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The Children's Jury (1938)

A montage of elephants, children, Native Americans, logging, a barnstormer, a blimp, people on and in the water, and a man who sings like a bird.

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A montage presented by Gimbels. Film clips are spliced together; images appear, sometimes by association. Loggers fell a tree; later machines and elephants move logs. There are working elephants and circus elements. A barnstormer flies under an arch then kisses a woman. A girl sorts cotton. Native American men dance. People crowd on a boat; divers walk on the bottom of the sea; three others float in barrels. A blimp floats by. A man sits at a piano and chirps. The soundtrack doesn't always match the images. A child cries. Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

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Short | Comedy

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1938 (USA)  »

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Elephants, logging and an underwater wedding
27 June 2009 | by See all my reviews

Joseph Cornell worked with found footage. If nothing else, his work reminds us of the thousands upon thousands of metres of film that was shot in the early decades of cinema, mostly trivial chronicles of people and events, and is now lost to us forever. But the footage edited into Cornell's 'The Children's Jury (1938)' survives for the curious cinephiles among us – albeit, without any clear historical or geographical context. This undeniable curiosity value has developed after seventy years of passing time, but I really can't comprehend why anybody in 1938 would want to watch a film like this. Found footage montages in this vein typically have an underlying idea or theme, something that connects the otherwise disparate images, but this doesn't really have anything.

Even with this being the case, the film might have achieved success through energetic editing techniques, but Cornell's style of montage is far from the frenetic, rhythmic work of Vertov, Kirsanoff or Richter. Each distinctive shot – of loggers working in the forest, elephants at the circus, a blimp above the city skyline, a musician with the voice of a bird – lasts for at least ten seconds, neglecting anything in the way of editing rhythm. The style vaguely reminded me of Arthur Lipsett's '21-87 (1964),' but that film at least had a central philosophy (however pessimistic) underlying the director's use of sounds and images. 'The Children's Jury' isn't meaningful, isn't amusing, isn't exciting – but, thanks to the passage of time, it has some interest.


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