Archive for the '1902' Category

The Dancing Midget

La Danseuse microscopique, 1902, 2m43s
Star Film Catalogue No. 394-396

A top-hatted magician shakes out a sheet, from which his assistant emerges. The magician extracts six eggs from his assistant’s mouth, which he places onto a stand. He breaks the eggs into his hat, stirring them with his wand. He shakes a large number of feathers out of the hat over his assistant, and then extracts a large egg. He places it on the table, and it doubles in size, and then explodes, to reveal a tiny ballerina. She dances on the table-top, admired by the men, who perform crude imitations of her flowing movements. Suddenly, she grows to life-size, and the magician helps her off the table. The men place a large wooden crate onto two stands, and the assistant gets in. The magician drapes the sheet around the ballerina, and pulls it away to reveal his assistant - and the ballerina simultaneously emerges from the box. The three bow together, and the magician banishes his assistant before linking arms with the ballerina and walking into the distance.

The Dancing Midget (whose slightly more PC French title translates as ‘The Microscopic Female Dancer’) is another set of variations on familiar Méliès themes, though the central image of a tiny ballerina performing on a table-top is so delightful that it more than compensates for the sense of déjà vu that pervades much of the rest of the film, starting from the recycled set from The Dwarf and the Giant (Nain et géant, 1901).

Once again, we have the scenario of a magician and his assistant - the arrangement here is broadly similar to that in The Prince of Magicians (Excelsior!, 1901). In that film, the magician’s aide was turned into a makeshift soda siphon, while here he’s required to produce half a dozen eggs from his mouth in quick succession. Their contents are mixed in the magician’s top hat (using his wand to stir them), and a well-timed jump-cut leads to the first of the film’s oddly poetic images - this time, of an implausible number of feathers descending from the hat onto the assistant.

The centre-piece of the film involves the ballerina, who is hatched from an egg that grows to giant size - albeit, somewhat disappointingly, via jump-cuts rather than any of Méliès’s more elaborate shrinking and growing effects. But the tiny ballerina herself is wholly believable, especially given the way the men react to her and (badly) try to imitate her movements. After this high point, the film has nowhere else to go, despite Méliès attempting to maintain interest by introducing a new trick in the form of a sheet-and-coffin swapover (as usual, achieved via jump cuts).

There’s some severe damage at the beginning and end, and tramlines, speckling and mild exposure fluctuations throughout, but in general the untinted print on Flicker Alley’s DVD is in very good condition, the picture sufficiently sharp to be able to make out some background details in the superimposed material, which may not have been Méliès’ intention. Neal Kurz’s lyrical piano accompaniment fits the images to perfection.

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Posted on 8th July 2008
Under: Jump-Cuts, Stage Magic, Superimposition, 1902 | No Comments »

The Colonel’s Shower Bath

Douche du colonel, 1902, 0m58s
Star Film Catalogue No. 391

Two men are cleaning the top of a stone archway, standing on a wooden platform. A platoon of soldiers marches under the platform and stands to attention as their colonel passes. He inspects them, and offers several criticisms. A soldier hands him some papers, and he sits down on a stool to read them. One of the workmen descends the ladder to replenish his bucket of water. When moving from the ladder to the platform, he trips and spills the contents of the bucket over the colonel. The soldiers laugh heartily as he rants and raves, quickly adopting poker faces when he turns in their direction.

The Colonel’s Shower Bath is a one-joke comedy whose authorship is almost impossible to discern purely from what happens on screen. In both form and content it’s little different from any number of other one-reel comedies that were being made at the same time on both sides of the Channel (and the Atlantic) - and indeed stretching back seven years to the very dawn of cinema, and such films as the Lumière Brothers’ L’Arroseur arrosé (1895). As with that film, the suspense is engineered by the title: we know from the start that the colonel will be drenched with the contents of the workman’s bucket, so the tension comes from the fact that we don’t know precisely when.

In terms of staging, Méliès is returning to the two-level approach seen in The Doctor and the Monkey (Le Savant et le chimpanzé, 1900) and What Is Home Without The Boarder? (La Maison tranquille, 1901), in that there are two simultaneous activities going on in both halves of the frame, bisected by the workman’s platform (which also helps distract from the fact that the background is clearly painted, as does Méliès’ decision to heighten the impression of perspective by placing a soldier slightly beyond the platform). As before, the bulk of the action happens in the bottom half, with some comic business between the colonel and his recalcitrant charges, who clearly detest his disciplinarian nit-picking and are consequently delighted when he gets soaked later on - though they quickly switch to straight-faced solemnity once he turns to face them directly.

The untinted print on Flicker Alley’s DVD has some very mild surface damage, an almost certainly unintentional jump-cut just before the colonel appears (it’s impossible to tell if this is due to print damage or flaws in the original), and more severe chemical decay right at the very end. However, the underlying image is in very acceptable condition, with plenty of fine detail. Eric Beheim’s electronic score begins with an appropriately military march, but is otherwise completely generic, and makes no musical acknowledgement of the business with the bucket.

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Posted on 7th July 2008
Under: 1902 | No Comments »

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