Category Archives: 1926

War Feathers (1926, Robert F. McGowan and Robert A. McGowan)

I expected an Our Gang short titled War Feathers to be racist, but I was unprepared for how racist it gets.

It opens with the kids torturing a train conductor–and Joe Cobb in blackface. Sorry, “chocolate” face. The poor conductor doesn’t just have to try to contain them, he’s also got them pretending to be good for their parents. Of course the parents don’t believe a black train conductor.

It makes you wonder if the point’s to want to see the kids drown.

Then the kids leave the train and go to an Old West town. There they see a lot of Native Americans. One eventually kidnaps Farina.

In an interesting turn of events, after outlaws kidnap Farina again, he gets sick. They try to help him, making them the nicer than anyone else in Feathers.

It finishes with the Gang stranded in the wilderness. Unfortunately not to stay.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Robert F. McGowan and Robert A. McGowan; written and produced by Hal Roach; titles by H.M. Walker; edited by Richard C. Currier; released by Pathé Exchange.

Starring Allen ‘Farina’ Hoskins (Farina), Joe Cobb (Joe), Johnny Downs (Johnny), Jannie Hoskins (Mango), Jackie Condon (Jackie), Scooter Lowry (Skooter), Clifton Young (Bonedust), Jay R. Smith (Jay), Peggy Ahearn (Peggy), Mildred Kornman (Mildred), Chet Brandenburg (Rancher at the Whistling Clam), Allan Cavan (Train passenger), George B. French (Rancher at the Whistling Clam), Ham Kinsey (Conductor) and Sam Lufkin (Sheriff).


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Anemic Cinema (1926, Marcel Duchamp)

I’m not sure how Anemic Cinema cinema is surrealist. Obviously for the time, but today the most surreal thing about it is the copyright notice. Director Duchamp slaps a copyright notice on the end.

It feels completely out of place with Anemic, which is otherwise a direct communication with the viewer.

Duchamp alternates between his Rotoreliefs–think carnival spinning wheels (though sometimes not very motional)–and these little spinning disks with sayings on them. Some of the sayings are funnier than the others, some are more bewildering, most directly engage the viewer. Anemic is often second person.

It makes for an interesting experience. The more outlandish the text disks, the less movement in the carnival wheels.

Only a few of the carnival wheels disrupt the experience; these wheels are so fantastic, one has to wonder how Duchamp created them.

Anemic transfixes until that jarring, baffling finish with the copyright notice.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Marcel Duchamp; director of photography, Man Ray.


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Ménilmontant (1926, Dimitri Kirsanoff)

I’m hesitant to call parts of Ménilmontant brilliant. There are some great moments, with amazing composition and editing, but there are also some painfully pedestrian ones. If those sequences were the only problem, I suppose I would. But director Kirsanoff also displays an abject lack of self-awareness.

Ménilmontant concerns two sisters, Nadia Sibirskaïa and Yolande Beaulieu, who move to Paris from the countryside. There they grow apart, though they live together, as Sibirskaïa meets a young man. He seduces her and then turns out to be a cad, going after Beaulieu as well.

So the city life corrupts these young women’s innocence.

Except, of course, Ménilmontant opens with their parents falling victim, quite literally, to an axe murderer. The countryside isn’t much better. But Kirsanoff seems completely unaware. The beginning, actually, feels tacked on.

Sadly, the final third is all melodrama.

Sibirskaïa’s good, except for the melodrama.

Ménilmontant disappoints.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Written, edited, produced and directed by Dimitri Kirsanoff; directors of photography, Léonce Crouan and Kirsanoff.

Starring Nadia Sibirskaïa (Younger Sister), Yolande Beaulieu (Older Sister) and Guy Belmont (Young Man).


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Happy Days (1926, Arvid E. Gillstrom)

Happy Days is a good example of a bad silent comedy short. Ostensibly about Ethelyn Gibson’s secretary slash girl about town (it’s based on a comic strip), the short more focuses on her brother (the androgynous Billy Butts) and his baseball game.

The baseball game is basically a rip-off of an “Our Gang” short, but a mean spirited, racist one. Happy Days might be best examined opposite an “Our Gang” in those terms. There are two black kids at the game, both get all jokes played on them. And one of the black kids is, basically, the main character of the short. He doesn’t get a credit.

He does, however, get to have a strange intimate moment with androgynous Butts, kissing his hand.

Then there’s the implication Gibson’s character is a little loose with the men.

Already awful, Gillstrom’s lousy direction and the incompetent editing makes Days even worse.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Arvid E. Gillstrom; based on a comic strip by Martin Branner; titles by Al Martin; director of photography, King D. Gray; produced by Billy West and George West; released by Weiss Brothers Artclass Pictures.

Starring Ethelyn Gibson (Winnie Winkle), Billy Butts (Perry Winkle), Vondell Darr (Alice), Tommy Hicks (Fat Baseball Player), Jack McHugh (Rival Baseball Team Pitcher) and Jack Raymond (Grocer).


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