Categories
This Film Is 100 Years Old

Das Cabinet Des Dr Caligari (1920)

Das Cabinet Des Dr Caligari is a silent horror film, directed by Robert Wiene and starring Conrad Veidt, about an insane hypnotist causing havoc in a small German town.

It is, of course, 100 years old. It’s also utterly wonderful in almost every way.

One of the most famous and influential films of the period, Das Cabinet Des Dr Caligari looks amazing. Everything is really beautifully shot and staged, and the costumes and make-up are brilliant throughout. The sets especially are incredible, all weird oblique lines and strange forced perspectives, which help create a strangely disconcerting and unsettling atmosphere throughout.

The style of it reminded me quite a bit of the 1928 version of The Fall Of The House Of Usher (directed by and viewable here), which obviously came afterwards, but then that’s the problem with watching films throughtout your life with no attempt to make sure you view them in chronological order of release – you almost always end up seeing the influenced things before their influences.

Also, now that I think about it, it strikes me as slightly odd that so few films (not just then, but now, too) look like this, to be honest, when you consider how visually striking both these films are. But the curse of realism is especially strong in films, unfortunately, and this sort of heightened surrealistic construction of image has been rejected almost entirely in favour of something much more mundane in composition.

(I am trying to think of a modern equivalent, really, that uses similarly theatrical and obviously constructed sets, and the best I can think of is probably Bunny And The Bull. Although no doubt once I finish writing this I’ll think of several hundred more and this point will be utterly redundant.)

Anyway, in conclusion, I loved this. You should watch it.

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Notes

1. I watched this on DVD (Eureka Video, 2000)

2. It was from a 1996 restoration, and included a specially composed (and wonderfully atmospheric) score by Timothy Brock

3. There’s a version of this on Amazon Prime, but it seems to be 20 minutes shorter, so I don’t know what’s missing from that.

4. A lot, presumably.

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Film Information

Title: Das Cabinet Des Dr Caligari
Director: Robert Wiene
Year: 1920
Duration: 72 minutes
Watch: youtube; archive.org

Categories
This Film Is 100 Years Old

Manufacture Of Stilton Cheese (1920) / Cheese Mites (1903) / The Unclean World (1903)

Manufacture Of Stilton Cheese is a short look at the process of making cheese, filmed in 1920 by Charles Urban, who was a fairly important figure in the history of British film, especially in documentary and educational film-making.

Manufacture Of Stilton Cheese itself is fairly unremarkable, unless you like watching films of industrial processes (which I do), in which case it’s wonderful. I especially like the scene where the huge rolls of cheese are dressed in their muslin rags, which I found quite beautiful, and oddly funereal.

The main reason I’m reviewing it, though, is it led me to another film about cheese, made by Charles Urban (and F. Martin Duncan, who also plays the man with a magnifying glass in the picture below) in 1903, almost 20 years before.

The wonderful Cheese Mites was part of a series of ground-breaking (and incredibly popular) educational films which used microscopic photography to show the absolute horrors lurking all around us, just out of sight.

The scenes of the cheese mites crawling across the lens are pleasantly revolting, and still just as creepily unsettling (or not, depending on the strength of your constitution) now as they undoubtedly were then. (I don’t know if the horror of this was so great it took Charles Urban fully 17 years to recover the strength to ever film any cheese again, but I’m going to assume so.)

The Unseen World series was so popular they played for almost a year at the cinema in London. They also inspired The Unclean World, a parodic remake of Cheese Mites directed by Percy Stow later that year.

The format of the film is identical to Cheese Mites, building up to a charming punchline which I liked a lot (and which is spoiled behind this link here, if you can’t watch the film itself for some reason but still want to see the end).

And that’s everything I know about 100 year old cheese.

