Tuesday, July 9, 2024

NFR Project: 'There It Is' (1928)

There It Is

Dir: Harold L. Muller, Charles R. Bowers

Scr: Charles R. Bowers, Harold L. Muller

Pho: Harold L. Muller

Ed: N/A

Premiere: January 1, 1928

19 min.

Charley Bowers was truly one of a kind. There is nothing in film, then or now, that can rival his ability to capture successfully the greatest absurdities imaginable.

There is no logic in Bowers’ universe; nothing is stable, all is in flux. Items which don’t belong together are juxtaposed. Completely unmotivated, bizarre behavior is the norm. It’s extremely bewildering and exciting at the same time, a toboggan ride through the inside of Charley’s visionary skull.

In fact, it’s subversive. However, it’s a comedy, so it passes in the guise of that. Utilizing a combination of live-action and stop-motion techniques, he confounds reason as he spits outs gags nonstop. In a way, he’s like another Melies. He plays with the camera just to see what it can do.

Bowers started out as an animator in 1916. After years of work, he opened his own studio and started making his unique sequence of movies, animated using the so-called “Bowers process”, which created effects unseen anywhere else for decades.

The story, such as it is: a mysterious little figure, bald with glass and an immemse beard and eyebrows, wafts from room to room in an old mansion, vanishing and appearing again through doors and secrets panels. A cracked egg grown into a chicken. An empty pair of pants dances on top of a bureau. The inhabitants are dismayed. Time to call Scotland Yard!

Scotland Yard, naturally, is a yard, nicely surrounded by a picket fence, full of Scotsmen. A detective, Charley, is dispatched; he takes with him a tiny, extremely well-animated companion who fits in a matchbox and answers to the name of MacGregor.

The rest of the movie is a madcap chase through the house, with the “Fuzz-Faced Phantom” eluding his pursuers. He is unbeatable, inscrutable, all-powerful, and toys with Charley unmercifully. The very fabric of reality conspires against Charley’s best efforts. The film grinds to a halt as it deals out three succeeding endings, each daffier than the last.

Bowers made less than two dozen short films in total, only a few of which survive today. They are worth seeking out, just for the sense of wonder they exude.

The NFR is one writer’s attempt to review all the films listed in the National Film Registry in chronological order. Next time: The Wedding March.

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