Slippery Jim

Watch this! Reputedly inspired  by Harry Houdini’s recent Parisian dates, this 1910 trick-film by Fernand Zecca, made for Pathe Freres, uses inventive special effects and animation to depict impossible feats of escapology and indeed resurrection. Christ popping out of his cave-grave has nothing on Slippery Jim, who disassembles his own body, cycles through the skies like Elliot and ET, and bisects a policeman with the wheel of his magic bike. Even if you’re very familiar with Meliés and all the subsequent developments in effects artistry, I think there are likely to be some tricks in here you haven’t seen done quite like this…

There’s no real way to end a film like this, since all the characters are indestructible and there’s no real logic beyond the generally accepted (but often unreal) antipathy between cops and crooks. So, like one of the simpler cartoons, the film just rings changes on a basic situation and then stops arbitrarily. I was kind of glad to see the forces of anarchism triumph, though — it would seem hypocritical to spend ten minutes celebrating the violation of every law of man and nature and then impose some kind of moral ending.

vlcsnap-2015-05-04-22h02m59s186Half a copper?



7 Responses to “Slippery Jim”

  1. Raymond Durgnat used to write about “Zecca realism” vis-a-vis Franju. From Slippery Jim it’s easy to see what he meant.

  2. It’s the poetry of the streets! Melies on location. Gritty fairy tales for nasty children.

  3. DBenson Says:

    This crops up in one of the Robert Youngson compilation films, “30 Years of Fun” (1963). The narration speculates that many old men have fond memories of it. I’d think anyone who saw it as a child might have nightmares.

    That same film opens with footage of kids emerging from a 20s nickelodeon, noting with disbelief many of these happy youngsters “would be in their fifties today.”

    Youngson films have become nostalgic curios themselves, relics of an era when they were often our only chance to see silent comics. They fueled a popular interest that helped lead to preservation and greater availability, with the ironic but pleasant result that the source material Youngson was able to use was often far inferior to what we can readily buy now.

  4. On the other hand, I believe some movies now survive only in the clips used in compilations — Emil Jannings Oscar-winning turn in The Way of All Flesh survives as a couple of snippets.

  5. DBenson Says:

    Not to mention Charley Chase’s “Limousine Love” and (for a long time) L&H’s “Battle of the Century.” Also, I understand “The Cameraman” still exists because it was rescued for a Youngson project. Sadly, Youngson’s Hal Roach compilations seem to have faded away in a legal fog (something to do with rights to the silents, I understand).

    What I was thinking of was the Chaplin Mutual footage, much of it looking like Public Domain bargain discs.

    If anybody had serious time and money to waste, it would be amusing to go through the Youngson films and replace all the clips now available in better form.

  6. Like the narrator of Amazing Grace, Limousine Love was lost but now it’s found — I *saw* it, in it’s entirety, at the Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema last year. Intact and in decent condition. It’s a delight, of course.

  7. DBenson Says:

    And I commented there too. I grow repetitious and forgetful in my senility. If there’s a DVD of it (and/or the alternate version of Keaton’s “Blacksmith”), please advise.

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