French filmmaker Georges Méliès was definitely the most important of the early pioneers of cinema. While he wasn't precisely the inventor of motion pictures; he was the one who saw the potential of the new invention as a storytelling device. A stage magician, Méliès became an early master of special effects, and his short movies were filled with the most diverse and inventive catalog of tricks, gimmicks and techniques to create real magic on the screen. Of course, imitators would soon appear, and the best of them was without a doubt American director Edwin S. Porter, who working for Edison, made the first American films able to compete with Méliès' "Cinemagic". "Uncle Josh's Nightmare" was Porter's fifth movie, a 2 minutes short devised to mimic one of Méliès' first and most famous discoveries: disappearing objects.
In this movie, Uncle Josh (Charles Manley) is attempting to get some sleep, but right after he jumps to bed, strange things begin to happen to him. A demon (actor unknown, but very probably the same actor who played Mephistopheles in Porter's "The Mystic Swing") appears, and is decided to bother Uncle Josh using his many magic tricks. Uncle Josh tries to stop the annoying fiend but his attempts to catch him prove useless due to the demon's ability to disappear. Finally, Uncle Josh catches him, and after an amusing fight, he manages to lock the demon inside a box. But the box won't be enough to stop this devil, and Uncle Josh's nightmare will get a bit worse after the devil escapes from the box.
Like most of Porter's early movies, this short is first and foremost, a novelty film made to impress audiences and to show off Porter's progress with camera tricks. While finally in this movie there is more of a plot than in the rest of Porter's early works, the special effects are the main attraction of the movie and everything revolves around the disappearing acts. Shot in one stage disguised as a bedroom, a thing that's worth to point out is the dynamism of the film: there is always movement on the screen. This looks like a big step ahead for Porter, as it shows his progress in editing and camera tricks. Interestingly, Uncle Josh would become one of the first "franchises" in cinema, as this character would appear in three more movies (probably directed by Porter and performed by Manley too), where his supernatural adventures would be the background for interesting displays of special effects.
Of course, it still pales and comparison with Méliès' works of the same year, but by watching this modest early short one can't deny that Porter was a fast learner, and that he would make up his lack of originality with technical progress. Even when "Uncle Josh's Nightmare" has some good effects, what truly made Méliès' movies better than Porter was not only his superior tricks, but his care for putting them in interesting plots, something that Porter was at this stage still unable to do. While not a bad movie, "Uncle Josh's Nightmare" is probably more valuable for its historical importance in both Porter's career and cinema's history, than for its artistic merit or entertainment value. 5/10
2 of 2 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?
| Report this