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Top 5 Fantastical Landscapes

Saturday 15 August 2015, by Judy Harris

Forget CGI, we’re rejoicing in the sensuous pleasures of cardboard and burlap in some of the more ambiguous yet fantastical pro-filmic constructions. Welcome to pasteboard paradise!

5. The Singing Ringing Tree (Francesco Stefani,1957)
In this Technicolor kingdom barren trees are laden with silver curling ribbon, giant mechanized goldfish live in frozen lakes and artificial orange coral surrounds waterfalls. This is a Brothers Grimm style fairy tale involving an arrogant princess, a singing tree and an evil dwarf who meet in a flat and garish magical valley. Despite its lakes and waterfalls, this place is dusty, plastic and hollow. The atmosphere is vibrant and claustrophobic, like a tiny 19th century German theme park.

4. The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (Robert Wiene, 1920)
Who doesn’t long to walk the slanted streets of Holstenwall? The gothic-psychotic town, home to the sinister Dr Caligari and his somnambulist-puppet Cesare, is as alluring as it is creepy. The crooked cardboard cutouts are sinister in their naivete; a pasteboard paradise onto which murderous shadows are cast.

3. The Bluebird (Maurice Tourneur, 1918)
This is probably as close as film gets to depicting the Victorian fairy splendour of Arthur Rackham and Willy Pogany. Two children (Tyltyl and Mytyl) set out to find the elusive bluebird of happiness, searching graveyards, forests and palaces. Moving between stencils, shadow theatre, live action and homemade play-acting the images are both stunning and surreal. From start to finish it feels like a beautiful, failed illusion.

2. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Max Reinhardt and William Dieterle, 1935)
Seemingly hundreds of fleshy fairies prance about a forest full of mossy dells and shimmering mist. A goblin orchestra plays in the gnarled roots of a tree. Above it all the moon sits like an ethereal doughball. For this adaptation of Reinhardt’s stage production trees were made from burlap, dipped in plaster and coated in high-gloss shellac. The handmade forest was carpeted in moss and covered in a ‘cobweb’ material over which they blew hundreds of pounds of glass and mica particles; truckfuls of leaves were apparently shipped in from Sherwood forest and the whole hybrid ‘thing’ had to be watered daily. Take pity on those who regard this film as ‘demented’ and ‘bereft of taste’ and let yourself enjoy this haphazard and unplaceable place.

1. Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955)
There has never been such smooth sailing as there is in this profoundly magical, melancholic river boat scene. A key influence on Terrence Malick, Laughton’s camera drifts through a world of bonsai trees and shadow theatre. The two young children are on the run from a serial killer and while making their escape they sail downstream in a flatland of frogs, stars and spider webs. A wonderful mixture of German expressionism and Brambly Hedge.

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