It’s time for another B-Masters’ Roundtable! Drop in throughout the month of August as we celebrate the dawn of cinema, the time when a picture truly was worth a thousand words.
It’s SHHHHHH: A Silent Movie Spectacular
|Teleport City||White Hell of Piz Palu||Mountain adventure films have come and gone since then, and most of the movement has been toward the goofy and embarrassing. Arnold Fanck is really where this type of adventure begins, though, and even if his became a largely forgotten name, his adventure films still stand as some of the best ever made, and his combination of documentary and drama informs many modern films. His camera studies the mountain intently, dwells on the natural wonders such behemoths generate: the dance of cloud shadows over snow fields and rags, the glistening tunnels and pits of ice fields, the bizarre swirls of powder kicked up by winds cascading over the peaks. One gets a feel for every nook and cranny, every nub, jug, and crimpy little handhold. And that helps us understand the pain of the characters as they toil up the spine of this beast.|
|And You Call Yourself A Scientist!||Le Voyage Dans La Lune||What they do possess is a most marvellous sense of wonder, an awareness of the universe’s possibilities and an eagerness to embrace them. It is this quality that gives these primitive yet powerful works their enduring ability to delight and entertain; and it is a quality that we associate with the very best of science fiction.|
|And You Call Yourself A Scientist!||À La Conquête Du Pôle (1912)||À La Conquête Du Pôle is for the most part a science fiction-adventure story very much in the mould of Le Voyage Dans La Lune – frankly, rather too much in the mould of Le Voyage Dans La Lune – but at its climax it produces something original, something that moves it into the realm of the horror movie, and would endear the film to generations to come: A Honking Big Monster.|
|1000 Misspent Hours and Counting||The Airship Destroyer||Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin completed the first of his eponymous airships in 1900, while the Wright brothers got a heavier-than-air craft off the ground for the first time in 1903; the zeppelin and the Wright Flyer had all of the kinks more or less worked out by 1907 and 1905 respectively. The German military bought its first zeppelin in 1908, the US Army its first Flyer in 1909, and the first commercial airline went into business with a single example of the count’s airship in 1909 as well. In other words, the technologies that inspired Booth to make The Airship Destroyer had only just entered service, and the military applications to which he put them were nothing more than theoretical concepts and long-range plans at the time.|
|1000 Misspent Hours and Counting||J’Accuse!||War movies, whatever their political stance, are far outside my usual purview, and as for war movies that would rather be soap operas instead— oh, hang on… I guess I did review Starship Troopers, didn’t I? That was different, though. That had huge, computer-animated bugs blowing up interstellar troopships by crapping jets of blue-hot plasma at them from the surface of an alien planet. What the hell does J’Accuse! have that would make it a fitting review subject for 1000 Misspent Hours and Counting? Well, how about zombies?|
|1000 Misspent Hours and Counting||Weird Tales||Rarely does one have to wait long after finding what seems to be the first of something before an even earlier example comes to light, but that said, I have a hard time imagining that there are too many horror anthology movies out there predating Weird Tales. At the very least, an anthology requires something close to a modern feature-length running time, and movies much longer than an hour were still a fairly recent innovation in 1919. In any event, Weird Tales pushes back the temporal horizons of more than just the portmanteau fright film, for it features Conrad Veidt in the sort of role that would dominate his historical public image, yet it came out some months before The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. It also stands as an early example of an approach to casting that would recur among anthologies at least until the days of Trilogy of Terror— not only Veidt, but his two costars as well appear in all five tales, plus the interstitial framing sequences.|
|Cold Fusion Video Reviews||Trapped by the Mormons||By all historical accounts, Mormon polygamy wasn’t an especially salacious enterprise, certainly no more so than your average monogamous marriage, and probably quite a bit less; the photos that have been passed down of polygamous families don’t exactly call to mind the male fantasy of the sexual libertine with his harem. But that imaginary conception of Mormon marriage fell on fertile soul in the minds of those who were inclined to think the worst of the Other simply because of his Otherness.|
|Teleport City||The Godless Girl||Cecil B. DeMille’s final silent film, The Godless Girl, had the misfortune of being released in the shadow of The Jazz Singer, making it a casualty of the rapid shift in public tastes from pictures that didn’t talk to those that did. As a result, it became something of a footnote in DeMille’s career, which is a shame. For people, like myself, who entertain a fairly narrow conception of the director based on his association with Bible-thumpers like King of Kings and The Ten Commandments, viewing it can be an eye-opening experience — because even though it is, in part, concerned with the spread of atheism among the young people of its day, it doesn’t quite come down on that topic in the way you might expect.|
|Jabootu’s Bad Movie Dimension||Dr. Mabuse the Gambler||This is probably where this first film’s utility is greatest. Standing alone, this remains a standard tale of a villain who dares all and learns that crime does not pay. In conjunction with the next film, though, even with the decade-plus separating them–-perhaps especially with the decade-plus gap between them–-it becomes an epic saga that makes George Lucas’ vision of how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader look even more feeble by comparison. Assuming that is possible.|
|And You Call Yourself A Scientist!||The Last Warning (1929)||The Last Warning positively explodes into action, giving us a sense of a feverish jazz-age Broadway, conveyed via flashing lights and marquees, and with chorus girls – their legs, at any rate – and dancers multiplied, superimposed and double exposed in a series of dazzling images; the final one broken up as a speeding police car bursts through it on its way to the Woodford Theatre. The energy of this sequence is maintained as the police force their way into the theatre, to the shocking announcement of John Woodford’s death mid-performance.|
|Braineater||The Bat (1926)|
|1000 Misspent Hours and Counting||Frankenstein||Frankenstein’s monster is not very convincing as an incarnation of the evil in his soul, simply because it never quite gets around to doing anything that could be condemned as worse than mildly irritating.|
|The Bad Movie Report||Himmelskibet (1918)||Himmelskibet was released in February of 1918, nine months before the cease fire with Germany was signed, which meant that for its entire shooting schedule, one of the most horrific wars yet seen was raging on with no signs of letting up.
Given that, the tenor of the story is perfectly understandable, and Himmelskibet works better perhaps as a parable than it does as a science fiction or cautionary tale. Cripes, who hasn’t, at one time or another, wished that the Space Hippies would come and save us from ourselves?