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This Film Is 100 Years Old

Elsie And The Brown Bunny (1921)

Elsie And The Brown Bunny is an 8-minute advert for Cadbury from 1921, which slightly surprisingly combines two of my favourite things – Alice In Wonderland and documentary footage of industrial processes.

The first half of this is an Alice In Wonderland parody, with Elsie eating chocolates and daydreaming of bunny rabbits. She chases the slightly terrifying brown bunny down a hole. In thanks, he ferries her across the river to the industrial wonderland of a chocolate factory (which I like to think is perhaps an allusion to Orpheus’s descent into hell. Don’t look back, Elsie!).

Inside, Elsie gets a tour of the factory, looking at everything with the same baffling joy that presumably I exhibit while watching all this footage of conveyor belts and production lines and warehouses full of boxes neatly piled in endless rows.

At the end, things take a dystopian turn. The brown bunny shows Elsie the men’s and the women’s recreational areas. The men are all playing cricket and tennis in startling factory fresh whites, all smiles and laughter; the women are dressed in black, dancing and marching in unison in a tiny walled square, trapped in glorious worship to the great god of chocolate himself (a humanoid bunny rabbit).

Elsie, having looked back, wakes to a bunnyless world.

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Notes

1. I watched this over at the BFI site again.

2. It was only now, while watching this, that I realised Bournville was spelt Bournville and not Bourneville

3. Although as they probably haven’t included a Bournville chocolate in anything for 20 years now I can forgive myself this mistake.

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Film Information

Title: Elsie And The Brown Bunny
Year: 1921
Duration: 8 minutes
Watch: BFI Player; youtube

Categories
This Film Is 100 Years Old

Tai-ani: The West Gate (1921) / Foo-chow, China (1921) / River Scenery China (1921)

Tai-ani: The West Gate, Foo-chow, China, and River Scenery China are all hundred year old, one minute long, slices of real life from various places in China. Tai-ani: The West Gate and Foo-chow, China are both street scenes, while River Scenery China is footage from a busy river front somewhere. There’s not a lot of information to go with these, unfortunately, with the locations of the first and last one seemingly unknown, although the second one is, as the title suggest, from Fuzhou, but they’re still captivating (to my eye, at least).

It’s nice having the two different camera angles in the two street scenes, as each one provides a nicely different perspective on the events (or non-events) shown. The elevated perspective in the Foo-chow footage, especially, makes it feel like I’m idly watching this out my window while drinking tea/smoking/waiting for a delivery to arrive (delete as appropriate for current procrastination scenarios).

Both of those also feature the near universal constant in these sorts of films of various bystanders unapologetically and unselfconsciously watching the camera, which is another thing I always really like. (Nowadays all you get is studied indifference or reflexive performance).

This camera watching is mostly absent in the river scene, sadly, although there’s a bit of it halfway through. Maybe they’re too busy working to stare.

Or maybe they’re just watching the boats, because they’re beautiful.

I could look at them all day.

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Notes

1. I watched all these on the BFI Player, as usual: Tai-ani: The West Gate; Foo-chow, China; River Scenery China.

2. As I’ve said, I really like minute long shots of anything, pretty much.

3. Somehow, I doubt anyone will be watching any of mine a hundred years from now, though.

4. Unless for some reason my account on youtube is the only surviving artefact of our mysteriously lost civilisation.

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Film Information

Title: Tai-ani: The West Gate
Year: 1921
Duration: 1 minute
Watch: BFI Player

Title:
Year: 1921
Duration: 1
Watch: BFI Player

Title: River Scenery, China
Year: 1921
Duration: 1 minute
Watch: BFI Player

Categories
This Film Is 100 Years Old

Der Fliegende Koffer (1921)

Der Fliegende Koffer (The Flying Suitcase) is another lovely Lotte Reiniger papercut animation, telling the fairy tale story of a princess imprisoned by her father in a tower to prevent a prophesied curse, only for her imprisonment to be the cause of that curse (this is why time travel is bad).

Anyway, the moral of the story is never imprison your daughter in a tower.

