Obscure Films: “The Merry Frolics Of Satan” (1906)

One of my very favorite Georges Méliès films is Les Quat’Cents Farces du diable, literally translated as The 400 Tricks of the Devil. We just call it The Merry Frolics of Satan (1906), which is a title truly of its time. So is the film itself, but that’s why I love it so much.

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While not as widely discussed as A Trip to the Moon and more familiar from clips turning up in documentaries on early cinema, it’s one of Méliès’s most elaborate works and a real treat for the eyes. Its plot can be…quite mystifying even if you’re paying close attention, so here’s a detailed recap (I believe some of the information originally came from the Star Film Company’s catalog): Continue reading

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Georges Méliès: Pioneer Of Cinematic Spectacle

[His films] had a visual style as distinctive as Douanier Rousseau or Chagall, and a sense of fantasy, fun and nonsense whose exuberance is still infectious…. —David Robinson

His full name was Marie-Georges-Jean Méliès, and he was born on December 8, 1861 in beautiful Paris. His wealthy parents, Jean-Louis-Stanislas Méliès and Johannah-Catherine Schuering, owned a successful factory for high-quality boots. Their parents imagined that Georges and his older brothers Henri and Gaston would simply take over the family business one day. But little did they know that Georges would not only take up a cutting-edge industry they had never even imagined, but that he would attain global fame as one of its greatest pioneers.

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Obscure Films: “L’Inhumaine” (1924)

When I find myself not liking a film, it’s usually because it just isn’t my taste, or because I find it boring. Maybe the subject matter doesn’t interest me, maybe it’s poorly made, or maybe there’s way too many giant robots and the stupid things all look practically the same. 

But then there are a few films, a very very few films, that not only aren’t to my taste but make me want to stand up, grab my little flat screen TV, and throw it straight through the wall. L’Inhumaine (1924) is one of those films.

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Yeah, you heard me.

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Thoughts On: “Le Roi des Champs-Elysees” (1934)

This is  my own contribution to the Second Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon. I hope you enjoy!

Buster Keaton fans are well aware of his much-discussed, sometimes-derided 1930s MGM talkies (and more than a little of that derision came from Buster himself). Speak Easily, Doughboys, and Sidewalks of New York are a few of the titles that pop up in conversation after online conversation–features that used the multi-talented director Keaton solely as an actor, and showed it.

But if there’s one Keaton feature that’s rarely discussed, either by fans or historians, it’s Le Roi des Champs-Élysées (1934). This independent French film was made about a year after Keaton was dismissed from MGM Studios. The sad story of that dismissal is all too familiar to fans–a slow downward spiral of unhappiness at work and unhappiness at home, and the bottom of bottle after bottle. But if there was ever a sign of hope in those dark, frightening months of blackouts and sanitariums, it can be found in this overlooked film.  Continue reading

Thoughts On: “Menilmontant” (1926)

There are certain films I love to watch the most in the late evening when all is quiet, the room is dim, and there’s a couple lit candles in the corner. (I have a slight mania for candles, and their glimmer adds hugely to the atmosphere of a Special Film Experience. Feel free to share in my quirk.) There’s an hour or so to while away until bedtime, a period of peace when your mind is free. And if it isn’t free, maybe a great film can give you an opportunity to let it rest and refresh itself while drinking in that hour or two’s worth of art.

One such piece of art that I like to save for an occasional Special Film Experience is a short masterpiece called Ménilmontant (1926). Maybe a few of you cinephiles recognize the name, since critic Pauline Kael said it was her favorite film. She explained that this obscure, 37-minute French silent directed by the little-known Dimitri Kirsanov had “a lyricism Chaplin could only dream of.” I’ll admit I watched it after reading Kael’s recommendation, and quickly realized that she was right. Continue reading