Turner Classic Movies: 100 Years at the Movies

Not only does TCM create feature film’s about Shorts; they also create shorts that involve features. In 1994, TCM dove headfirst into the industry and created a film called 100 Years at the Movies. The film is similar to The Hollywood Shorts Story in that it is an account of the history of film, shown in chronological order. It was created to honor 100 years of American Film making, and to me, is the most impressive contribution that TCM has made to short film.

The film is shot in documentary style, and takes clips from the most notable films of the century. They are then tied together chronologically and through sound. Sometimes, the clips are connected in some way but this is not always the case.

It starts with something we’ve seen before – Annabell, dancing and throwing around her dress. A staple of what early film was. ‘Look, it moves!’ Along with the clip, TCM gives a short summary of the origins of American Film. Even from the start I can tell I would have enjoyed this less had I never taken Short Film; even in the first minute there are several recognizable clips.

The film points out several films by name, but the clips do not necessarily match. We see clips of the most famous actors from the silent era, all drastically overacting to make up for their loss of voice. The whole time, the clips accompanied by the ever-so-recognizable tunes of the 20’s. Every so often a new film name fades into the screen, acting almost like a roadmap. The named film, along with its year of release, gives the viewer an idea of what point in time they are at, an effective tool. The slapstick humor runs rampant early, as it should; it really gives a good sense of what the early shorts are like to watch.

The switch to sound is possibly my favorite part of this film. It happens so suddenly it almost makes you jump. One second all you have is music, and the next there is an array of different voices. The music changes at ther right times, and cuts out occasionally for the most iconic scenes(It’s Alive!).

The transition into color is more subtle, it almost sneaks into the film. One or two clips have color, and then, eventually, all of them do. It was a nice effect, in my opinion. Simply adding to the realism of the film as a whole.

The film isn’t limited to clips from shorts, and as the film goes on you see less of them. By the end, it’s all features. But TCM made an excellent short here, definitely one worth watching. They chose great scenes and the best music possible. They emphasized all the right things at all the right times. The goal here was to give a history of film in nine minutes and that is just what they did. Each effect and transition adds to the greater feeling of being pulled through a time machine.

In case you’re curious, here is a list of all the films mentioned by name. I don’t think it was intended as a ‘best of;’ I think it was meant to be seen as a simple guide. These movies are ones that truly represented their era.

1915 – The Birth of a Nation

1923 – Greed

1927 – The Jazz Singer

1933 – 42nd Street

1934 – It Happened One Night

1936 – San Francisco

1939 – Gone With The Wind

1942 – Casablanca

1946 – It’s a Wonderful Life

1948 – Red River

1954 – On the Waterfront

1962 – Lawrence of Arabia

1969 – Easy Rider

1972 – The Godfather

1976 – Rocky

1980 – Raging Bull

1994 – Schindler’s List


Turner Classic Movies: The Hollywood Shorts Story

Added Attractions: The Hollywood Shorts Story is a feature film produced by TCM in 2002, which was directed by John Griffin. I feel that this goes a step further than simply showing a video marathon on television. It is truly education on the history of shorts and it is done in a very interesting way.

The documentary style film follows the concept of the shorts subject through time. You see the days of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, followed by silent comedy and wartime films. As the film takes a walk through time, it pauses to highlight and give details about various shorts series and studios that have been successful through time.

Originally the film was a book, written by Leonard Maltin titled The Great Movie Shorts: Those Wonderful One- and Two-reelers of the Thirties and Forties. I haven’t read the book, but I really enjoyed TCM’s rendition.

Throughout the film, notable shorts subjects are put into the limelight, starting with the Hal Roach Shorts. The film shows both silent films and films produced with sound, including clips from several different films.

Then, we move on to Warner Bros Vitaphone and take a bit of time learning of it’s history in Brooklyn. The film also highlights the highly vaudevillian side of the studio, which I thought was interesting.

The final major staple covered is the MGM Studio. The films they chose to feature are a set that I wrote about earlier – The film takes clips from the Dogville Comedies.

This, complemented with the narration of Chevy Chase leaves little to be desired, but the film doesn’t end there. They also show clips from the early careers of stars like Judy Garland, Humphrey Bogart, and Lucille Ball – all before they were famous. It was interesting to see that side of the film industry.


