Archive for November 6, 2022

The Sunday Intertitle: On Autopilot

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on November 6, 2022 by dcairns

R.W. Paul and Walter R. Booth collaborated, in some unspecified way, on the gleefully anarchic and charmingly strange short THE MOTORIST aka THE ? MOTORIST. I prefer the grammatically bizarro title.

Really good jumpcuts and a clever substitution which allows the car to race up the side of a building — Booth simply has the car approach the wall and then cuts to a flat life-size cut-out of an overhead view of the car which he pulls up to the roof on a wire. The sharp cut from back view to aerial plan is reinterpreted by the viewer’s baffled eyeballs as a ninety-degree tilt by the speeding jalopy.

I had never seen THE AUTOMATIC MOTORIST, a 1911 follow-up which recycles Saturn’s rings but depends on a cool robot/Tin Man costume. Good clunky acting by the stooge inside it.

Because cinema is a bit more developed we can have edits, too, so we can see the policeman victim from a new angle around the 1.30 mark, allowing us to appreciate the way a random dog attacks his trousers. British films in those days are bustling with stray mutts — we evidently turned our dogs as well as our cats loose to run riot during the daytime. They’d come back when they were hungry, if they hadn’t already sated their appetites on the constabulary’s derrieres.

The anarchic spirit of these movies — not rediscovered in the UK until the sixties — is quite surprising. Murderous assaults on cops and vehicular mayhem on the dome of St Paul’s are alike presented in a spirit of fun. And it’s good and WEIRD too. Dragged against his will to Saturn, the distraught cop is abandoned to the hostile attentions of celestial Munchkin-jockey types, and rescued by a bracket-faced faerie with whom he immediately falls to flirting. It’s all very Meliesian, but Booth continues to use animated inserts, which the great Georges didn’t have the patience for.

The fact that Booth invented the idea of combining live action and stop motion is the only bit of historical background that anticipates Ray Harryhausen setting up shop in these isles, which otherwise seems an extraordinary career move, akin to Ken Loach moving to Zanzibar.

Booth forgets to feature the robot much once the odyssey is underway, but at the six minute mark, during the underwater phase of the honeymoon trip, he does provide a closer view. Amusingly, the bloke in the back seat does lots of subaquatic mugging, while his bride acts as if there’s air aplenty. I tell you, it’s a whole different sex.

The bucolic final sequence harkens forward to THE RUNNING JUMPING STANDING STILL FILM, down to the tweedy gent with the shotgun, who will eventually be Peter Sellers. Amusing comedy logic — the bride and groom are stuck in the sky, and he lands them safely by plugging them full of buckshot, an established method for bringing objects safely to earth.

What have I forgotten? Oh yes, an intertitle. Booth doesn’t got in for those much, even in his later works, but his film of A CHRISTMAS CAROL (the first) has some splendid superintertitles, imposed over the action. It’s obviously way too early in the year for a close analysis of that film, but as a “trailer” for later on, here’s a sample title: