This Week In Cinema: August 11-17, 2013

the indian rubber head

I’ve been told that I have an inflated ego, which is kind of the same as an inflated head!

More short film action this week,

L’Arrivée D’un Train À La Ciotat (Arrival Of A Train At La Ciotat, 1896, Auguste & Louis Lumière, France) *

A film that is both historically significant and important. The history is nice, but that’s all this one minute long short film has in its favor. I’m not a film historian, though I do like film history. The historian in me is glad to have seen this picture, just as I’m happy as a cinephile to be able to say I’ve seen this motion picture. That being said, L’Arrivée D’un Train À La Ciotat impresses only as a piece of history, not so much as a motion picture.

Rainbow Dance (1936, Len Lye, United Kingdom) ***

A nice mixture of animation, live action, and color. The emphasis is on the color, as the superimposed figures exist on a colorful plane and traipse around a colorful landscape. Really, Rainbow Color is a cool use of color and a subversion of advertising (or at the least a nifty way to use a commercial as an artistic tool). I did find the usage of color to be very interesting as Len Lye continues to be an intriguing short film director.

Now (1965, Santiago Álvarez, Cuba) **

Political commentary that bludgeons its point into the viewers head. Racism is a terrible thing, I don’t think any rational person will deny that statement. However, racism need not be attacked with a sledgehammer. Some nuance and subtlety would have gone a long way towards making Now a much better political film. Rearranging a Lena Horne song and playing it against non-stop footage of racism, prejudice and death is effective in the short term but not the long term. The blunt force approach of Now discourages discussion and action over the long haul, and that’s never a good thing.

Symphonie Diagonale (1924, Viking Eggeling, Germany) **1/2

Perhaps the first experimental animated film. Symphonie Diagonale presents a series of images that are in specific timed intervals. The images change, morph, and yet always maintain the same basic shape (sort of a harp look). I appreciate the technical prowess on display, but the timed interval movement of avant garde filmmaking has never done very much for me. Symphonie Diagonale isn’t any different, I appreciate what the film was aiming for, but appreciate and enjoy do not go hand in hand in this case.

Out Of The Inkwell (1938, Dave Fleischer, United States Of America) **1/2

Impressive animation, and a tried and true animated story idea. That being said, the racism in Out Of The Inkwell is off the charts. Doesn’t matter what era this film was made in, it’s neigh impossible to excuse how blatantly racist Out Of The Inkwell is throughout. The lovely animation, and the beautiful integration of live action and animation is tossed out the window by a film that features a black character being lazy until he’s turned white and talking like the worst plantation stereotype imaginable throughout. Animation is great, racism not so much.

Mongoloid (1978, Bruce Conner, United States Of America) ***

Music videos are always tough for me to judge. I’m never quite sure where to draw the line between the music and the film. Mongoloid is no different, I enjoy the song from Devo, and I’m not sure how much that affects my enjoyment of the film. Mongoloid isn’t a ground breaking short film, nor is it an impeccably put together short film. However, I enjoyed the way that Bruce Conner married the visuals with the music. It’s not going to set the world ablaze, but Mongoloid is a pretty good film featuring some pretty great music.

New York Subway (1905, G.W. Bitzer, United States Of America) **

Another historical film, although this one did have a mite more or an impact on me. It was interesting to see the people waiting for the train and think of how things have changed since then, or even of how the subway has changed since this film was shot. Those thoughts were fleeting however, and that’s why New York Subway remains more of a historical curiosity than a film that I’d recommend people take the time to seek out and watch.

L’homme À La Tête En Caoutchouc (The India Rubber Head, 1901, Georges Méliès, France) ***1/2

Inventive and funny, L’homme À La Tête En Caoutchouc is another hit from Georges Méliès. It’s short, and to the point in a very lighthearted and somewhat sweet fashion. Monsieur Méliès plays with the craft of filmmaking and he delights in the process. The technique he uses to enlarge the head without a body holds up to this day, and the comedy that ensues around the enlarging head was very funny. If it was funny in 1901 and I still find it funny in 2013, that means L’homme À La Tête En Caoutchouc is certainly doing something right. Something else the film does right is to maintain a sense of whimsy during its very short run time. Not so much a film as a fantastic experience, L’homme À La Tête En Caoutchouc was pure joy to watch.

Antz (1998, Eric Darnell & Tim Johnson, United States Of America) **

An inert piece of animation, one that never comes to life in story, characters, or even in the animation. There were a few times when the background animation was pleasant to look at, but it never wowed me in any sort of way. The clear draw of this film is Woody Allen voicing the lead character. There’s only so far that can carry the film, and that isn’t very far at all. The rest of the cast is loaded, but it’s a clear case of stunt voice casting as opposed to crafting worthwhile characters and getting quality voice actors to give the characters verve. Some people love Antz, but not only do I say give me A Bug’s Life instead, I say give me the majority of animated feature films over this tripe.

Wrap-Up:

Another week with a lot of movies, but not a lot of movies that knocked my socks off. The one film that left my socks definitively on the floor was L’homme À La Tête En Caoutchouc, and that’s why Georges Méliès’ film is taking home movie of the week honors. Until next week, watch more movies!

Cheers,
Bill

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