Turner Classic Movies: The Shorts Circuit

In another tribute to short film, TCM put together a great event which they called “Behind the Camera: The Shorts Circuit.” In this case, TCM really did the unheard of in the game of shorts, especially for a television network. On September 15, 2006, TCM and it’s viewers celebrated the art of short film for 24 hours straight. Along with many classic films, the marathon featured shorts premiers from six directors: Peter Gilbert, Griffin Dunne, E. Elias Merhige, Mario Van Peebles, Floria Sigismondi and Mary Sweeney.

The films made by these directors were experimental, yet interesting. Here is one of the films premiered on that day: Postmortem Bliss by Floria Sigismondi.

Postmortem bliss was a strange film, but even from the start I liked the effects used with the camera. I really liked the early underwater type filming combined with the reflection effect. The narration in the background is what really gives the film feeling; I would have had a whole different impression if not for the ominous voice droning in the background. It is a film about addiction, but I thought that she might have been able to convey this without actually saying so much.

All in all its an artistic work, and I liked it. It was depressing for the most part, but enthralling at the same time. It tells a story without a plot. The use of the answering machine was most helpful, in my opinion. There was much more than those six films on dispay on TCM, though.

Those six directors made creations on behalf of the event’s sponsor, The House of Hermes, specifically for the television festival. The other 23 hours of the event were filled with an overwhelming pool of talent. David Lynch, Ridley Scott, Martin Scorcese, Stanley Kubrick, Roman Polanski and Francois Truffant also had short films on rotation during the course of the event. A number of the films that were shown are ones that we have seen previously in class, including David Lynch’s The Grandmother and Truffaut’s Antoine y Colette & Les Mistons.

Here is a link to view Les Mistons via YouTube.

The festival also sprinkled the classics around the day, showing films from Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and George Stevens. The day, as a whole, was a true celebration of the old, new, known, and unknown of film.

Heres the full lineup of films from the event.

7:30 AM Charlie Chaplin Shorts
– The Rounders (’14)
– A Dog’s Life (’18)
– Shoulder Arms (’18)
– A Day’s Pleasure (’19)
– Idle Class (’22)

9:45 AM Buster Keaton Shorts
– The Scarecrow (’20)
– The Paleface (’22)
– Streamlined Swing (’38)
– Hollywood Handicap (’38)

10:30 AM George Stevens Shorts
– Ladies Last (’30)
– Blood and Thunder (’31)
– High Gear (’31)
– Air Tight (’31)
– Call a Cop (’31)

12:30 PM George Marshall Shorts
– Strictly Unreliable (’32)
– Old Bull (’32)
– Alum and Eve (’32)
– The Soilers (’32)

2:00 PM George Sidney Shorts
– Billy Rose’s Casa Manana Revue (’38)
– Love On Tap (’39)
– Hollywood Hobbies (’39)
– Willie and the Mouse (’41)

3:00 PM Jean Negulesco Shorts
– The Flag of Humanity (’40)
– Alice in Movieland (’40)
– The Gay Parisian (’41)
– Those Good Old Days (‘41)
– Roaring Guns (’44)

4:45 PM Jacques Tourneur Shorts
– The Jonker Diamond (’36)
– Harnessed Rhythm (’36)
– Killer Dog (’36)
– The Rainbow Pass (’37)
– The Boss Didn’t Say Good Morning (’37)

5:45 PM Fred Zinnemann Shorts
– That Mothers Might Live (’38)
– The Story of Dr. Carver (’38)
– Way in the Wilderness (’40)
– Forbidden Passage (’41)
– Your Last Act (’41)

7:00 PM Don Siegel Short
– Star in the Night (’45)

7:30 PM Chris Marker Short
– La Jetee (’62)

8:00 PM Hermes Shorts
– There is No Place Like Home (by Peter Gilbert)
– Your Products Here (by Grifin Dunne)
– Baadasssss Grandkids! (by Mario Van Peebles)
– Post Mortem Bliss (by Floria Sigismondi)
– In the Eye Abides the Heart (by Mary Sweeney)
– Din of Celestial Birds (by E. Elias Merhige)

