Rebus-Film No. 1 (1925)

rebus1

*. The rebus (or puzzle) film was a form dependent on a particular context that no longer exists. Imagined and directed by Paul Leni, these were a series of short films that came in two parts, the first presenting a crossword puzzle introduced by a cartoon Mr. Rebus figure and the second (only shown after the feature) providing the solution.
*. We don’t watch movies like this any more. Indeed, I’m not sure if there many theatres that still show shorts before the main feature, though I can still remember when some of them did. That’s prime trailer time. And what audience would sit all the way to the end of the credits just to see the solution of the puzzle? Waiting for post-credit sequences is bad enough.
*. The Rebus films were made in Germany, and I’m guessing that 1925 is the date for the German release version and 1928 for the English-language one. The Kino DVD gives the latter as the date, and it is the English edition.
*. I’ll confess that I don’t care for crossword puzzles. I don’t understand the sort of mind that finds them interesting. A lot of the time the clues, even after explained, make no sense to me at all.
*. With that said, if you’re very proficient at crosswords I think you’ll find Rebus-Film No. 1 very easy. I managed to get four of the six words right away. Two of them I answered wrong, but (and here I will announce a spoiler alert, in case you want to play the game yourself first) I have to register a couple of complaints.
*. The first word is eight letters and the visual clues show various musicians playing their instruments and people dancing. The text clue was that it made a lot of noise. I guessed “jamboree.” Made sense to me, but the correct answer is “jazz band.” I thought the rule was that if the answer was two words you had to say as much?
*. Jamboree didn’t get me into trouble right away because the second letter was the same in both cases, which gave me one of my other clues. When it came to naming the mystery city, however, I knew it was wrong. But I couldn’t think of an alternative.
*. The other word I didn’t get was the last one, which was a number with four letters. As the middle letter was “i” and the last letter “e” I guessed “five.” Five worked. The correct answer, however, was “nine.” Even after they revealed it, I couldn’t see how nine was any better an answer than five. They both fit equally well, and while there were various “9”s in the visual clues for that word, there were also other numbers as well.
*. In short, I lost but I thought the whole thing was a cheat.
*. But for the credits (Leni directing, photography by Guido Seeber) I don’t think this one would have any interest today as a film. Its use of montage is unremarkable and the animation only functional. Instead it’s more of an artifact from a now vanished era of movie-going. At the time the idea of a visual crossword puzzle might have seemed a bit daring, but clearly they never caught on and in today’s more fully interactive media environment it’s just a curiosity.

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