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Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date:  June 18, 1910
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

le tout petit Faust © Émile Cohl‘Le tout petit Faust’ is a retelling of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust II using puppet animation.

This is arguably Émile Cohl’s best pure stop-motion film. Although the short is still only comprehensible if you know Goethe’s famous story, it greatly profits from elaborate sets and beautiful background art. There’s even some primitive evocation of emotion during the love scenes between Faust and Margarete. The devilish Mephisto fails to become scary, however, being just a doll just like the other dolls, but in different clothes.

Watch ‘Le tout petit Faust ‘ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Le tout petit Faust ‘ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

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Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: 1910
Rating: ★★
Review:

Le champion du jeu à la mode © Émile Cohl‘Le champion du jeu à la mode’ is about a company of people, who all try to solve a jigsaw puzzle, until one of the men exclaims that he can solve the puzzle in no time. How he does it is never revealed, but we watch the puzzle assemble itself through stop motion.

Essentially, this is a one trick film, and both the comedy and the animation pale, when compared to Cohl’s contemporary films, like ‘Le placier est tenace’ and ‘Le peintre néo-impressioniste’.

Watch ‘Le champion du jeu à la mode’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Le champion du jeu à la mode ‘ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: 1910
Rating: ★★
Review:

L'enfance de l'art © Émile CohlThis animation film uses both cut-out, stop-motion and pen animation in a mix unique to Émile Cohl.

Nevertheless ‘L’enfance de l’art’ is among Cohl vaguest and least impressive films: things are just happening on the screen, like a monster disturbing a painter or some monsters drawn on human hands. We can also watch some morphing images of animals and more monsters. In this respect the title is well chosen…

Watch ‘L’enfance de l’art’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘L’enfance de l’art ‘ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: 1910
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Le peintre néo-impressioniste © Émile Cohl‘Le peintre néo-impressioniste’ is a pure comedy film by cinema pioneer Émile Cohl.

This short is about a painter who cannot even draw a live model (his painting is that of a stick man). When a client arrives the talentless painter tries to sell his monochrome paintings to a client, exclaiming that they are all figurative. For example, the red painting involves a cardinal eating lobster at the red sea, and the green one shows a green devil playing billiards in the grass, while drinking absint.

The imaginary pictures are all shown in cut-out animation, and the colors are beautifully rendered by hand coloring. In the end the client buys them all, leaving the painter and his model laughing.

Watch ‘Le peintre néo-impressioniste’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Le peintre néo-impressioniste’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: 1910
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Le placier est tenace © Émile Cohl‘Le placier est tenace’ is arguably Cohl’s best venture into comedy.

In this film a man tries to escape from a stubborn seller of medicine. The man’s attempts to flee the seller involve taking a cab (the seller turns out to be the cab driver), taking the train (the seller turns out to be the ticket vendor) and taking a balloon (the seller is in the same basket).

The most extraordinary flight is when the man is eaten by an Indian and finds some peace an quiet in the belly of the native American, until the seller volunteers to get eaten by the same man…

‘Le placier est tenace’ is a live action film, even if the scenes in the belly of the Indian are animated with cut-outs. Yet, the film is most important for cartoon lovers, who will immediately recognize the film’s story as an ancestor of some of Tex Avery’s greatest films, most notably ‘Dumb Hounded‘ (1943) and ‘Northwest Hounded Police‘ (1946). In the latter film the wolf flees into the belly of a lion, only to meet Droopy in the lion’s stomach. Even this bizarre idea clearly stems from Cohl’s film. It’s astounding to see that such absurd comedy was already done before World War I, and one wonders if Avery has ever seen Cohl’s film…

Watch ‘Le placier est tenace’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Le placier est tenace’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: 1910
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Les beaux-arts mystérieux © Émile CohlIn this film several objects make paintings on an empty canvas, which all turn into photos and films.

Cohl suggests the act of painting by several means, for example by taking away layers op paper snippers or taking away sand to reveal a picture beneath. There’s no story, and in a way this pure animation film is still in the tradition of the trick film, in which the viewer is more concerned with how the trick is done than the actual images themselves. Thus, the film is most interesting because of the nice footage of Paris anno 1910.

