself to be annoying. It reminds me of the John Wick series, in which everyone you meet is an assassin, and the audience is left wondering why they don't all wind up killing each other.

Unternehmen Michael

The Consequences
Operation Michael, the assault on the English fortress on the Western Front known as the the Labyrinth is underway. When all the senior field officers are down, it's up to Major Mathias Wieman, who wrote the plan, to carry out the assault on one of the surrounding towns that guard the Labyrinth. The English, however, counter-attack, and the German guns are too worn out to target the area without striking the German positions.

Operation Michael was one of the four German operations that made up the Spring Offensive in 1918, resulting in the First Battle of the Somme, 1918. It was an effort to separate the British army from the French and drive them into the sea. Its eventual failure meant the effective end of the Western Front; American forces entered the War, while the Germans had no reserves.

Karl Ritter's movie is derived from Hans Fritz von Zwehl stage play, and opens it nicely. Judging by what I saw on screen, the play is set purely at the command center of the operation, with information coming in from the field. The movie shows the audience the field, with its attendant destruction and death, shifting the focus from those who give the orders and regret it to those who suffer the consequences.

Wedding Rehearsal

Amusing Wodehouse Sort Of Story
Roland Young is the Marquis of Buckminster. He enjoys his bachelorhood. He's also dependent on the largess of his aunt -- I imagine he doesn't collect much rent on the palace. She insists he get married, and from a very short list of high-born ladies. Discussing this problem with two of the ladies he's actually friends with, twins Wendy Barrie and Joan Gardner, Young discovers they're engaged to two commoners who lack noble ancestors, and of whom their families heartily disapprove: John Loder and Maurice Evans, who rejoice in the names of "Bimbo" and "Tootles." He figures that if he can get all the eligible young women married, he's safe for another twenty years, and decides to start with these two.

It's an amusing P. G. Wodehouse sort of story, although it lacks the hilarious imbecility of the Master. Young is fine as the diffident, aging youth, and the cast is nicely filled out Merle Oberon as the unrealized object of his affection, George Grossmith, Lady Tree and Diane Napier.


Well Handled Wartime Propaganda Thriller
Laura Solari is a Russian concert violinist touring Europe. She also works for the O. G. P. U., which is odd, because the Bolsheviks killed her family, and she is out for revenge. Will Quadflieg is a student, driving a truck part-time, whom the O. G. P. U get to work for them, by blackmailing him, then blackmailing him again.

Some of these things will be explained by the end of this movie, but not all of them. It's directed byKarl Ritter, who has a very poor reputation as making propagandistic, wordy potboilers. Well, this one is very propagandistic -- Germany having invaded Russia, it was time to make it clear that they were bad, bad people -- but that's the script that was handed to him. In terms of moviemaking with a bad script, it's pretty well done, with lots of moving shots, location shooting in Paris, some interesting Dutch angles, and the editing is top notch, with a nice montage of locations in France and the Low Countries by Ritter's regular editor, Conrad von Molo. Judging by this film, and the two other films from Ritter that I have seen, I would suggest that the low opinion that critics like Karsten Witte have is based on the intellectual content of his films, rather than his abilities to make one that, once you strip out the egregious propaganda, is engaging.

What's that? Ritter was also the producer and the writer?

Pearls Bring Tears

Competent But Uninspired Quota Quickie
Aubrey Mallalieu wants to cut a deal with Mark Stone, but is shy a thousand pounds. So he offers his wife's pearls as security for the marginal sum, with a promise to redeem them after the weekend -- his wife needs the pearls back within a week. Stone gives them to wife Dorothy Boyd, who lends them to her friend, Googie Withers, who lends them to former boyfriend John Stuart... well, eventually they wind up with Annie Esmond, and the whole chain has to be unwound toute suite in a farcical fashion.

It's a Quota Quickie shot for distribution by Columbia pictures, and it's competently handled, if little more, by director H. Manning Haynes. The best scenes are those between Stuart and Miss Withers, but there's nothing wrong with anyone's performance.

The Thing Called Love

Okay Movie
River Phoenix (in his final completed movie role), Samantha Mathis, Dermot Mulroney, and Sandra Bullock meet at try-out at the Bluebird Cafe in Memphis, all anxious to become something in the country music scene.