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Notes

1. I watched this on Blu-ray (it’s an extra on the Adventures Of Prince Ahmed video).

2. But got the images from this version on youtube.

3. The disc version is music-less, if that makes any difference.

4. But I think I preferred it that way.

5. Another Lotte Reiniger film, Das Ornament des verliebten Herzens, was the very first thing I ever reviewed on here.

6. Which is nice.

7. I would have reviewed more if I could find any trace of the ones she’s supposed to have made in 1920

8. But I couldn’t, unfortunately.

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Film Information

Title: Der Fliegende Koffer/The Flying Coffer/The Flying Suitcase
Director: Lotte Reiniger
Year: 1921
Duration: 8 minutes
Watch: youtube

Categories
This Film Is 100 Years Old

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)

For some reason, 1920 seems to have been the unofficial year of Jekyll and Hyde, with this film, directed by John S. Robertson, and starring John Barrymore in the title role, one of four separate versions released over the course of the year (although there had been seven versions released prior to 1920, too, so maybe every year was the year of Jekyll and Hyde, to some extent, back then).

In this version, Dr. Jekyll is almost impossibly beautiful, his every expression one of such open kindness that, as he gets slowly sadder and more melancholy as the film progresses, his innocence slowly corrupted by his counterpart’s actions, it feels genuinely heartbreaking. Mr. Hyde, meanwhile, is a figure of leering menace and absolute malevolence, and the contrast between them is so great its almost impossible to remember, at times, that they’re both played by the same person.

And although John Barrymore’s portrayal of Hyde relies increasingly on his physical degeneracy into some sort of malign barely human goblin, the most impressive scene of the film is the initial transformation, where, through the simple power of acting (ACTING!), Jekyll’s beatific face contorts into Hyde’s malignant sneer.

The whole film, in fact, is stuffed full of classic horror images, though whether this film is the source of their the origin, or merely an early collation of such effective imagery, I don’t have the depth of knowledge to tell you. But I can at least show you a selection of stills, which should more than make up for my ignorance as a whole.

And though the film itself is slow at times (especially in the beginning), it is completely confident in its own direction, and also at times feels startlingly modern, such as in a flashback scene shown in sepia tinted hues, to indicate its age, in a black and white film, in 1920; or the unsettling surreality of a late nightmare, where a ghostly lobster (or possibly one of the microscopic mites Dr. Jekyll views under his microscope at the start, now grown to some monstrous size) climbs up onto the sleeping Jekyll’s bed and attacks him while he sleeps.

So yes, this is good. You should watch it.

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Notes

1. I watched this today on youtube.

2. Although I first saw it about 4 years ago at the Colchester Arts Centre, with a live soundtrack by Jason Frederick

3. Which can be bought here

4. If you’re so inclined.

5. (It’s worth it, because it’s great)

6. This doesn’t really have anything to do with anything, I suppose, but early on in this there’s this amazing interjection of unbroken cockney into the narrative, which left me wondering, once again, whether this addition of extra H’s, to make up for all the ones we drop, ever existed in actual spoken cockney, or was just a fabrication of the upper classes trying to mimic their speech (the 1950s book The Snow Goose is absolutely chock full of that sort of nonsense too, and that was definitely beyond the point where such a thing could ever have occurred, in so far as none of my relatives ever did such a thing, and they’d have been long alive by then).

7. The other three versions of Jekyll and Hyde from 1920 are: A satirical parody of this one, starring one of the Keystone Cops, and is now entirely lost; a version directed by J. Charles Haydon and starring Sheldon Lewis, that was released soon after this John Barrymore version, and was a huge failure (and although this version doesn’t appear to be actually lost, I failed to find a version online to watch for this article); and Der Janus-Kopf, a German adaptation directed by FW Murnau, starring Conrad Veidt (as both Jekyll and Hyde) and Bela Lugosi (as neither Jekyll nor Hyde).

8. That version is also entirely lost, which is heartbreaking, because presumably it was utterly perfect in every way.

9. I mean, just look at the poster

10. And then weep.
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Film Information

Title: Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde
Director: John S. Robertson
Year: 1920
Duration: 80 minutes
Watch: youtube

Categories
This Film Is 100 Years Old

Nude Woman By Waterfall (1920)

Nude Woman By Waterfall is a short film from 1920, directed by Claude Friese-Greene, featuring a nude woman by a waterfall, and the same woman, not so nude, upon a cliff top. I reviewed it earlier in the year (well, “reviewed” it), and really loved it. It’s beautiful, beguiling, mysterious, odd, sad. All the best things in film, really.

Anyway, I rewatched it again today, because the always excellent Haiku Salut (who previously released/toured a live soundtrack to Buster Keaton’s The General) have released a new soundtrack for it, called Portrait In Dust.

Recorded as part of a project to re-score two films for the BFI (the other was 4 And 20 Fit Girls, from 1940, which they paired with Pattern Thinker), Portrait In Dust is a lovely piece of minimalist melancholy, which perfectly underscores the slightly unsettling ethereality of the film.