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Notes

1. I watched all of these on the BFI Player – Manufacture Of Stilton Cheese; Cheese Mites; The Unclean World.

2. Other titles in The Unseen World series, alongside Cheese Mites, were Circulation of Blood in a Frog’s Foot, and Red Sludge Worms

3. Although quite disappointingly I haven’t been able to find them anywhere yet.

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Film Information

Title: Manufacture Of Stilton Cheese
Director: Charles Urban
Year: 1920
Duration: 2 minutes
Watch: BFI Player

Title: Cheese Mites
Director: Charles Urban and F. Martin Duncan
Year: 1903
Duration: 2 minutes
Watch: BFI Player

Title: The Unclean World
Director: Percy Stow
Year: 1903
Duration: 2 minutes
Watch: BFI Player

Categories
This Film Is 100 Years Old

The Scarecrow (1920)

The Scarecrow is a 20-minute Buster Keaton comedy (co-directed with Edward F. Cline) from 1920, in which Buster Keaton eats lunch, runs away from a dog, and also pretends to be a scarecrow for about 10 seconds.

The film is essentially two entirely separate parts. The first part, in which Buster Keaton and his flatmate have lunch in a tiny house filled with mechanical space-saving contraptions, is utterly brilliant (and very reminiscent of Wallace and Gromit’s elaborate living arrangements).

The second part, in which Buster Keaton and his flatmate pursue the farmer’s daughter’s hand in marriage, while her father, and also the farmer’s incredibly excellent dog, try to chase them away, isn’t quite as good, but it’s still pretty fun.

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Notes

1. I watched this on youtube here

2. The utterly amazing dog in this is Luke, who is so wonderful he even has his own wikipedia page.

3. This was his last film

4. Although he lived for another 6 years in retirement.

5. So please don’t be too sad.

6. This is one of five Buster Keaton films from 1920, so hopefully I’ll watch all of them sometime soon.

7. Also thanks again to Vom Vorton for recommending this one to me.

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Film Information

Title: The Scarecrow
Directors: Buster Keaton and Edward F. Cline
Year: 1920
Duration: 20 minutes
Watch: youtube

Categories
This Film Is More Than 100 Years Old

Pirates Of 1920 (1911)

Pirates Of 1920 is a (partially incomplete) science fiction film from 1911 directed by Dave Aylott and A.E. Coleby, set in the terrifying far future of 1920, where a group sky pirates roam the world causing fairly slow havoc in their zeppelin, robbing cruise liners and stealing beautiful women from their husbands-to-be.

This future is 100 years old!

Anyway, I like the use of tints in different scenes, which is used to good effect, with blue for the night time scenes and an ominous red for an explosion (the model effects are great, too).

I also really liked this strangely specific not the sky pirates prisoner dropped out of the airship in an attempt to get help in her escape.

Unfortunately the film itself is a bit generic, and as the last five minutes of it have been lost, none of us will ever know if Jack Manley, our excellently named hero, successfully saves our plucky heroine from those dastardly pirates in the end or not.

But we can hope and we can dream.

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Notes

1. I watched this on the BFI Player here

2. There’s loads of things called Pirates of 1920 on youtube, but none of them actually seem to be this, for some reason.

3. The use of tinting in this reminded me of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1916 version), which I saw a few years ago, and which had different tints depending on whether scenes were set underwater, on Captain Nemo’s submarine, or outside, an so on.

4. I saw that version with a live soundtrack by the band Fishclaw, and it was really great.

5. Unfortunately I can’t seem to find any snippets of their soundtrack anywhere

6. And also I can’t find whatever tinted version of the film they showed anywhere either, with every version on youtube or wherever in boring old permanent black and white.

7. Anyway, I enjoyed 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea very much and might watch it again soon.

8. Especially as I’m pretty sure it was while watching that that I decided to make this website.

9. And then took 4 years to actually get round to doing it.

10. But now I have, so everything is okay.
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Film Information

Title: Pirates Of 1920
Director: Dave Aylott and A.E. Coleby
Year: 1911
Duration: 17 minutes
Watch: BFI Player

Categories
This Film Is 100 Years Old

Coves And Caves (1920)

Claude Friese-Greene, who directed Nude Woman By Waterfall, was best known for his travelogues, of which Coves and Caves is an early example.

Coves and Caves is essentially a series of moving postcards, showing various landmarks and places round Cornwall, and I found it quite charming (no doubt helped by the way they’re all places within twenty minutes or so of where my brother and his family live).

There’s a whimsical lightness about it all that’s genuinely endearing.