9:00 PM David Lynch Short(s)
– The Grandmother (’70)
– The Alphabet (’67)

9:45 PM Martin Scorsese Shorts
– What’s a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This? (’63)
– It’s Not Just You, Murray! (’64)
– The Big Shave (’68)

10:30 PM Stanley Kubrick Shorts
– The Day of the Flight (’51)
– The Flying Padre (’51)
11:00 PM Hermes Shorts (repeated)
– There is No Place Like Home (by Peter Gilbert)
– Your Products Here (by Grifin Dunne)
– Baadasssss Grandkids! (by Mario Van Peebles)
– Post Mortem Bliss (by Floria Sigismondi)
– In the Eye Abides the Heart (by Mary Sweeney)
– Din of Celestial Birds (by E. Elias Merhige)

12:00 AM Ridley Scott Short
– Boy and Bicycle (’65)

12:30 AM Tony Scott Short
– One of the Missing (’71)

1:00 AM Jane Campion Shorts
– Peel (’82)
– Passionless Moments (’83)
– A Girl’s Own Story (’84)

2:00 AM Francois Truffaut Shorts
– Les Mistons (’58)
– Antoine and Colette (’62)

3:00 AM Roman Polanski Shorts
– Break Up the Dance (’57)
– Two Men and a Wardrobe (’58)
– When Angels Fall (’61)
– The Fat and the Lean (’61)

4:00 AM Hermes Shorts (repeated)
– There is No Place Like Home (by Peter Gilbert)
– Your Products Here (by Grifin Dunne)
– Baadasssss Grandkids! (by Mario Van Peebles)
– Post Mortem Bliss (by Floria Sigismondi)
– In the Eye Abides the Heart (by Mary Sweeney)
– Din of Celestial Birds (by E. Elias Merhige)

5:00 AM Alfred Hitchcock Shorts
– Aventure Malgache (’44)
– Bon Voyage (’44)


Turner Classic Movies: Fragments

Fragments: Surviving Pieces of Lost Film is the special that aired prior to Unseen Cinema. This is a very interesting concept, and this special didn’t truly involve short film. Like I said in my previous post, much of old film is damaged, and unviewable. TCM hoped to do something about that.

So, do something about it they did, and there was Fragments. The special is arranged in a way much like the anthology films we watched in class. The films are arranged thematically, although they are mostly broken portions out of major feature film. I chose to include this, because much of Fragments content can be viewed like a short film.

Here are some of the film clips included in Fragments:

The Village Blacksmith (1922)

The Way of All Flesh

Cleopatra (1917)

The Miracle Man (1919),

He Comes Up Smiling (1918),

 Gold Diggers of Broadway(1929),

 Red Hair (1928

I didn’t know TCM did anything like this before I did research on it. The whole idea, to me, is very interesting. I especially like that it highlights the danger that classic film finds itself in; I had no idea such a huge percentage of film was damaged. I was also impressed with TCM’s ability to take chunks from films, and still manage to package them together appropriately. It is difficult to find any links to this particular TCM event online, so check your local listing and hope that this unique special airs again soon.

Here’s a link to the page about the special, so you can get some more first hand information.


Turner Classic Movies: Unseen Cinema

On April 3, TCM aired a not-so-rare television special. This one, however, was different than most. The special is, according to TCM, “a 2 ½ hour collection of 16 experimental, mind-bending works from the early days of cinema.”

The event was an attempt to show the world TCM’s extensive film archives, and bring to light the fact that a high percentage of classic films are nearly impossible to view, due to damages. According to TCM, over 80% of film made before 1930 is damaged beyond repair. Unseen Cinema: Early American Avant Garde Film 1894-1941 hoped to expose film fans to as much film from that time as they could. The point of Unseen Cinema, in TCM’s own words:

This night of rare movie treasures is the latest demonstration of TCM’s commitment to film preservation and to showcase the efforts of the world’s leading film archives. With as many as 80% of all pre-1930 films lost or damaged beyond repair, Fragments stands as a testament to cinematic treasures that have been claimed by the ravages of time. And celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, Unseen Cinema provides a look at some of early film’s most imaginative visions, most of which have never been presented in a major public forum.” – Robert Osbourne, TCM Host

The Unseen Cinema special followed another, similar special, titled Fragments, which we will look at later. The film I will review from the 16-short special is entitled Annabell Dances and Dances, and it is a true example of a rare gem.

