Soul of the Cypress (1920) is a nine-minute silent short, set on a treed cliff in wilderness California, overlooking the sea. It tells a story inspired by myths of ancient Greece.
A dryad (played by dancer Chase Herendeen, director Dudley Murphy's first wife) has long been held captive in one of the oldest trees.
A musician venturing into the forest climbs atop a rock at the cliff's edge & begins to play his wind-instrument, purportedly composing an original tune, though the film is synchronized to Debussy's "Afternoon of a Faun."
His song releases the dryad from the tree. Hopping about in a melodramatic dance, she skips across the countryside, coming eventually to where the musician played facing the sea. He stops, turns, sees the lovely dryad.
Upon seeing her, he's immediately captivated by love, & pursues her, helpess, across the landscape. She flees back into the tree, but promises to love him forever if he will leap into the sea & return to her immortal. He leaps to his death & the waves lapping at the cliff below forever hold his spirit.
Soul of the Cypress was Dudley Murphy's first film. His second continued the ancient Greek theme, Aphrodite (1920), starring Katharine Hawley (later to be his second wife) in the title role. This film however has been lost.
Murphy's eight-minute silent short Danse Macabre (1922) is part limited animation (by F. A. A. Dahme), mostly live-action, with dance choreography by Adolph Bolm, who also dances the role of Youth.
It's the time of plague in Spain. Youth & his adored Love (Ruth Page) have found romance even in a troubled age. They arrive together in a dark gothic castle, dancing & kissing through the night. But Death (Olin Howland) fiddles unseen in the shadows.
They perform a for-the-time erotic ballet, but plague lurks ever near, & the couple slowly become fearful & dour. Ghostly Death is eager to claim them, fiddling ever more wildly as he dances in the dark.
The maiden Love finally falls ill & all seems lost, but at the moment of the animated cock-crow, Death fades & Love isn't sick after all. This time.
This is an appealing miniature horror film & in the context of silent film method, having the roles danced adds more character than could've dialogue cards for simple tableau.
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