1903: 6 movies

posted 2012 July 18

Le cake-walk infernal 
Directed by Georges Méliès; 
Starring Georges Méliès

   It's like a dance extravaganza. Five or six different dance numbers each with its own characters and choreography, but with none of the fat, extraneous dialogue that would sink many a movie-musical once sound-movies became the normal movie-format. It's a lot of dancing, but more importantly, it's great dancing. At times, it seems really close to swing dancing, and other times it seems like soul-shaking, freestyle moving and grooving. The special effects are used like spices, dashed out a little at a time throughout the piece. As for subject matter, this is Melies at his craziest! The staging and action seems as fresh as a scene from a 1950s or 60s movie! It's like Beach Blanket Bingo (1965) with a lot of fire and a lot of horns, plus a killer performance by Melies as Satan.
   Possibly the creepiest part was the devil with the bumpy legs. The whole time, I was trying to figure out how they were fake, because they looked so real. But possibly the most attractive thing about the movie is its pattern of going from one character on-screen, to a few characters on-screen, then a bunch, then back to one again, then a few, then a bunch, and then back to one again. It gives the movie a nice rhythm that quickens at the end for a final wow-finish to a completely wow-movie.
   The title translates from French as "The infernal cake-walk".

Tarantellen af 'Napoli'
Danced by Valborg Guldbrandsen and Hans Beck
Directed and photographed by Peter Elfelt

   Its energy feels as fresh as if it were filmed today. In other words, it's one of those movies that has only been getting better with time. The woman begins the dance alone, but is soon joined by the man. They dance in front of a pretty painted backdrop on a stage, giving us a wide variety of joyous steps. Guldbrandsen and Beck create an infectious feeling together, especially the way they own the stage. Extra kudos should be given to the photography which captures the movie's subjects with ultra vividness.
   The title translates from Danish as "Tarantella of 'Napoli'".

Mary Jane's Mishap 
Directed and Produced by George Albert Smith
Starring Laura Bayley; Shot in East Sussex, England.

   Laura Bayley and her husband George Albert Smith present us with another masterpiece, this time turning up the comedy, and the special effects, which include several close-ups, a slow-motion replay, and a twist-ending. The plot is still tragic, just as it was in Smith's and Bayley's Let Me Dream Again (1904), but this time the extra-silliness, brought about by showing the explosion and Mary Jane after-death, keeps us from getting bogged down. 
   Bayley's performance is easily the best comedic performance up to this point in movie history. Not only did she obviously influence Chaplin. even with the mustache, but we can see strains of her ideas in performances by the likes of Lucille Ball and Tina Fey. But, whether she influenced everyone or no one,  it must be made clear that she's an incomparably beautiful talent to behold on her own. The paraffin-pouring scene with the winking is an awesome directorial choice as it builds suspense for those who have seen the movie before, and it throws off track those who are viewing for the first time. Genius!

Le chaudron infernal
Directed by Georges Méliès; 
Starring Georges Méliès

   The color makes this one especially creepy, as the blue skin of the lead devil really pops out, and so does the pale white of the freshly sacrificed souls. Yes, Melies kicked up the devilishness ingredient quite heavily in 1903. The characters, especially the one played by Melies, are so scary, they seem to have influenced many demonic characters through to today, both in movies and in video-games. The composition particularly stands out as reminiscent of the kind of dungeons you come across in video-games.
   The title translates from French as "The infernal cauldron". 

Rube and Mandy at Coney Island
Direction and camera-work by Edwin S. Porter;
For the Edison Manufacturing Company

   Apparently this is a bunch of different amusement parks, but it's the same goofy pair of fun-seekers guiding us through it. They ride animals, climb rope ladders, slip down slides, eat hot dogs, and more. Yes, this movie functions like an advertisement for going to the fair, but it's also a virtual trip to the fair in itself and a historical document of what amusement parks were like back then. Hint: not a lot has changed, except for the cars in the parking lot.

Emigrants Landing at Ellis Island 
Cinematography by A.C. Abadie;
For the Edison Manufacturing Company

   Continuing with the purpose of documenting rather than presenting spectacles or stories, this movie presents new immigrants who are literally fresh off the boat. The promise and fear of a new life in a new land is palpable in this first movie documenting such a scene. As beautiful as every such set of new arrivals is, honor must be paid to the first delicious time a person got the idea and did something about it.   

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