And I really hope this baby is now 100 years old.

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Notes

1. I watched this on the BFI player here

2. Coves and Caves is the fourth part of a series, although I haven’t been able to find the others yet.

3. The Trevose Head lighthouse section is pretty incredible. I assume it’s not the first commercial aerial photography section on film, but it must be pretty close.

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Film Information

Title: Coves And Caves
Director: Claude Friese-Greene
Year: 1920
Duration: 12 minutes
Watch: BFI Player; youtube

Categories
This Film Is More Than 100 Years Old

Le Voyage Dans La Lune (1902) / Mister Moon (1901)

Le Voyage Dans La Lune (or, A Trip To The Moon), directed by Georges Melies in 1902, is perhaps the most well-known of all early films, especially the image of the moon with a spaceship in its eye.

I’ve always quite liked the way that the conventions, limitations and constraints of early film-making led to a similarity in style and appearance to early computer games (especially adventure games), which were the result of a very different set of technical problems, but which utilised very similar solutions.

So here you get static single screen sets with lavishly painted backgrounds, through which the characters move one scene at a time (such as the two images immediately below).

Partly this would have been due to the limitations/difficulties of the filming process itself (movement juddering, smooth camera control, re-focusing, etc), partly for stylistic reasons (the recreation of a theatre-style viewpoint) and also because of the cost, size and other logistical problems in the making, building and staging of sets.

These are evoked, in a way, by the static pre-rendered screens of something like Dizzy or Monkey Island, which allowed for a much higher graphical detail at the expense of screen movement/scrolling, the number of moving characters/enemies, and so on.

The more obvious lineage, of course, is that of Le Voyage Dans La Lune’s imagery being referenced and replicated in the 120 years since in everything from subsequent HG Wells and Jules Verne adaptations, to Tintin and Flash Gordon (the crashed spaceship and the hopping Selenite are very similar to the initial landing scene and the strange green monster that gets incinerated a bit later in the 1980s version), right the way up to The Smashing Pumpkins (I’ve often wondered if that video was the creation-myth of steampunk).

When they return to Earth, the scene where they crash into the sea is very similar to the corresponding scene in The Automatic Motorist, even down to the newts swimming about.

(I’d noticed the more obvious homages to this in The “?” Motorist and The Automatic Motorist when I watched them, but had missed this one)

I also watched Mister Moon, a 1 minute promotional video for the musical hall star Percy Henri’s comedy act, filmed in 1901, and which also features a terrifying human-faced moon (and nothing else at all, in this case).

Unsurprisingly, I found this utterly terrifying.

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Notes

1. I watched both of these on the BFI player again – Le Voyage Dans La Lune; Mister Moon.

2. The crashed spaceship image from A Trip To The Moon is one I’ve, erm, well, stolen repeatedly over the years, although I’ve not yet resorted to moons with faces, thankfully.

3. I didn’t realise the BFI player was region locked to the UK, so I’ll try to add alternate links to things I’ve watched from now on

4. If I can

5. Although you might well have been glad of the chance to not see the full horror of Mister Moon, to be honest.

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Film Information

Title: Le Voyage Dans La Lune
Director: Georges Melies
Year: 1902
Duration: 12 minutes
Watch: BFI; youtube

Title: Mister Moon
Director: Percy Honri
Year: 1901
Duration: 1 minute
Watch: BFI; youtube

Categories
This Film Is 100 Years Old

Nude Woman By Waterfall (1920)

An ethereal spirit fades into existence on a cliff high above the sea. Lost and alone, she falls to her knees, and prays for release. Her wish granted, she fades away into nothingness.

Yet her release is only temporary. She returns, trapped in a loop, her body locked into motion as surely as a train on a track, repeating, against her will her gestures and her poses, even her prayers.

Except now her prayers aren’t for release, but understanding.

A jolt of memory, a split second vision. Hands on her shoulders, instructions in her ear. Her actions repeated and repeated until they reach the perfection of his demands. Until she stops being a person and becomes a vision.

Just not a vision of her choosing. A vision of his.

Now she begs for forgetfulness. But it is too late. There is no turning back. Memory forms by repetition. Understanding grows through memory.