Anyway, it’s brilliant and I love it.

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Notes

1. I watched this on the BFI Player, while simultaneously listening to Haiku Salut on bandcamp

2. Earlier in the year I made a re-edit of this film, using the track Messy Hearts by Moon Ate The Dark as accompaniment.

3. In which I used all of Nude Woman By Waterfall except the shots of the nude woman by the waterfall.

4. I had hoped to show it somewhere

5. Sometime

6. But I fear that now the chance has gone

7. For a variety of reasons

8. Not least because Haiku Salut’s soundtrack is perfect.

9. And also everywhere is closed.

10. And always now shall be.

11. Maybe I should just project it out into the night

12. Onto the bamboo at the end of the garden

13. As they rustle in the wind

14. And weep in the rain.

15. Anyway I’ve added it to youtube here if you want a watch, but have no idea who long it will stay there, if their copyright robots allow it to live.

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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 Film Is 100 Years Old

The Adventures Of Felix The Cat – Frolics At The Circus (1920)

The Adventures Of Felix The Cat – Frolics At The Circus is an early Felix the Cat cartoon, directed by Otto Messmer and produced by Pat Sullivan, and released in 1920, which was a big year for Felix the Cat.

The first Felix the Cat film (Feline Follies, which I watched here) was released in 1919, and Felix starred in another two before the end of that year (and it was only in the third one that he was finally actaully called Felix).

But then in 1920 he was in 14 different cartoons, which seems a bit much. Everything was Felix the Cat, and always would be.

(Until 1930, at least, when he died forever).

So, anyway, in Frolics At The Circus, a mouse scares away an elephant, in time honoured fashion, and poor old Felix has to get the elephant back, which, without spoiling things too much, he does. Good old Felix.

Also he actually kills the mouse (in a fairly wonderful way), which as someone brought up on Tom and Jerry cartoons, was pretty shocking, I can tell you.

In animation terms, the whole thing is fairly basic, although with some nice little tricks here and there. It is slightly strange seeing the use of word balloons in this, I find, largely because they’re entirely superfluous, as are all the bits where they have to draw sight lines from the eyes of the characters to tell you what they’re looking at. The use of illustrated sound effects is better, though, especially the way some of these are put to good use by Felix.

And the elephant is very endearingly drawn.

So in conclusion, this cartoon made me laugh at least three times it was good I liked it. Also the twenty seconds at the start of the circus man happily stroking Felix are really wonderful, and it’s worth watching just for that.

(I wish I had a cat)

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Notes

1. I watched this on the British Pathe website

2. Although their version on youtube seems to be much better quality

3. So you should probably watch that version instead.

4. Also if you watch it on youtube you can speed it up to 1.25 playback speed

5. Which makes it much better

6. And less awkwardly slow.

7. British Pathe also says this is from 1930, but everywhere else says it’s from 1920

8. Which seems much more likely, given the stiltedness of the animation

9. Compared to later Felix the Cat cartoons

10. When Felix the Cat actually looks like Felix the Cat.

11. Also I can’t help but feel this cartoon should have been called Frolix at the Circus rather than Frolics.

12. Although that might have caused Philip K. Dick to sue from some time in the future.

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Film Information

Title: The Adventures Of Felix The Cat – Frolics At The Circus
Director: Otto Messmer
Year: 1920
Duration: 5 minutes
Watch: British Pathe; youtube

Categories
This Film Is 100 Years Old

These Adverts Are Exactly 100 Years Old

Some more adverts, to go with yesterday’s ones, and these ones are all exactly 100 years old, instead of slightly older. I hope that is okay.

“Your Romance” (1920) / Candy Cushions (1920)

“Your Romance” is a (very) short cinema advert for a local jewellers (Herbert J. White’s in Frome), and is the sort of crap hyper local advert you used to get in cinemas, but sadly rarely do now, due to the tyranny of national chains with centralised advertising.

In the 3 seconds of actual film footage in the advert, a man gives a woman a ring, and then a kiss. THE END

Now the last time I went to the cinema, there might not have been any enjoyably amateur local ads, but there was at least an incredibly terrible advert for some new awful looking Slush Puppy style drink, that advertised itself as being “FROM AMERICA” because being from America is the way we know this is going to be the best possible food and/or drink item ever invented.

Anyway, that wasn’t anywhere near as exciting as Candy Cushions, which weren’t just the daintiest of creams, but also the latest novelty in American Sweets, 100 years ago today.