Watch ‘Les beaux-arts mystérieux’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Les beaux-arts mystérieux’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: May 24, 1910
Rating:
Review:

Cadres fleuris © Émile Cohl‘Cadres fleuris’ is one of the least comprehensible and most boring of Cohl’s tableau films.

In this film the frames themselves are much more elaborate than the images inside the frames, which are reduced to a small part of the screen. There’s some cut-out animation, and some stop-motion, but the purpose of the film remains utterly puzzling, especially when some portraits of contemporary world leaders (e.g. Kaiser Wilhelm II and Czar Nicholas II) come along.

With the best of will one can see this film as an early forerunner of the abstract animation experiments of the 1920s and 1930s by Walter Ruttmann, Hans Richter, Viking Eggeling, and Oskar Fischinger. Anyway, ‘Cadres fleuris’ was Cohl’s last venture into the tableau film, a genre which in the early 1910s quickly became obsolete, anyhow.

Watch ‘Cadres fleuris’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Cadres fleuris’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: May 21, 1910
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Le songe du garçon du café © Émile CohlIn this film the waiter of a cafe falls asleep during work, and dreams of glasses, bottles, wine, beer and absint all haunting him.

As may be expected in an Émile Cohl film the dream sequence is done in animation, in a quite remarkable blend of cut-out and pen animation. Cohl uses his trademark metamorphosis technique and imagination to make all kinds of associations with alcohol, in a rather directionless sequence. But as this is supposed to be a dream, this stream-of-consciousness-like approach works pretty well.

In the end, the waiter is awoken by four card-playing guests, who spray spray water on the hapless victim.

Watch ‘Le songe du garçon de café’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Le songe du garçon de café’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: April 28, 1910
Rating:
Review:

Le petit chantecler © Émile CohlÉmile Cohl’s ventures into stop-motion form the weakest part of his prolific output, and ‘Le petit Chantecler’ is no exception.

The film is told in four acts, but it remains utterly inexplicable what happens on the screen. For the most part we just watch stiff statues of roosters, chickens, chicks, a pheasant, a pig, some ducks, and even eggs move in front of an equally static backdrop painting.

There’s an obvious suggestion of story, but it’s completely lost on the audience. Only with the arrival of Władisław Starewicz, and his groundbreaking film ‘The Cameraman’s Revenge‘ (1912), there would arise a real master of the stop motion medium.

Watch ‘Le petit Chantecler’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Le petit Chantecler’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: February 19, 1910
Rating: ★★
Review:

Le Binetoscope © Émile CohlIn ‘Le Binetoscope’ a clown presents some kind of apparatus that absorbs something from the audience and puts it on the screen.

This idea is an excuse for some animation, first shown on a screen behind the (live action) clown, but after two minutes filling the complete movie screen. In this sequence Cohl uses his metamorphosis technique on faces. He even changes a complete alphabet into faces. Then the clown returns to take a bow.

Cohl’s metamorphosis technique remains always interesting to watch, and it’s clever how he uses pen animation and cut-out together in this film, but his pictures in ‘Le Binettoscope’ aren’t too remarkable, and pale when compared to some of his 1909 films like ‘Les générations comiques‘ or ‘Les transfigurations‘.

Watch ‘Le Binetoscope’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Le Binetoscope’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: 1909
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Affaires de coeur © Émile Cohl‘Affaires de coeur’ is a film about love using hearts as a common thread.

Even the frame in which all action takes place is heart-shaped. In this film Cohl uses every animation technique known at the time to tell a rather abstract story of love. We watch hearts filling cards, cards playing badminton, and a male heart courting and eventually marrying a female heart, and even dueling a rival heart with a mustache.

Despite the clear theme, the film is one of Cohl’s less successful efforts. There’s an aimlessness in this film, which only halfway forms some sort of story. Moreover, none of the animation is particularly noteworthy, even though the hearts in love have some charm.

