Friday, April 17, 2009

A Magical Night of Movies

My friend Jameson has taught me to appreciate the silent film, especially when accompanied by the right music. So naturally I had to see what the James River Film Festival was showing for its night of shorts called "Magic and the Movies."

They started with film pioneer Gerorges Melies' "Extraordinary Illusions" (1903) (so un-PC with its Asian stereotypes) and "Untameable Whiskers" (1904) which was especially cool to see since Melies himself was in it. It was a textbook lesson in the use of stop-motion throughout.

Segundo de Chomon's "Diablo Rojo/The Red Spetre" (1903) was worth seeing because it was all hand-colored, mostly red and gold/yellow and again featured stop-motion.

Ferdinand Zecca's "The Invisible Thief" (1909) got the audience laughing a lot and I would guess that in 1909 the main character turning invisible on screen must have seemed amazing to audiences.

Leger's "Ballet Mecanique" (1924) was familiar to me because Jameson had shown it at his Silent Music Revival a while back. It suffered in this showing, however, because it had no musical accompaniment and it cries out for one with all its mechanical and repetitive images.

Len Lye's "Rainbow Dance" (1936) was so colorful and bright and had the most appropriate upbeat music, but what I liked best was the way he slipped in sponsor messages, from a local bank and the post and commerce blending, so to speak.

Norman Mclaren's "A Phantasy" (1952) was supposedly important because of the techniques (painting directly on film, pixilation, a synthetic soundtrack) but it left me cold and kind of bored.

Lotte Reiniger's "Snow White and Rose Red" (1953) was sweet and the first film of the night with narration. Her paper silhouettes in stop-motion effect was charming to watch but must have taken forever to create. And while I had a faint memory of this fairy tale, it was enjoyable to see the story unfold.

Only a few of the shorts had musical accompaniment, like Red Spectre and Rainbow Dance, but I'm inclined to think some of the others would have benefited with music. Or maybe that's just Jameson's influence after enjoying so many of his film choices with local musicians improvising a score as they watch the films. But in any case, it was a fascinating evening of film history and I was glad I didn't miss it.

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