Archive for Georges Melies

Stronger Than Sherlock Holmes!

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2021 by dcairns

Another crazy Italian silent. Hmm, was Holmes known for being particularly strong? Maybe in Italy he was.

Like Enrico Guazzoni, Giovanni Pastrone seems to have alternated between the super-epics for which he is best known (exemplified by CABIRIA) with smaller, quirkier fare. At least from what I can see of his oeuvre, which is a limited selection.

PIU FORTE CHE SHERLOCK HOLMES (1916) is a Melies-style trick film, but with interesting stylistic variations. It may originally have had intertitles — the IMDb gives the two leads character names, but doesn’t make it easy to work out which is which. I’m going to assume that the comic copper is Emilio Vardannes, who made a bunch of short comedies as the recurring character Bonifacio, and then as Toto (but not the one we’re thinking of). He’s Toto Travetti here, apparently. He also plays Hannibal in CABIRIA, though, which doesn’t fit that image. The smooth criminal would be, by elimination, Domenico “Childish” Gambino, but he had his own series of later comedies, as Saetta. I may have the two muddled.

The film is photographed by the legendary Segundo de Chomon, who had been making his own Melies knock-offs in France, and did special effects on some Roman epics in Italy, also building the first custom-made camera dolly. He and Pastroni would co-direct the extraordinary WWI animation LA GUERRA ED IL SOGNO DI MOMI the following year.

In photographs, Segundo looks EXACTLY like I imagined him.

We begin with Toto (I think) nodding off while looking at the Italian version of Illustrated Police News — a double page spread opposes a crook type on one side with a Keystone Karabiniero on the other. Mrs. Toto (I think) is also present. Fiona thinks she’s played by a man but I’m not even 100% sure of that.

Lapsing into a dream via double-exposure and a double taking his place (before SHERLOCK JR did a variation on this trick), Toto (I think) is tempted to pursue Saltarelli (I think – Gambino) who emerges from the fallen newspaper and keeps winking in and out of existence as he passes through the wall. Might be a double exposure but might also be Pepper’s Ghost — all done with mirrors.

Things get even more interesting as the chase goes al fresco and the fleeing criminal starts doing handstands on the surface of a lake, a sportive Jesus. Then, by reverse motion, the twosome scales a high building, and there’s a striking bit of chiaroscuro in a dimly-lit room. The exploitation of locations and dramatic lighting are very unlike the greenhouse exploits of M. Melies.

Lots more hi-jinks, lo-jinks and med-jinks. Strange bit where Saltarelli (I think) wipes a roomful of people away by pressing a button, causing a black vertical bar to pass across the screen like the eraser of an Etch-a-Sketch™. Also some inexplicable business with levers to be pulled, their purpose a mystery, shades of ERASERHEAD.

Toto has trouble with magic sacks which keep embracing him in their hessian grasp.

Another roomful of respectable-seeming people dope Toto (I think) with a funny cigarette, and then there’s a wrestling bout in which one opponent is squashed paper-thin and another explodes into fragments, the limbs and torso reuniting by stop-motion (and I believe Chomon was the first to combine live action with animation on the same set).

Surprisingly, for an adventure so random, it has a pretty satisfying conclusion, or as satisfying as “it was all a dream” ever gets.

A Continental Op

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , on June 29, 2018 by dcairns

While Fiona slumbered, I headed to the showing of 1898 movies with a scientific bent. Fiona was rather put off by the advertised HYSTERECTOMIE ABDOMINALE; ABLATION DE LA TUMOUR. A friend pooh-poohed the prospects of graphic and upsetting images: “Well, they couldn’t show much in those days.” But the film turned out to be made for training purposes: almost before you’ve decided that you’re looking at a woman’s inverted abdomen, the surgeon has it sliced open and pulls from the interior a round, shiny object about the size of Cate Blanchett’s head, which he proceeds to clamp off and sever, flashing an ingratiating smile at the camera from time to time. And he looks a lot like James Robertson Justice from the DOCTOR films, too. “What’s the bleeding time?”

Later he successfully sued one of his cameramen for selling the film to carnies.

The same program, which was nothing less than varied, gave us a range of subjects from Meliés, including the expected trick films — I like L’HOMME DES TETES OU LES QUATRES TETES EMBARRASSENT because the title is so explicit.

The 1898 shorts are grouped (by curator Marianne Lewinsky) according to Meliés’ own system — he claimed the four genres are Scientific Scenes, Open Air Scenes, Dramatic Scenes and Fantastical Scenes. That does seem to cover most of the possibilities…

There was more graphic blood-letting in the evening with SUSPIRIA, looking more amazing than ever in its new restoration. It did bring up one of the few complaints you hear about Il Cinema Ritrovato: the duration of introductions. Here we had the cinematographer and the director of the forthcoming remake banging on for forty minutes, each lengthy observation requiring laborious translation. It would have made a fine seminar earlier in the day, but was too much for this venue. The thing that really upsets me is when they show something child-friendly in the Piazza Maggiore and you see kids falling asleep before the movie even starts, coshed by the somnolence-inducing pre-match analysis.

But all was forgiven once Argento (before he became a surprise hero of the #MeToo movement) started slashing up his cast. Incidentally, why is the first victim named “Pat Hingle”? If that’s a hommage, it’s a very strange one.

Man in the Man in the Moon

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , on August 22, 2017 by dcairns

At The Chiseler, a short but timely disquisition on George Melies’ film L’ECLIPSE DU SOLEIL ET PLEINE LUNE, over at The Chiseler. Contains smut.