Four attractive leads: it soon settles into a story about Phoenix and Miss Bullock and their love life and conflicts. I's well filled out with music, both by the four leads, as well as well-known performers on the Memphis scene. But there's such a sense of tentativeness, and underwritten characters for whom this is not their main story, that there's no engagement. Phoenix's death before it opened outside of the South certainly did not help the movie. Paramount halted the rollout, resulting in a total box office of $1,000,000 on a $14,000,000 budget, marking director Peter Bogdanovitch as cursed. He's only completed three movies in almost three decades since then.

Rambling 'Round Radio Row #8

The Voice Of Fred Flintstone
Eddie Bruce hosts this occasional series of Vitaphne shorts, in which he plays a radio announcer, cracks jokes, and introduces four acts.

Few of the performers' fame have survived, but take a look at Blubber Bergman. He's better remembered as Alan Reed, the voice of Fred Flintstone. Shirley Howard sings a nice version of "Don't Blame Me", and that's about it by me.


Rip Torn Gets A Rare Lead, And Aces It
Rip Torn is a country-music singer, fronting his own band, well known on the circuit and just on the point of breaking out into major stardom. He's also an egotistical S. O. B. Here are a few days in his life.

It's a character study, and a rare leading role for Torn, who gets to exhibit considerable self-aware charm in the role, self-indulgently aware of he perks of even minor fame, but without the self-awareness to not take himself seriously. It's a well-written part, and Torn plays it for all it's worth, only gradually letting the audience see what an inherently unlikable character he is.

Shel Silverstein wrote the songs used in this movie.

The Roaring Road

Amiable B
William H. Strauss and George Bunny have bene in partnership manufacturing engines for decades. Business has been bad, so they need to win the big race. However, they quarrel. Each enters a car in the race. Little do they know that Bunny's son, Kenneth MacDonald, and Strauss's daughter, Jane Thomas, has gone into partnership to enter a car of their own. Underhanded rivals know none of them can win with MacDonald behind the wheel, so they take measures to ensure he is not in the race. Will MacDonald drive the car, win the race, get the contract and the girl, and restore their fathers' amity? Well, he's got a full fifty minutes.

It's an out-and-out Poverty Row special, produced on $15,000, shot in a week, and distributed via states rights. There's not an original thought in the script, but it's done with cheap good humor, and director Paul Hurst and cinematographer Jack Cotner have shot the racing scenes to bring some real excitement to them: the medium shots are swerving trucking shots that make the sharp turns and weaving of the race cars look dangerous. This is, as the time I write this, Cotner's sole known credit of any sort. Hurst directed a few cheap movies in this period, but with the coming of sound retreated, to acting. He appeared in more than three hundred shorts and features. He died in 1953 at the age of 64.

Im Trommelfeuer der Westfront

In Flanders Field The Poppies Grow
It's bookeneded by Ernst Rückert reciting high-flown poetry about the heroes of the front line. In between, it's a canny mixture of foleyed combat footage and live re-enactment of a few days of the horrors of trench warfare: men firing machine guns at advancing troops amidst unending artillery fire; tanks crushing men to death; men leaping from observation balloons, which then burn, and set their parachutes afire; the survivors, trying to get some sleep, announcing they are dead tired with no irony. There's no philosophy, not even stoicism. The orders come down on notes that an attack will take place at a specific time and place, and the soldiers go over the top, fight fiercely, and die horribly.

Despite the poetry, it's as fierce an anti-war film as any made.


The Town In Macedonia?
Only about 17 seconds of this film by the Manaki brothers survives, and so it's difficult to say what it is. It seems to show a butcher shop or slaughter house dealing with sheep. A little light googling of the title brings up a pop group and bacteria. Add in 'Macedonia' and you get "a locality in North Macedonia", so I'm going to call it that.

Perhaps there was more. I'm sure it was in better focus than the copy I looked at. Sometimes, when you've got just a fragment like this, you just have to accept it.

Gestern und heute

Adolf Hitler, Movie Star
Clips of Hitler's speeches alternate with clips of the industrial ruin before his rise to power, and the happy state of German industry and armed forces as of 1938.

It looks like a fairly ordinary film, the government lauding all it has accomplished in the previous five years. Of course, looking at it in historical context, we can see the terrible devastation wrought by the regime, and be appalled at the cult of personality ..... as if that is not a current issue with national leaders, not only abroad but here in the US. Still, it was fairly typical in the 1930s, not only for the Fascist nations, but others as well; anyone who has seen movies like THREE HEROINES is aware of the tremendous cult of personality that surrounded Stalin in the USSR.

The Home Breakers

A Four-Sided Triangle And Slim Summerville
Bank president Mack Swain is carrying on an affair with Fontaine La Rue, the wife of his clerk, Chester Conklin. Meanwhile, Conklin is carrying on an affair with Alice Davenport, Swain's wife. It all comes to a head when janitor Slim Summerville locks Swain and Miss La Rue in the bank vault just as Conklin tries to blow it open for money so he and Mrs Davenport can run away.

It's a typical Keystone, filled with salacious behavior and low comedy. Swain and Conklin were often teamed together in this period as a "Big and Little" pair of comics, Swain as 'Ambrose', and Conklin as 'Walrus' -- referring to his mustache. Miss La Rue moved into features in 1918, and appeared in more than thirty, before retiring with the coming of sound. She died in 1964 at the age of 66.

The Case of the Stuttering Bishop

Last Warners Perry Mason
Donald Woods is Perry Mason in the last of the Warner Brothers' series, with Ann Dvorak as Della Street. Woods is adequate, but little more under the direction of William Clemens. Tom Kennedy is on hand as a dumb hotel detective, and while I usually find him enjoyable, this one has him as annoying, present to hold the vital clue, but unable to remember what it is until almost the very end, at which point the entire mystery is solved.

But what a mystery! It has so many plots and pieces that it is nigh unto indescribable... but it has a script to adept that it makes perfect sense as it goes along. How can a bishop, who must speak in public, stutter? Who is really the grand daughter of Douglas Wood, and who killed him, and why? Will the murderer confess on the witness stand? It's classic clockwork mystery writing. Too bad the acting isn't more compelling, but perhaps, given the essential 'B' nature of this movie, there wasn't screen time enough for plot and acting.

The Butcher's Nightmare

One Of Ben Turpin's Rare Vogue Comedies
Ben Turpin is a butcher who loves Gypsy Abbott. She cares for another, so Ben falls asleep and dreams he owns the mortgage on her home.

Ben worked at Essannay for ten years without gaining much traction. Then Chaplin came to the studio for a year, used Turpin in a few of his comedies, and suddenly Ben was in demand. California and Vogue Pictures beckoned, but although their low slapstick was right up their star's alley, they lacked good directors, who kept insisting on shooting him in long takes. Luckily, Sennett and fame soon beckoned.

It's hard to tell if this is actually as chaotic as it looks, or if generations of editing and re-editing have made it that way. There are goats, pantomime animals, and the one good gag, in which a safe cracker mesmerizes a safe into opening goes to some one else.

Baba Despina

The Privilege Of Being First
It must have been nice to have been the first film makers in European Turkey. The Manaki brothers, being the first to ever make films in Macedonia and Albania, could film just about anything and be sure it was original, and would play t least locally, even if, like here, it's just their grandmother at her spinning wheel for ten seconds.

They did this sort of thing from 1905 through 1912, and it's still interesting, with images from the time, people wearing clothes like they don't any more.


Then A Sentimental Passion Of A Vegetable Fashion Must Excite Your Languid Spleen
As a child, Agathe Rousselle was in a traffic accident and has a titanium plate in her head. Now a dancer at an auto-themed night club, she is heavily gravid with the offspring of a Cadillac Sedan Deville she has been having an affair with, and the police are looking for her, having caught wind of her murder spree. So she breaks her nose to disguise herself as the grown-up, disappeared son of firefighter Vincent Lindon. His brigade realizes something weird is going on, but he's the fire chief.

It's a highly relatable situation. Who among us has not been in that very predicament and chosen that particular solution? All right, yes, it clearly works, or tries to, in the "body horror" genre of Franju and David Cronenberg, but it lacks even the dream logic of those works; while Lindon's motivation is clear -- he's out of his mind with grief after living in the same quarters for the past twenty years, with his missing son's toys and posters still about -- Mlle Rousselle is not someone I wish to spend a couple of hours with. Which I just did.

Stone of Destiny

Fierce And Funny
1950, four students -- Kay Matheson, Gavin Vernon, Alan Stuart, and Ian Hamilton -- were disappointed by Scotland's refusal to form its own Parliament. So they stole the Stone Of Destiny from Westminster Cathedral. This is their story. As told by Ian Hamilton, anyway, played here by Charlie Cox.

