Frank Bren’s A History of Motion Pictures is a fast and furious theatrical shadow play of films and film-making in the early twentieth century, that rockets along at a great rate like an early silent film.
The story is about an American Senator Pete Logan (Daniel Oldaker) who in 1949 at the time of the House Un-American Committee [HUAC] hearings decides to hold his own independent hearings to uncover communists within the film industry. Enter the Fat Man, a mysterious shadow puppet-master (quite literally) who has the power to get things done in Washington DC. The Fat Man guarantees that Logan will have his committee and that heads will roll, as long as Logan can secure his father the Old Senator (Frank Bren) to be the committee overseer and that Madge Mantan (Olga Makeeva) Hollywood’s harshest critic will be there to name names.
At this point the plot is thrust aside as Madge Mantan, in her presentation to the committee, introduces a series of films that she deems subversive. Each film is acted out by the cast members and features various film personalities and famous figures from the early half of the Twentieth Century. These include Max Linder (Chaplin’s precursor), Pancho Villa and Felix the Cat whose owner Pat Sullivan, an early Australian in Hollywood (played to great comic effect by Frank Bren) goes to extremes to secure the rights of his character. Special mention must also go to Jessica Hackett who attacked each of her roles with gusto.
The cast work hard to realize these films either as shadow plays or physically and this keeps the show moving along although some of the narrative plot twists tend to get lost in all the quick-change and high-farce. This a great shame because at the heart of the story is one of the most frightening periods of the Twentieth Century - the McCarthy witch-hunts. While the direction by Glen Perry and Nina Karol understands the comic imperative it skirts around the more dramatic issues and at times is a little too loose. However this doesn’t stop A History of Motion Pictures being great fun from start to finish like an old movie matinee and for this it’s work the price of admission.
La Mama presents
A History of Motion Pictures
by Frank Bren
Venue: La Mama, 205 Faraday Street, Carlton
Dates: April 25 – May 6, 2007
Times: Thursdays to Saturdays at 8.00pm, Wednesdays and Sundays at 6.30pm
Duration: 70 minutes approx.
Bookings: 9347 6142