And so she realises, slowly, the full horror of her existence,

This eternal torment

an unremembered ghost trapped in someone else’s dream.

And so, she dreams.

She dreams.

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Notes

1. I watched this on the BFI player here.

2. Nude Woman By Waterfall was directed by Claude Friese-Greene in 1920.

3. Claude Friese-Greene is best known for his travelogues, especially his 1926 film The Open Road, which was filmed using an early colour process developed by him and his father, William Friese-Greene.

4. I assume this was test footage, rather than anything meant for release at the time.

5. I watched this while listening to Messy Hearts by Moon Ate The Dark, which worked pretty well together.

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Film Information

Title: Nude Woman By Waterfall
Director: Claude Friese-Greene
Year: 1920
Duration: 12 minutes
Watch: BFI; youtube (extract only)

Categories
This Christmas Is 100 Years Old

Santa Claus (1898)

Santa Claus is a minute long film from 1898 showing Santa Claus himself clambering down a chimney and delivering presents to a couple of very excited children.

I like how sweet and strangely magical this is.

Merry Christmas, etc!

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Notes

1. I watched this on youtube originally, but the version on the BFI website looks nicer.

2. According to lots of places, this is the oldest Christmas film in existence.

3. And according to the BFI page about it, this is also the earlier film that shows two things happening in different places at the same time.

4. I have no idea if either of those facts are true.

5. This film is 121 years old!

6. And now I can’t tell if that’s actually a fake snow effect they’re using, or if it’s all just the result of 121 years of dirt and degradation on the celluloid itself.

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Film Information

Title: Santa Claus
Director: GA Smith
Year: 1898
Duration: 1 minute

Categories
This Film Is More Than 100 Years Old

Animated Putty (1911)

Animated Putty is a short demonstration of stop motion/claymation effects from 1911, directed by “trick” film specialist WR Booth. It consists entirely of a number of sequences where some lumps of putty roll around slowly forming themselves into intricate shapes and models, and it’s brilliant.

There’s two incredible scenes here. The first is one where a windmill builds itself from scratch, and then slowly creates its own sails as it spins. The second is where the pretty figure of a woman transforms into and utterly horrifying demonic gargoyle, which then proceeds to vomit up further gargoyles until we all scream.

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Notes

1. I watched this on the BFI site here.

2. WR Booth also directed ‘The “?” Motorist’ (1906) and ‘The Automatic Motorist’ (1911), both of which I reviewed here.

3. One of the first cartoons I made when I first got a 3DS was a little plasticine worm.

4. Which would have been obsolete a full century before.

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Film Information

Title: Animated Putty
Director: WR Booth
Year: 1911
Duration: 4 minutes

Categories
This Film Is More Than 100 Years Old

Suspense (1913)

Suspense is a brisk ten-minute long home-invasion thriller, directed by Lois Weber, an acclaimed and prolific pioneer in early cinema, the majority of whose work has largely, unfortunately, been lost.

Technically groundbreaking both in its use of split screen and the staging of its scenes (it’s hard to imagine how difficult the wing mirror car chase scene must have been to stage with an impossibly huge and cumbersome 1910s camera rig), Suspense is also beautifully filmed.

There are a number of shots that are pretty much perfectly composed, despite over a century of being referenced, re-used (or just plain stolen) elsewhere potentially diluting their impact for people like us watching it now.

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Notes

1. I watched this on youtube, on the Change Before Going Productions channel.

2. I really like the soundtrack they’ve added to this, composed by the artist Robbie Kaye.

3. This film is often described as Hitchcockian, although maybe we should respect causality at least vaguely and decide that it’s his films that should be termed Weberian.

4. I can’t say I’m a great fan of the slightly reactionary nature of the plot, but it’s not as if we’ve moved onto anything much more thoughtful in the century since.

5. Thanks again to Vom Vorton for recommending this film to me.

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Film Information

Title: Suspense
Director: Lois Weber
Year: 1913
Duration: 10 minutes
Related Articles: Lois Weber (bfi); Four Daring Films By Lois Weber (open culture); Lois Weber (bbc)