Categories
This Film Is More Than 100 Years Old

The ‘High Sign’ (1920)

The ‘High Sign’ is a short Buster Keaton comedy, made in 1920 but not released until 1921, in which Buster inadvertently gets tasked with both saving the town’s richest man from being assassinated by a gang of criminals, while also being employed by that very same gang to assassinate him.

This was the first film Buster Keaton made without Fatty Arbuckle, although it wasn’t released initially because Buster Keaton was disappointed with it, saying it was too similar to his Fatty Arbuckle collaborations. So they cancelled it and released One Week instead. And then another five films after that, too, before they finally got around to showing this one anywhere.

(In the end The ‘High Sign’ only got released at all because Buster Keaton broke his ankle filming The Electric House in 1921 and couldn’t work for 4 months, and 4 months without releasing a film was impossible to contemplate in the 1920s, evidently, just in case everyone forgot you existed if there was any break in your release schedule. Presumably cinema goers back then were even more unforgiving of release schedule slackness than youtube’s algorithms are today.)

The weirdest thing about all that is that this is absolutely brilliant in pretty much every way. Buster’s at his most effortlessly charming; there’s loads of funny sight gags; there’s a dog, a cat, and a fairground; a woman playing a ukulele for no reason other than she looks like she’s having loads of fun playing a ukulele; some funny intertitle captions; and, best of all, there’s plenty of ingenious elaborate contraptions, culminating in a house full of trapdoors and secret passages for the inevitable ever escalating chase scene finale.

Also all of it happens without Fatty Arbuckle being absolutely repellent for 25% of the runtime. Which is nice.

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Notes

1. I watched this on blu-ray, where it looked very nice indeed, and also had a good soundtrack.

2. I captured the screenshots from this version on youtube, which doesn’t look anywhere near as nice, and also has a much worse soundtrack.

3. Which is a shame.

4. Sorry.

5. There’s a dog in this but it’s not Luke the Dog.

6. And also there’s the world’s most distressed looking cat.

7. Poor thing.

8. If I could go back in time I would go back to Hollywood in 1920 and save it from it’s day of terror.

9. But I can’t so I haven’t

10. Yet

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Film Information

Title: The ‘High Sign’
Directors: Buster Keaton, Edward F. Cline
Year: 1920
Runtime: 20 minutes
Watch: Youtube

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 More Than 100 Years Old

Me And My Two Friends (1898)

Me And My Two Friends (1898) is the best four seconds of film ever filmed. It is 122 years old.

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Notes

1. I watched this on the BFI Player

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Film Information

Title: Me And My Two Friends
Director: William Kennedy Laurie Dickson
Year: 1898
Duration: 4 seconds
Watch: BFI Player

Categories
This Film Is 100 Years Old

Feline Follies (1919)

Feline Follies is a short cartoon, directed by Pat Sullivan (or possibly Otto Messmer), and widely credited as being the first Felix The Cat cartoon (even though the cat in this is called Master Tom).

Feline Follies tells the heartwarming story of Master Tom, who romances a neighbouring cat called Miss Kitty White, gets her pregnant, then commits suicide rather than help bring up his huge litter of children.

Unlike in later Felix The Cat shorts, where he gets into increasingly elaborate and surreal adventures, here the setting is pretty prosaic, and there’s only really one playful visual gag in the whole cartoon, when Tom and Miss Kitty use the musical notes from Tom’s guitar playing to make themselves little cars to drive away in.

That scene is by far the best section of Feline Follies, where Miss Kitty dances to Master Tom’s guitar playing, while a group of mischievous mice take advantage of Tom’s absence to cause havoc in his empty home.

Interestingly, the animation and composition of the scenes gets more complex as the film progresses, almost like you’re watching them getting better and more confident at animating in real time.

While the first few scenes are all static short shots in a fixed environment, half way through the scene where Tom caterwauls his love on the back fence, they add cuts between different shots (although still with static backgrounds for each different shot).

Next we get two different scenes intercut with each other, switching back and forth between Tom and Miss Kitty dancing by the bins, while the mice are trashing Tom’s house behind his back. By the last scene, there’s a camera pan to reveal Tom’s kittens, and then a scrolling background as he escapes his responsibilities across the countryside.

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Notes

1. I watched this on youtube, in a version without any soundtrack. There’s plenty of soundtracked versions around, too, if you want.
2. Although this is often said to be the first Felix The Cat cartoon, the earlier Pat Sullivan short, The Tail of Thomas Kat (1917), might well have been the first.
3. Even though he was called Thomas then.
4. But unfortunately that’s a lost film, so no-one can check it to find out.

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Film Information

Title: Feline Follies
Directors: Pat Sullivan, Otto Messmer
Year: 1919
Duration: 4 minutes
Related Articles: Feline Follies (wikipedia article), which has a decent discussion of the authorship dispute about who actually directed this.