The Stone of Detiny is also know as the Stone of Scone and a bunch of other titles. Supposedly found in MacBeth's castle, it was used as part of the coronation of Scottish kings until 1296, when Edward I took it south and used it as part of England's coronation regalia.

The story is told with good humor and some lovely photography of Scottish countryside and British interiors by Glen Winter. Hamilton has a brief appearance in the movie.

Changing of the Guard

The Screen Test
Halliwell Hobbes talks to Sybil Jason about his retirement as colonel of a Scots regiment. Then she dreams of the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.

It's one of the 3-strip Technicolor shorts that Warner Brothers did in the 1930s, beautiful exhibition of the technology's ability to reproduce colors. It was also intended as a screen test for Miss Jason. Everyone wanted a child star like Shirley Temple. Warners hoped that Miss Jason wold be theirs. She's cute, she sings well, she photographs well in medium and long shot..... but somehow it wasn't enough.

Fast Five

The Fifth Time They Pull Their Last Job
Vin Diesel is broken out of prison by the usual gang. With Dwayne Johnson in hot pursuit, they head off to Rio De Janeiro, where they steal some hot cars in the first practical effects showpiece. They turn out to belong to druglord Joaquim de Almeida; they discover he stored all his extensive papers detailing his evil empire and a hundred million dollars in cash in one of the cars, as one does, and decide to steal that for the second big practical effects showpiece as yet another last job they'll ever do.

There are some fine performers here, but the cars are the real stars, and more work is done to make sure you can hear the engines than the dialogue. No one in the intended audience has ever heard of a muffler apparently. Still, the things they put these cars through is astonishing, if you like that sort of thing. Given that it has taken me ten years to see this hit movie, which gives you an idea of how I feel about the matter.

Um das Menschenrecht

What People Need
The German soldiers come back from the Great War, leaving two million dead on the battlefield. They go back to their old work, on the farm, laying bricks, creating art. Hans Schlenck, with the backing of his father, a cobbler, goes back to school, while he grapples with the questions of what to do. But the Spartacist Rebellion happens, and he joins the Freikorps, the mercenaries who put down the rebellion, saving two of his old comrades who joined the Reds. Those who came back from the War leave the country, save Schlenck. At the end, he gives a terrific speech talking about his vision of socialism.

Hitler had dissolved the Freikorps six months before this movie came out, demanding their battle flags. Nonetheless, the Nazi Party paid for this film, with a terrific battle sequence making up almost half the film, before he speaks his true but vague ideas of what socialism is. It's pure Nazi propaganda at the end.

Schlenck did a lot of movies through 1942, when he was drafted into the Army. He died in combat in Hungary in 1944.

Watermelon Contest

Hey, I Like Watermelon Too
Two black men in overalls eat watermelon slices, spitting the seeds out.

That happens to be the right way to eat watermelon, although in my household we tried to get the seeds onto a plate to be disposed on later. Eating watermelon is stereotypically associated with poor Black people because it was a cheap sweet treat that grew with little care as long as there was sunshine and water. When I was a child, you could buy them at the supermarket for as little as two cents a pounds in July and August. Even today, a small one is sold for $5.

This sort of short actuality was in almost every movie catalogue in the era. The Internet Movie Database lists half a dozen similar titles by 1903. This one is typical.

Panoramic View of the Vegetable Market at Venice

Round And About
In this era, a panoramic view was any moving shot This one certainly qualifies. It was taken from a boat in the canal next to the vegetable market. The market itself is a small, open space surrounded, it seems by water on every side. It seems like it no more than a few thousand square feet.

The term 'panorama' arose as a term in painting for pictures that were wider than the typical picture:sometimes much wider, enough to put a landscape on a painting. Perhaps the peak of the form was in 1827. Thomas Hornor built a colosseum housing the largest painting in the world, a panorama seven stories tall and 130 feet in diameter. A spiral staircase rose to a large gallery from which visitors could view London as seen from the ball atop St. Paul's Cathedral.

Estimates of the painting's size vary from 24,000 to 44,000 square feet; flyers called it "nearly an acre of canvas."

Because the movement in the 'panoramic view' offered a wider view than the standard fixed shot, the term was applied to this sort of picture. The following year, a new camera came out that could swivel on a tripod base. Eventually, the modern sense of a 'pan shot' as one that offered a circular view replaced the older one.

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