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Director: Władysław Starewicz
Release Date: 1933
Stars: Fétiche
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Mascot © Wladyslaw Starewicz‘The Mascot’ shows that by 1933 Starewicz was the undisputed master of stop motion.

This 26 minute long film starts with live action, and is a typical melodramatic product of its time: we watch a poor mother making a dog doll, while her ill child lies in the back of the small room with fever. When she sheds a tear on the puppy doll, it comes alive. The puppy doll makes friends with the little girl, but the next day he’s about to be sold by a poor mother together with several other dolls she made.

On the way, however, a thief doll cuts a hole through the cardboard box they’re in, and all dolls leave the box, except for the little dog, who’s sold and hung in a car. Finally the dog makes his way home and rescues the little ill girl from a certain death by fetching her an orange.

The plot is more complicated than this main narrative, however, and features countless puppets. Besides the dog’s story, there’s a menage à trois featuring a ballet dancer, a Pierrot and the thief doll, and there are also a monkey doll and a cat doll involved.

Highlight of the film is a night scene, in which everything comes alive, from pieces of paper to skeletons of fish and birds. No less than the devil himself invites all creatures inside his cavern, where an grand ball is taking place. This sequence has a nightmarish character comparable to Alexeïeff’s ‘Une nuit sur le mont chauve’ from the same year.

The whole film has a unique, gritty atmosphere, however. Throughout, the animation ranges from primitive to astounding. Starewicz especially excels in facial expressions, which really make some of the characters come alive. The dog, for example, clearly is a timid, reluctant character.

Unfortunately, the film is completely silent, despite a sparsity of dialogue and sound effects, and sometimes Starewicz’s dolls fall prone to overacting to overcome the lack of sound. Edouard Flament’s angular soundtrack doesn’t help either. Moreover, the all too complex plot hampers the film, making it meander too much. The melodrama, too, is a little too much for present day audiences.

Nevertheless, ‘The Mascot’ is a tour de force of stop motion animation. At least it provided Starewicz with a contract for eleven more films about the cute little dog, which was baptized Fétiche and finally starred five more films.

Watch ‘The Mascot’ yourself and tell me what you think:

https://archive.org/details/The_Mascot_Complete

‘The Mascot’ is available on the DVD ‘The Cameraman’s Revenge & other Fantastic Tales’

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Director: Władysław Starewicz
Release Date: 1922
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

The Frogs Who Wanted a King © Ladislav StarewiczAfter the October revolution, Władysław Starewicz fled to France, where he continued to make stop motion films until his death in 1965. ‘The Frogs Who Wanted a King’ is the fourth film he made in France, and probably his most political.

The film is based on one of Aesop’s fables. Some frogs ask Jupiter for a king. Jupiter sends them one, but the king looks like a tree and does nothing at all. The frogs don’t like him, so Jupiter sends them a stork, who, naturally, eats the unfortunate amphibians.

The message may be that it’s better to have a dull government than one that kills you, a message Starewicz could certainly relate to, being forced to exile by the oppressing communist regime in Russia.

Once again, Starewicz’ animation is top notch. The film has a particularly fable-like character, taking place in its own, very convincing universe.

Watch ‘The Frogs Who Wanted a King’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Władysław Starewicz
Release Date: 1913
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

The Insects' Christmas © Ladislav Starewicz‘The Insects’ Christmas’ is Starewicz’s next film after his masterpiece ‘The Cameraman’s Revenge‘.

Although the short uses insects again, it’s a whole different film, turning to the sweet subject of Christmas. It’s probably the first animated film about Christmas ever made.

The plot is surprisingly simple: Father Christmas climbs down a Christmas tree, awakes some insects and a frog, who are hibernating underground, and he invites them to a Christmas party. He gives them presents and they all go skiing and skating.

This film’s story cannot be compared to the mature plot of ‘The Cameraman’s revenge‘. It’s more like a child’s dream of Christmas. The film reuses puppets from ‘The Cameraman’s Revenge’ and others, and even though the animation is less engaging than in Starewicz’s earlier film, it is still of a stunning virtuosity, making the result still a delight to watch. Note, for example, the illusion of wind in the animation of Father Christmas’s coat.

Watch ‘The Insects’ Christmas’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Insects’ Christmas’ is available on the DVD ‘The Cameraman’s Revenge & other Fantastic Tales’

Director: Władysław Starewicz
Release Date: November 9, 1912
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

The Cameraman's Revenge © Ladislaw Starewicz‘The Cameraman’s Revenge’ is one of the earliest animation films ever made, and a very early masterpiece (it predates ‘Gertie the Dinosaur‘ by two years). Surprisingly, it’s a film about adultery involving insects.

The plot of this stop motion film is as follows: Mr. Beetle commits adultery with a dragonfly, who is a dancer at a nightclub. Unbeknownst to him his secret behavior is filmed by a rival grasshopper who happens to be a cameraman. Meanwhile, Mrs. Beetle also commits adultery, with a beetle who is also a painter. But they’re discovered by Mr. Beetle on his arrival home. Mr. Beetle chases the painter out of his house. Nevertheless he forgives his wife and takes her to the cinema. However, the film that is shown reveals his infidelity, which creates a riot and the married couple ends in jail for destroying the movie box.

‘The Cameraman’s Revenge’ is an extraordinary film, and without doubt one of the first masterpieces of animation. Unlike Émile Cohl’s stop motion, Starewicz’s animation is stunning and very convincing. The insects are very lifelike, and move surprisingly realistically. The insects’ gestures are subtle, clearly evoking their emotions. For example, there’s a beautiful and very lifelike little scene of a beetle servant lighting the fireplace, animated without any hint of overacting. On the other hand, Mr. Beetle clearly is a brute, but we can also watch him in a seductive mood.

Throughout, Starewicz’s storytelling is economical and mature. The film’s subject is highly original for an animation film, even today. It’s almost unbelievable that such a modern film was made in Czarist Russia.

Watch ‘The Cameraman’s Revenge’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Cameraman’s Revenge’ is available on the DVD ‘The Cameraman’s Revenge & other Fantastic Tales’

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