Silent Screams – The Road to Elm Street | A Nightmare (1896)

Georges Melies — our defending champion — wins spot #2 in the series as well, this time for Le Cauchemar (aka A Nightmare).

It’s not exactly Wes Craven material as the presentation is more humorous than horrific (though Freddy can be a pretty funny dude at times). However, scary movies are so deeply rooted within nightmares that this work by the cinemagician cannot be ignored. It also happens to be highly entertaining and contains excellent stop-motion substitution tricks especially innovative for the time.

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Silent Screams – World’s 1st Horror Movie | The Devil’s Castle (1896)

Considered the first horror movie — and arguably the first vampire movie — Le manoir du diable (aka The Devil’s Castle) is an 1896 Georges Melies film that runs for over 3 minutes, an astonishing length for the time.

The film has been known by a variety of alternate names — The Devil’s Manor, The Manor of the Devil, The House of the Devil, and The Haunted Castle — the latter is actually a different movie by Méliès, made 1 year later on the same set and with many of the same costumes. It is also notable for containing some of the earliest hand-tinting of images.

From Muted Mayhem to Silent Screams

Way back on the first day of Summer, I began a “Slapstick Series” to explore the earliest days of that comedic genre within film. Along the way, I took a break to focus on THIS — which still takes up much of my time and attention (please help!) — and didn’t quite make it all the way to my intended grand finale double-feature.

Speaking of which, I’d planned to end with the 1st Harold Lloyd appearance as his “Glasses” character, followed by the 1st movie written, directed, and starring Buster Keaton. Looks like now I’ve got a pretty strong opening bill lined up for next Summer instead.

But now it’s October and my favorite time of year. The days shorten, the leaves are dying and falling to the ground where they’ll decompose. Soon it’ll be Halloween. And thus the perfect time to explore Horror movies in their infancy, which I plan to do in a “Silent Screams” series starting tomorrow.

As for the 2012 Summer Slapstick Series — R.I.P., you were loved. Below are each of its entries, listed alongside the silent film spotlighted within:

  1. The 1st Movie ComedyThe Sprinkler Sprinkled (1895)
  2. Wrestling w/ MeliesThe Fat and Lean Wrestling Match (1900)
  3. The 1st True SlapstickAn Interesting Story (1904)
  4. Pre-IconicA Story Well Spun (1906)
  5. Exhibit E. PorterGetting Evidence (1906)
  6. Key Stepping StoneThe Policemen’s Little Run (1907)
  7. A Killer JokeThat Fatal Sneeze (1907)
  8. The Original Queen of ComedyLaughing Gas (1907)
  9. Dark ComedyThe Thieving Hand (1908)
  10. A Step BackThe Runaway Horse (1908)
  11. TimelessA Very Fine Lady (1908)
  12. Outside The TableauChimney Sweep (1906)
  13. Key Foundation CornerstoneThe Bricklayers (1905)
  14. VaudevilliansRobetta and Doretto, No. 2 (1895)
  15. The 1st Pie FaceMr. Flip (1909)
  16. Ladies, Please!Those Awful Hats (1909)
  17. Multilevel ComedyThe Irresistible Piano (1907)
  18. Semi-MetaA Fall from Five Floors (1906)
  19. Don’t Sleep on TheseThe Rolling Bed (1907)
  20. A Vehicle for ComedyThe ‘?’ Motorist (1906)
  21. Passing the TorchThe Race for the Sausage (1907)
  22. Laugh OlympicsAn Obstacle Course (1906)
  23. When Harry Met ZeccaSlippery Jim (1910)
  24. Character DevelopmentHow Bumptious Papered the Parlour (1910)
  25. Moving OnAlkali Ike’s Auto (1911)
  26. Comedic Timing – Onésime, Clockmaker (1912)
  27. Before The FameTroublesome Secretaries (1911)
  28. Laugh With LinderTroubles of a Grasswidower (1912)
  29. Keystone Mack [Sennett] DaddyThe Water Nymph (1912)
  30. Keystone “Cops”The Bangville Police (1913)
  31. Villainy DefinedBarney Oldfield’s Race for a Life (1913)
  32. The 1st FattyPeeping Pete (1913)
  33. Chaplin’s First FilmMaking a Living (1914)
  34. The Tramp AppearsKid Auto Races at Venice (1914)
  35. Creating The TrampMabel’s Strange Predicament (1914)
  36. The Movie DickPool Sharks (1915)
  37. The Super FriendsA Film Johnnie (1914)
  38. Two of a KindFox Trot Finesse (1915)
  39. Laurel before Hardy, Hardy before Laurel – The Servant Girl’s Legacy (1914)
Hope you enjoy, and thank you!

