Thursday, December 29, 2011

The '?' Motorist - 1906


Country: United Kingdom
Language: English
Director: Walter R. Booth
Release Date: October 1906 (UK)
Also known as: A sofőr (Hungary); Questionmark Motorist (UK -informal title); The ? Motorist (UK - alternative spelling); The Mad Motorist (UK - informal title)
Production Co: Robert W. Paul
Runtime: 3 min
Sound Mix: Silent
Color: Black and White
Plot Keywords: Outer Space | Flying Car | Saturn The Planet | Reckless Driving | Reattach  | Dismemberment | Police
Genres: Fantasy | Short | Comedy | Sci-Fi
A British trick film in which a motorist ends up driving around the rings of Saturn.
A magical glowing white motorcar dismembers policemen, drives up buildings, flies through outer space and can transform into a horse and carriage. This was a British effort to top Melies at his Sci-Fi/fantasy/comedy trick films.
Goofs: Miscellaneous: In the film's final shot, a woman observing the crew is visible.
A charmingly subversive comedy-fantasy that pays handsome tribute to the cinema's sister invention, the automobile, suggesting both have the power to disrupt conventional society. It uses the kind of trickery perfected by Melies, but is arguably more potent because of its (relative) grounding in real life.
A well-to-do couple speed down a sunny country road, ordered to stop by an approaching pedestrian policeman. They promptly, gloriously, run him over. As he gives chase, the motorists are blocked by a large building, which they drive up with exhilirating ease. While the blundering bobby gazes in bafflement, the drivers zip through space, circling the moon, skating Saturn's rings, before running out of petrol, freefalling, and collapsing on a court-case that was at any rate degenerating into farce.
Although you can obviously see the joins, the inventiveness of this short holds up remarkably well, as it shows that cars are a nuisance off, as well as on the road. The invention of the motor-car brought with it a greater mobility, a shortening of distances, in effect shortening time and space; as it became possible to travel to more places more quickly, the world became a smaller place.
Ditto the cinema, which could do so much more than the mere photographing of things - not only visiting new worlds, but creating them, inviting our imagination to soar above the mundane. Unlike our own fantasy films, however, audiences then were not hypnotised into forgetting real life, the mendacious absurdity of our social institutions, the arbitrary ineptitude of our law enforcers - is it any wonder we might want to escape?
The film is treasurable for that glorious moment when the peeler, with doltish complacency, linked to the immemorial countryside as he attempts to control this new-fangled aberrance, is upended - thud! - against a steaming bonnet, the majesty of the law a sprawling punchline.

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