Annabell Dances and Dances:

This film is from 1894, and you can tell. It is not much by way of content, but its very easy to value this if you can imagine what a sight moving picture must have been before 1900. It seems, to me, like the filmmaker created a moving picture just to prove that it was possible. You see all the classic staples of early film that we talked about in the beginning of the year: Stationary camera, single light source, one subject. As boring as I found the film, I can definitely see why it is important. Movies like this are the fossils of film, and should be preserved as long as possible.


Turner Classic Movies: The Dogville Comedies

In the late 20’s and early 30’s, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer produced a series of short films unlike any other. The title of the series is the All Barkie Dogville Comedies, or, in parody of the common phrase ‘talkies,’ the films were sometimes known as ‘Barkies.’

Film 1: So Quiet on the Canine Front

These films used no actors. Instead, trained dogs were used to act out scenes in parody of contemporary actors of the time. Voices were dubbed over by various voice artists. Zion Meyers and Jules White co-directed and created the series; the two would later work on The Three Stooges together.

Since they were created, the film’s have met criticism, citing a mistreatment of dogs. (Rumors say that their mouths were moved using fishing line). They are considered classic works of film but are rarely seen due to their controversial nature. Enter TCM. The company has released the entire series on DVD, and it is made available on their website. They also air the comedies on television from time to time.

Film 2: Dogway Melody

There’s really no use explaining the films, you really have to see them for yourself. Before I watched the films I didn’t expect them to get anywhere near as good of quality as they did. I can see why people might be concerned for the dogs, but in terms of shorts, these are creative and very funny. The dubbed voices work so well with the dogs’ mouth movements, and nowhere else will you find a dog milking a cow.

L ook forward to an interesting next post, covering the almost double-feature like Unseen Cinema/Fragments special that aired on TCM Earlier in the year.


Turner Classic Movies: One Reel Wonders

TCM’s ‘TCM Extras’ may be the most well known way that the network contributes to short film, and this method allows them to do it on a regular basis, without disrupting their broadcasts of feature films. Unlike most channels, TCM schedules their programming with 15 minute gaps between each of their films. Inside the 15 minute gap is a segment known today as TCM Extras. Here is how TCM originally presented the segment, courtesy of YouTube and TCM Asia.

Originally titled ‘One Reel Wonders,’ the segment shows its viewers both classic short films and theatrical movie trailers. As of 2007, TCM has added a number of shorts from their TCM extras series to view online, even further allowing the popularity of short films to expand. Some of the short series’ that TCM has shown via TCM Extras are: The Passing Parade, Crime Does Not Pay, Pete Smith Specialties, and Robert Blenchley films. Here are a few links to One Reel Wonders Shorts, as well as my analysis of them.

This film, simply titled ‘Menu,’ is one from the Pete Smith Specialties series of films, that are shown periodically on TCM’s unique segment. This isn’t a normal film by any means, but you can definitely tell its an early one. Created in 1933, Menu is essentially a cooking video with a plot. Director Nick Grinde uses a husbands sickness to kick the whole thing into gear. With Pete Smith narrating, the whole thing is really pretty funny. A random chef saves the day in the end, teaching the man’s wife how to cook a duck to ease his stomach pain.

This 1938 film is another one from the Pete Smith Specialty collection, although it goes in a completely different direction. This time, with David Miller behind the camera, the film follows former Heavyweight Boxing Champion Max Baer, and it is appropriately titled Fisticuffs. The film is different than most I’ve seen, its mostly just a showcase of Baer’s ability in the boxing ring. Slow motion is used to highlight some things, which I thought was probably the most interesting thing about the film, it was something I haven’t ever seen before

The upcoming post will have a focus on what I thought was the most interesting part of my exploration of TCM Shorts; The controversial, and bizarre series of films still supported by TCM, The Dogville Comedies.

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