Notes on Short Film

Lengthy diatribe on brief cinematic experience.

Archive for the ‘Early cinema’ Category

The Burglar’s Dilemma (1912)

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I don’t have much to add to the critical retrospective of this film; it’s an early work by D.W. Griffith that shows the promise of some of his greater films to come. Other reviews state that the plot devices Griffith uses seem contrived and unrealistic, but that his messages come across clearly in the end. Considering the sheer number of films he was making at the time – around two or three a week adding up to over 450 total – the quality and detail included in the film is impressive. I was also excited to learn the main character was none other than Lionel Barrymore. Overall, I enjoyed this film but struggled to immerse myself enough in the narrative or production to analyze it adequately.

You can find more information and links about the film on IMDb.

Written by Alisa Hathaway

March 2, 2011 at 2:36 pm

The Sealed Room (1909)

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D.W. Griffith, the grandfather of cinema that made one of the most controversial and racist films ever made (The Birth of a Nation), showcases a bit of his own black humor with this film. He was one of the first filmmakers that translated the idea of “connecting space” to the screen, building the concept of continuity that we now see as a necessity in believable film. This film includes examples of eyeline match, where the characters eyes look right and indicate that the next scene takes place to the right of the current scene. A tragic story like this one would have been rare in the early cinematic days, and this one is done with some of the same Vaudevillian melodrama that defined American comedies of the time.

PBS’s American Masters series says of Griffith: “Griffith’s films became part of history in the making—unleashing the power of movies as a catalyst for social change. More than anyone of the silent era, he saw film’s potential as an expressive medium, and exploited that potential.”

You can learn more about his life and work on the PBS website.

Written by Alisa Hathaway

February 21, 2011 at 7:31 pm

Sherlock Jr. (1924)

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This film employs a lot of text in the beginning, in the style of a storybook, to introduce the characters. After that, we are left in the care of wild gestures amidst soaring and sometimes lilting music as the only exposition. While the music may not be original to the film, it was one of the aspects from the Lost Keaton DVD collection that struck me the most. The sad guitar music and during the action scenes, some explosive melodies kept me involved in the story. Buster Keaton’s expressiveness and every-man quality proves he was meant to be captured on film. The fantasy elements of this story are what elevate it to a great short film. Keaton, the film projectionist dreaming of being a detective, jumps into the movie he is showing as he witnesses his love and the man who framed him become the main characters in the movie. This dream sequence acts as a fulfillment of his dreams and a way for him to clear his name, while in real life, it is the realist female who rights the situation rather than the dreamer. Ultimately, this film should be recognized not for its successful cinematic breaks from reality, but as maybe the first film to act out the classic slipping-on-a-banana-peel gag of cartoon legend.

Written by Alisa Hathaway

February 14, 2011 at 4:41 pm

The Great Train Robbery (1903)

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This film is widely considered the first feature film, an infamous relic of the first days of American cinema. Directed by Edwin Porter, it’s a silent film depicting a successful train robbery and then eventual capture of some Wild Western thieves. The plot is narrative and in my opinion, pretty courageous for a silent film to tackle such an action-based plot with plenty of twists and turns and continuous scenes in new locations. Time is handled successfully, with new scenes indicating what is happening during the robbery and what happens after. The film seems to be a cinematic base for the exciting Wild West films and heist films that came after it. The thing that is most striking for me as I view these silent films is how perfectly the story is communicated without any words, even on the grand scale of a train robbery. The camera is usually too far away to capture facial expressions, but emotions and complications are expressed beautifully with the actor’s bodies. The music, though perhaps not originally what played as audiences viewed the film in the cinema, also works to convey the urgency in the story.

Written by Alisa Hathaway

February 13, 2011 at 11:34 pm

The Chemist (1936)

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Buster Keaton is renowned in the archive of early American cinema for daring train scenes, unbelievable gags, and the ability to go beyond what people imagined film could do. The narrative quality of The Chemist exemplifies how far film had come in just a few decades. With the inclusion of dialogue, Keaton executes an absorbing plot, holding the audience through a longer “feature” film that we may still classify as a short today. The official running time is nineteen minutes. In that short time, Keaton includes unprecedented special effects with the main character’s growing powders and explosive powders as well as the physical gags audiences of the time expected in a picture show. The chemist of the title is the classic comedic character of the clueless smart guy – the character who’s obliviousness gets him into Vaudevillian hijinks, but he’s able to outsmart a group of mobsters in the end. This film directed by Al Christie is proof positive that Keaton and his peers set the standard for thousands of films to come.

Written by Alisa Hathaway

February 13, 2011 at 10:00 pm

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