The height of this novelty was that they came in a little box with a free gift, like a piece of jewellery, or a tobacco pipe, or a razor, or maybe even some sort of switchblade, which is pretty wonderful, and certainly more fun that anything anyone’s ever found in a kinder egg.

I assume there was an American exclusive edition that contained a revolver, and was therefore not sold at the cinema, and only available in the import sweet shop round the corner, for several million pounds.

Transporting Loads, With Or Without Roads (1920) / A Dream Of Brave Men (1920)

Keeping up the comparison with the present, here are two 100 year old versions of modern staples of cinema advertising – an advert for some sort of off road vehicle you’ll never be able to afford, and would have no real need for if you ever could; and an excruciatingly long premium advert for some utterly mundane product (here: soap), that serves no discernible purpose at all to justify its existence.

Transporting Loads, With Or Without Roads is 6 minutes of footage of a Thornycroft off-raod vehicle, which looks pretty amazing, with a strange manipulable suspension system for the back two axles, as well as a pretty exciting mode where you can turn it into a miniature tank with a set of caterpillar tracks.

Let’s off road, etc, etc

There’s a scene in this, too, where the vehicle drives slowly down a hill, the landscape below sprawling out emptily towards the horizon, which I found oddly ominous, and which feels like some sort of eerie early version of Postman Pat, coming home from the war, his truck piled high with the bodies of a million dead.

A Dream Of Brave Men, meanwhile, is 6 minutes of absolute tedium, in which a maid gets some soap that’s so good she cleans the whole kitchen with it. Then she falls into a dream, where she cleans up a field hospital somewhere, too, thus winning the war.

The soap is called Pinkobolic, though, which is perhaps my favourite ever attempt at making some horrible industrial name into something nice and and totally unsinister sounding.

This entire advert is monstrous, obviously, but I did like the bit, where the title cards had been explaining the story, one short sentence at a time, in a nice big font, until suddenly they insert this one, with an entire novels worth of exposition crammed in, in a great big long sentence, with a hundred comma-separated clauses, in absolutely tiny letters.

Mr. And Mrs. Jones Visit To Bracing Sunny Rhyl, North Wales

Mr. And Mrs. Jones Visit To Bracing Sunny Rhyl, North Wales is a piece of local tourist office advertising, suggesting, hopefully, that “After you have seen this Picture you will want to visit this Popular Health Resort.”

This “Picture” consists of two minutes of Mr and Mrs Jones on the top of the bus, grinning maniacally, out of focus, dressed like some sort of folk terror clowns.

It is the most terrifying piece of footage ever unearthed and should not be watched under any circumstances.

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Notes

1. Again I watched these all on the BFI Player, and the links can be found above and below.

2. Herbert J. White’s jeweller store in Frome moved to Yeovil in the 1930s, and didn’t actually close down until last year.

3. I now want to visit Rhyl, the Popular Health Resort.

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Film Information

Title: “Your Romance”
Year: 1920
Duration: 1 minute
Watch: BFI Player

Title: Candy Cushions
Year: 1920
Duration: 1 minute
Watch: BFI Player

Title: Transporting Loads, With Or Without Roads
Year: 1920
Duration: 6 minutes
Watch: BFI Player

Title: A Dream Of Brave Men
Year: 1920
Duration: 6 minute
Watch: BFI Player

Title: Mr. And Mrs. Jones Visit To Bracing Sunny Rhyl, North Wales
Year: 1920
Duration: 1 minute
Watch: BFI Player

Categories
This Film Is 100 Years Old

One Week (1920)

In One Week, Buster Keaton builds a house. Hijinks ensue.

This a pretty amiable Buster Keaton film, and I enjoyed it a lot, although I definitely preferred The Scarecrow.

That’s my entire review. I’m not really sure that was worth a two month wait, now, was it?

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Notes

1. I watched this on youtube here

2. Although that version has a soundtrack which sounds like it should be from a snow level on a Mario game

3. So I’d maybe suggest finding another version if you can.

4. This film also features an early version of the house falling on Buster Keaton gag (see first picture above).

5. Although the more famous version of it is this one, in Steamboat Bill Jr., from 1928.

6. Which was then remade by Steve McQueen in 1997

7. And which was first version I saw

8. So now I’ve seen all three versions of it, I suppose

9. In reverse chronological order

10. Slowly

11. Over the course of my entire adult life

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Film Information

Title: One Week
Director: Buster Keaton; Edward F. Cline
Year: 1920
Duration: 24 minutes
Watch: youtube

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