In the spirit of Halloween and Reckonings With Mortality, we at Magic Lantern have a few pieces of “candy” to drop into your pillowcase/plastic pumpkin. However, before you are treated, you must step inside our makeshift House of Horrors and you must not avert your eyes from the Terrors that await you. There are Five Frightening Films in Total, each more terrifying than the last, each of which poses that eternal question: Who is the Man, and who is the Beast? Visions of Electric Elephants and Cheating Chickadees and Italian Tourists and Slaughterhouse Victims await you – BE WARNED – this show is not intended for the young or the fair of heart or those resistant to revelation…
Featuring: Electrocuting an Elephant by Thomas Edison (1:00, 16mm, 1903), Harmony by Jim Trainor (12:00, 16mm, 2005), Microcultural Incidents at Ten Zoos by Ray Birdwhistell (34:00, 16mm, 1969), Unsere Afrikareise by Peter Kubelka (13:00, 16mm, 1966), Blood of the Beast by Georges Franju (22:00, 16mm, 1949)
Electrocuting an Elephant by Thomas Edison (1:00, 16mm, 1903) A graphic turn-of-the-century document of the death of a killer elephant named Topsy and the perils of AC electricity. The truth of it is this: Topsy helped build Coney Island, but she also killed three men, the last of whom was drunk and fed her a lit cigarette. Edison was out to prove AC electricity unsafe so that the public would use his DC system, and Topsy was the last in a long line of animals electrocuted in the name of commerce.
Harmony by Jim Trainor (12:00, 16mm, 2005) “Jim Trainor, the Walt Disney of sexual anxiety, really blasts us with this fatal short on the behavior of animals and aboriginals. As they confess to rubbing their clitori against relatives, killing girlfriend’s children, and, of course ruining everything, a fatal truth emerges on the strange nature of natural and preternatural sex. A beautiful landscape of subversive sexuality, Harmony teeters on the brink of absurdity but never goes over, even when it abstractly maps these emotional landscapes for the viewer. As Trainor’s film transcends into the mystical, he never loses his grasp on the harsh, National Geographic al realities of life, whether human, animal, or cellular.” – Alex Smith
Microcultural Incidents at Ten Zoos by Ray Birdwhistell (34:00, 16mm, 1969) A program based on a lecture by Birdwhistell to the American Anthropological Association, demonstrating the context control method for comparative analysis of cross-cultural situations. Short film excerpts illustrate the interaction of members of families with each other and with animals in zoos in England, France, Italy, Hong Kong, India, Japan, and the United States. An epilogue illustrates observer and, particularly, cameraman biases in recording interactional data.
Unsere Afrikareise by Peter Kubelka (13:00, 16mm, 1966) “…whose images are relatively conventional ”records” of a hunting trip in Africa. The shooting records multiple “systems”— white hunters, natives, animals, natural objects, buildings — in a manner that preserves the individuality of each. At the same time, the editing of sound and image brings these systems into comparison and collision, producing a complex of multiple meanings, statements, ironies… I know of no other cinema like this. The ultimate precision, even fixity, that Kubelka’s films achieve frees them to become objects that have some of the complexity of nature itself — but they are films of a nature refined and defined, remade into a series of relationships. Those rare and miraculous moments in nature when the sun’s rays align themselves precisely with the edge of a rock or the space between two buildings, or when a pattern on sand or in clouds suddenly seems to take on some other aspect, animal or human, are paralleled in single events of a Kubelka film. The whole film is forged out of so many such precisions with an ecstatic compression possible only in cinema.” – Fred Camper
Blood of the Beast by Georges Franju (22:00, 16mm/video, 1949) Ostensibly a documentary about the slaughterhouses of Paris, this film is filled with some of the most sublime images of mortality that one could ever imagine (inflated sheep, a levitating horse). By presenting these scenes alongside those of French citizens in the countryside, Franju seems to be marking his fellow countrymen as complicit in the horrors of the Holocaust, and the effect is quietly chilling.