Dr. Plonk ****
Directed by Rolf de Heer
I watched Rolf de Heer's "Dr. Plonk" with a massive amount of joyous glee that when the words "THE END" came up, I was ready for a second film. Heer made a film I saw earlier this year called "Ten Canoes"-which apparently played at the festival last year-which was not as good, but was certainly unusual. He shifts gears completely and does something that I strongly admire him for, and once I read the summary in the program guide I knew I had to make space for it on my schedule. Heer has made a silent comedy in the style of Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd. Not only that, but he shot it all on a crank camera like back in the day, and he shot 20,000 feet of film for his movie. And it is just so ingenious, so authentic, so well done, and so insanely perfect that it is easily near the top of the best films at the festival.
Nigel Lunghi-who does not have a screen credit to his name aside from this-plays the good Dr. Plonk. Complete with Harold Lloyd like glasses, a Charlie Chaplin like moustache, and a serious face like Buster Keaton, Dr. Plonk is a scientist that decides that the world is going to end in 101 years-in the year 2008! With the help of his good sidekick-a deaf and mute man named Paulus-as well as his large wife Mrs. Plonk, and their dog, the doctor tries to convince Parliament that the world is going to end in 101 years when they demand proof. And he builds a time machine made out of a box to go into the future and get the evidence he needs.
Like most silent comedy classics of the good old days, "Dr. Plonk" takes a rather simple story and becomes strongly about comic gags and physical comedy. However, Heer takes it one step further and makes a rather interesting social commentary on the way the world is going. He takes a look at the silent age as an age of strong innocence, and he ingeniously puts scenes in the present day covered with advanced machines. television, cars, and giant factories. When Dr. Plonk ends up seeing 2008 for the first time he looks around and exclaims "This is what the end of the world looks like!" And the ending, which has a rather bleak but very funny turn, may not fit the usual silent comedy endings, but I can't imagine it ending any other way,
The comic gags are all perfect, and all absolutely hilarious. There is the final set piece chase like you see in most Lloyd films-look up "Doctor Jack" for my favorite-there are the very simple one shot gags where the camera never moves as the actors react to all types of misunderstandings without a single edit. There is fast motion during running around scenes. And there is a great bit where Dr. Plonk can't find his time machine in a crowded parking lot. The filming really could fool you. Heer captures the time period perfectly, the color tones, the way the actors moves, the amount of make-up, the over exclaimed acting, the title cards, the reel markers. It is perfect. The only thing that it could have used was some more film scratches, but even without them the picture is fantastic the way it is. I had a blast watching "Dr. Plonk," a silent masterpiece that is more than a homage, but a full fledged silent film. This is a real masterpiece, and a real ambitious and perfect work of art.