Watch ‘Affaires de coeur’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Affaires de coeur’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: 1909
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Les chapeaux des belles dames © Émile Cohl‘Les chapeaux des belles dames’ is one of Émile Cohl’s tableau films.

Whereas Cohl’s other tableau films from 1909, like ‘L’éventail animé‘ and ‘Les couronnes‘ consisted of elaborate tableaux vivants, ‘Les chapeaux des belles dames’ is much simpler. The film only shows several ladies wearing hats from different ages. Within a vignette we watch the bustes of the ladies circling around, showing the hats from all sides. Thus we watch hats from 1400 to 1825, with emphasis on the 15th and 18th century (strangely enough the 17th century is skipped altogether).

The whole film may be insightful, the short is remarkably static, and only entertaining because of the sometimes extraordinary hats. It doesn’t help that the surviving copy is badly damaged, rendering some of the images more or less invisible.

Watch ‘Les chapeaux des belles dames’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Les chapeaux des belles dames’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: 1909
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Les chaussures matrimoniales © Émile Cohl‘Les chaussures matrimoniales’ is a gentle trick film, showcasing Émile Cohl’s narrative skills.

The film starts with a woman and a man taking adjacent rooms at a hotel. When they both put their shoes outside to let them brush, the man’s shoes start to make advances on the woman’s shoes. When the woman takes them back inside, the man’s shoes even follow them inside. As a consequence the man loses his shoes, but he finds them inside the woman’s room, where he starts making advances on the woman himself. In the end, the new couple leaves the hotel happily together.

Most of the film is done in live action, but the wandering shoes are done in pretty convincing stop motion. When the male shoes start advancing on the woman’s shoes, Cohl even manages to give the objects some character. It’s touches like this that make the film a little more interesting than the usual trick films of the era.

Watch ‘Les chaussures matrimoniales’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Les chaussures matrimoniales’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: 1909
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Les locataires d'à-côté © Émile CohlLes locataires d’à-côté’ is a short comic film about an old couple who decide to drill a hole in the wall to spy on their younger neighbors.

However, the hole is immediately discovered by the young victims, and the young man wonders how he can punish the nosy neighbors. How he does it remains utterly unclear, but as soon as one of the neighbors takes a peak to the hole, the young neighbors’ room disappears, and makes place for some animation, mostly stop-motion, but also some pen animation, in which Cohl shows some pretty grotesque images.

The best part is when he applies his famous technique of metamorphosis to paper-cut forms. This is essentially replacement animation in a form never tried before, and rarely after. In a sense, this piece of animation anticipates George Pal’s groundbreaking replacement animation of the 1930s. Moreover, throughout his film, Cohl employs the split-screen technique, an absolute novelty. These facts alone make ‘Les locataires d’à-côté’ a great example of the astonishing creativity Émile Cohl showed in his films of 1908-1911.

In the end the couple fetch the house-keeper, but all he sees is the ordinary room, and he leaves the neighbors, stating they are crazy. Indeed, they seem to become crazy, in the end, and it’s the young couple who has the last laugh.

Watch ‘Les locataires d’à-côté’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Les locataires d’à-côté’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: 1909
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Les transfigurations © Émile Cohl‘Les transfigurations’ starts with some live action footage of some street artist inviting passers-by to take a peak inside his fortune-telling machine on a street corner.

The machine shows one man his future wife, another his career, and another his rise and fall. The three customers all leave the machine in anger, much to the street artist’s delight. Only the fourth, who gets a vision of his mother-in-law leaves the stage laughing and hopping with the man from the machine.

The images of the machine are rendered in a great mix of pen animation, cut-out and stop-motion, and know a great deal of metamorphosis, Cohl’s strong point. For example, the future wife changes into an old hag, into a weather-vane and into a doll, while the mother-in-law changes into another hag, and into a crocodile. The best animation is that for the third man. The message of his transformations are rather unclear, but they are mesmerizing nonetheless, as we watch the man change e.g. into a devil and into a monkey.