 

 

Slapstick Summer Series: A Vehicle for Comedy | The ‘?’ Motorist (1906)

Perhaps the most fantastic slapstick of the century’s 1st decade, the influence of Melies is obvious [note: R.W. Paul, producer and cinematographer of “The ‘?’ Motorist”, built the 1st camera used by Melies].

However, unlike most works by his fellow cinemagician, Walter R. Booth’s “Mad Motorist” is not constrained to the theater-style setting. Alternating between studio sets and external shots, the chaos is taken to new heights, literally. Seriously, man, it’s out of this world.

Slapstick Summer Series: Don’t Sleep on These | The Rolling Bed (1907)

Let’s say you’re Louis Feuillade and you want to top two previous movies centered around mattress hi-jinks (Guy’s The Drunken Mattress and Melies’s The Tramp and the Mattress Makers). How would you go about doing this? Why, utilizing the entire bed of course! With the shortest run-time of the three, we are reminded that bigger isn’t always better, and in this case, smaller is actually bedder. <- Oh yes, I went there.

Slapstick Summer Series: Semi-Meta | A Fall from Five Floors (1906)

As one might expect, the pioneers of motion pictures (being photographers themselves) often used the photographing process itself as a plot device within their films. With the evolution of prank-based comedies towards slaptick, a natural transition existed for these meta-ish films to introduce situations whereby the intended targets of still-shots instead remain in motion, resulting in chaos for the cameraman [anyone with kids can easily relate to this dilemma].

Melies was not the first to explore this subject [see Guy’s At the Photographer’s and two films by Porter: Photographing a Country Couple and The Old Maid Having Her Picture Taken], but his Une chute de cinq étages is surely the most elaborate and entertaining of the bunch. “Toro! Toro!” anyone?

Slapstick Summer Series: Outside The Tableau | Chimney Sweep (1906)

Terribly slow beginning, but notable for the chase sequence beginning at the 8:10 mark and featuring some of the very few external shots by Méliès.

Slapstick Summer Series! – The Fat and Lean Wrestling Match (1900), Wrestling w/ Melies

This film, like yesterday’s, is also not considered to be the 1st slapstick movie…but in this case, I’m not exactly sure why. Perhaps this is due to the physical comedy occurring only in an unexpected (and extreme) manner, but not not in an unexpected setting? I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on the matter.

May Days of Melies – Faust in Hell [Faust aux enfers] (1903)

Often misidentified as the 1898 Méliès film, The Damnation of Faust, which is presumed lost. Faust in Hell is instead a 15-scene epic that introduces some excellent new tricks, such as the descent beginning at the 4:48 mark. The scenes as described in the Melies catalog are as follows:

1. The Route to the Depths of Perdition (a Dazzingly Sensational New Effect.)
2. The Fantastical Ride.
3. The Gloomy Pass.
4. The Stream.
5. The Entrance to the Lower Regions.
6. The Marvelous Grottoes (tableau with six dissolving Scenes.)
7. The Crystal Stalactites
8. The Devil’s Hole
9. The Ice Cavern.
10. The Goddesses of Antiquity (a Superb Fantastical Ballet in a Snowstorm.)
11. The Subterranean Cascade (a New Trick with Apparition in a Waterfall.)
12. The Nymphs of the Underworld.–The Seven Headed Hydra–The Demons–The Struggle of Water with Fire (a big Novelty.)
13. The Descent to Satan’s Domain (a clever trick now first shown.)
14. The Furnace.
15. The Triumph of Mephistopheles

May Days of Melies – Ten Ladies in One Umbrella [La parapluie fantastique] (1903)

One possible theory about this work which makes it more than just a well-executed trick film: the 10 ladies under a single umbrella could be symbolic of the potential for peace within a unified Europe, led by their 10 most prominent nations at the time. Notice the variations in the original set of “maiden” costumes. Perhaps before the film print deteriorated over time, we could have more easily differentiated between the specific countries represented. Color would have also been beneficial.

Regardless, did Méliès foreshadow the European Union? Or are things simply as they appear on the surface – a fun movie with an arbitrary number of beautiful ladies. Note that the women’s dresses each become modernized and conformed between each other near the end, but before that happens, their garb is briefly changed to that of antiquity, eliciting a bow of praise from Melies. Then, before making his own dramatic exit, Melies conjures a sign that reads, “Galathea Theatre”. This is a reference to the Greek myth of Pygmalion, the sculptor who fell in love with his statue of Galatea, and was eventually granted a wish (thanks to the goddess, Venus): the ivory sculpture was brought to life as a woman of flesh and blood.