‘Les transfigurations’ is comparable to ‘Les générations comiques‘ and ‘Les lunettes feériques‘ from the same year, and certainly one of Cohl’s best satirical movies.

Watch ‘Les transfigurations’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Les transfigurations’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: December 4, 1909
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Les lunettes feériques © Émile CohlAt a party in some living room a girl wants to put some glasses on. Her uncle warns her that the glasses are magical, and reveal the character and taste of the one who puts them on.

Soon, everybody in the company puts the glasses on: the glutton, the gambler, the lover, the girl herself, and the miser. Every time one puts on the glasses we see what they see in a mixture of cut-out, pen animation and stop-motion.

Unfortunately Cohl takes his time to show meaningful images, wasting quite some time on rotating patterns. Moreover, the satire is less sharp than in his contemporary films ‘Les générations comiques‘ or ‘Les transfigurations‘. Thus, in the end everybody only has a good laugh, instead of becoming angry, like the people in ‘Les transfigurations’.

Watch ‘Les lunettes féeriques’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Les lunettes féeriques’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: September 1, 1909
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Les générations comiques © Émile Cohl‘Les générations comiques’ is Cohl’s best animation film of 1909, and his best film since ‘Fantasmagorie‘ (1908).

The short uses a unique combination of pen animation, cut outs and live action to paint some sharp portraits of stereotypes, like the fisherman, the miser and the policeman. The portraits are a series of free associations, with metamorphosis running wild, and finally resulting in a live action version of the stereotype.

Like in ‘Fantasmagorie’ Cohl’s imagination knows no boundaries, and the film shows more images than one can possibly register in the short time frame. This makes watching ‘Les générations comiques’ a mindblowing experience. The film may lack ‘Fantasmagorie’s playfullness, it’s much more sure in its style, and shows that Cohl could draw very well.

Watch ‘Les générations comiques’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Les générations comiques’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: August 25, 1909
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Porcelaines tendres © Émile Cohl‘Porcelaines tendres’ is a tableau vivant film, like ‘L’éventail animé‘ and ‘Les couronnes‘, with people now pretending to be porcelain figures in crockery items.

Like two earlier shorts the film has a vague chronological order, and is very stylized and beautiful. Nevertheless, the film is less gripping than the former two films, and its frame more conventional, being akin to frames used in other contemporary French films. As in all of Cohl’s tableau vivant films, no animation is involved.

Watch ‘Porcelaines tendres’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Porcelaines tendres’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: August 11, 1909
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Les couronnes © Émile Cohl‘Les couronnes’ is a tableau vivant film like ‘L’éventail animé‘, now showing wreaths and crowns through the ages.

And, as may be expected, the tableaux are now shown inside a wreath-shaped frame. Like in ‘L’eventail animé’ this is a live action film, featuring no animation. Like in the former film the tableaux themselves are very stylized and beautiful, helped by the elegant score for harp and guitar.

Even if the film may be slightly less beautiful than ‘L’eventail animé’, it’s certainly more moving, with a scene of Christ receiving his crown of thorns, and a contemporary, but surprisingly sentimental scene of a rich couple giving a poor man a wreath-shaped bread.

Watch ‘Les couronnes’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Les couronnes’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: July 10, 1909
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Les joyeux microbes © Émile Cohl‘Les joyeux microbes’ is one of Cohl’s most inventive and most creative films.

The short starts with a live action scene of a man visiting a scientist, who claims the man is full of microbes. To prove his point he shows the man his microbes through the microscope. We watch what the man sees: this is where the animation starts, as the microbes under the microscope start moving and morphing, and change into caricatures of politicians, of a car driver, a man drinking, etc.

Cohl’s inspired metamorphosis and readable drawing style come together in this film to entertaining effects. In the end the man exclaims ‘Dieu! Je suis malade!‘ (My God, I’m ill!), and throws a painting over the laughing scientist, before rushing out.

Watch ‘Les joyeux microbes’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Les joyeux microbes’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

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