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Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: 1916
Rating: ★★★

Les exploits de Farfadet © Émile Cohl‘Les exploits de Farfadet’ is a very short cut-out animation film, not even clocking two minutes.

In this short a man dreams he loses his hat at sea, drowns and gets swallowed by a huge fish.

The atmosphere of this film is very surreal and, indeed, dream-like, with a clear feel of unreality, and an illogical flow of events. The man speaks in text balloons , and in the end he blames his bad dream on rum, very much like Winsor McCay’s rarebit fiends.

Watch ‘Les exploits de Farfadet’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Les exploits de Farfadet’ has been released on the DVD-set ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: 1914
Rating: ★★★★

L'avenir dévoilé par les lignes de pied © Émile Cohl‘L’avenir dévoilé par les lignes de pied’ is a short comedy in which a fortune teller, Mrs. Sarafine, decides she should marry.

At that point Mister le vicomte Kelly d’Yeaut enters (his name’s pronounced as ‘quelle idiot’ meaning ‘what an idiot’). The viscount wants to know if he should marry, and if yes, to whom. Mrs. Sarafine makes a print of his hand using photographic paper, puts it in a box, and asks Mr. d’Yeaut to take a look inside.

What follows is some pen animation in Cohl’s idiosyncratic stream-of-consciousness-like style. We watch the hand poking in a nose and in one’s eye, and morphing into a man that melts and burns away. Mrs. Sarafine concludes the lines of the hand inconclusive, and makes a print of Mr. d’Yeaut’s foot. The second piece of animation shows images of loving couples, interchanged by decorative forms, although one of the last images shows a beautiful woman changing into an old hag.

Mrs. Sarafine explains those images to Mr. d’Yeaut that he’ll be happy with the first woman he’ll speak to, which is, of course, herself. In the end the two embrace.

Cohl’s animation is rather poor in this short, but his style of morphing and association remains mesmerizing. The live action scenes are entertaining, too, with subtle comedy revealing the two distinct characters by rather small gestures.

Watch ‘L’avenir dévoilé par les lignes de pied’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘L’avenir dévoilé par les lignes de pied’ has been released on the DVD-set ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Paul Terry
Release Date: October 18, 1916
Stars: Farmer Al Falfa
Rating: ★★

Farmer Al Falfa Sees New York © Paul TerryIn 1915 Paul Terry joined the Bray studio and introduced a character of his own called farmer Al Falfa.

Farmer Al Falfa never amounted to something of an interesting character, like for example a Bobby Bumps or Felix the Cat, and I doubt whether he ever had many fans. Yet, the animated farmer lasted until 1937, and even didn’t completely disappear after that.

‘Farmer Al Falfa Sees New York’ is Farmer Al Falfa’s ninth film, and has the farmer visiting the big city, where he’s seduced by a remarkably realistically drawn woman. Later he plays cards with some cheating criminals, only to win after all.

Unlike J.R. Bray, Paul Terry was a rather poor draftsman, as this film clearly shows. The animation is weak and formulaic, and the farmer and the woman don’t inhabit the same cartoon universe. The result is a rather inferior cartoon that nevertheless foreshadows the quality of most animation of the silent era, unlike Bray’s own early high quality films.

Indeed, most of the secret of Terry’s success did not lie in the quality of his work, but in his working speed. Yet, his stay at Bray’s studio was not a happy one, and at the end of 1916 he left, only to get inducted in the army. A few years after World War I, in 1921, Terry would return to the animation business, co-founding a studio with Amedee J. van Beuren, reviving his character Al Falfa, and becoming one of the biggest players in the field.

Watch ‘Farmer Al Falfa Sees New York’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Farmer Al Falfa Sees New York’ has been released on the DVD & Blu-Ray-set ‘Cartoon Roots: The Bray Studios Animation Pioneers’

Director: J.R. Bray
Release Date: 1915
Rating: ★★★½

Diplodocus © J.R. Bray‘Diplodocus’ is J.R. Bray’s own version of Winsor McCay’s ‘Gertie the Dinosaur‘ (1914), being so similar to the McCay’s success film that it’s plain plagiarism.

The film stars a Diplodocus instead of a Brontosaur and shows the differences between Bray’s and McCay’s drawing styles, with McCay showing more art nouveau elegance, and Bray displaying more comic strip like clarity.

Bray’s film reuses much of McCay’s material: like Gertie the Diplodocus lifts one foot, shifts from side to side, he gets startled by a flying dragon, interacts with a mastodon, eats a pumpkin etc. Like McCay’s film it’s clear that the film had to be shown together with a live narrator, who interacts with the drawn prehistoric animal.

The only new elements are the Diplodocus tying its neck in a knot, the arrival of a small monkey, and a sea serpent pulling at the mastodon’s trunk.

Bray’s animation is of a high quality, but his Diplodocus lacks Gertie’s personality. Thus this weak rip off only manages to show what great film ‘Gertie the Dinosaur’ was, and still is.

Watch ‘Diplodocus’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Diplodocus’ has been released on the DVD & Blu-Ray-set ‘Cartoon Roots: The Bray Studios Animation Pioneers’

Director: J.R. Bray
Release Date: January 10, 1914
Stars: Col. Heeza Liar
Rating: ★★★★

Col. Heeza Liar's African Hunt © J.R. BrayCol. Heeza Liar was the first animated series, and the character was the first specially designed for animation.

Col. Heeza Liar was the first star of J.R. Bray’s fledgling studio, only founded in 1913. The character was apparently based on Theodore Roosevelt, but he looks very different. Col. Heeza Liar’s African Hunt’ is only the second film featuring the character.

Drawn by J.R. Bray, the cartoon is filled with loose gags, in which the colonel unwillingly hatches an ostrich egg, has to climb into a palm to flee from a bear, shooting six animals within one shot, and planting a seed which grows into a palm tree instantly.

The looseness of the cartoon betrays the short’s origin as a cheater, for it shares no less than sixty percent with the preceding Col. Heeza Liar cartoon ‘Col. Heeza Liar in Africa’. In this respect, Col. Heeza Liar’s African Hunt’ is a ‘milestone’ of animation, being the first cheater in the business.

Despite being a cheater, the short is well animated. There’s some excellent perspective animation, when a kangaroo hops towards the camera, with the colonel inside, casually defying the African setting. The scene with the bear contains some great comedy. The animation over all is fair, ranging from fast to slow, and cleverly reusing animation cycles.

Col. Heeza Liar is not an immediately engaging character. And worse, as time progressed, his antics became less and less well animated. Nevertheless he would star more than fifty cartoons, lasting until 1924.

‘Col. Heeza Liar’s African Hunt’ has been released on the DVD & Blu-Ray-set ‘Cartoon Roots: The Bray Studios Animation Pioneers’

Director: J.R. Bray
Release Date: June 12, 1913
Stars: J.R. Bray
Rating: ★★★★

The Artist's Dream © J.R. BrayJ.R. Bray is the father of the cartoon industry, but this short is from a period in which J.R. Bray was still a lone artist, like other animation pioneers as J. Stuart Blackton, Émile Cohl and Winsor McCay.

In fact, ‘The Artist’s Dream’ is only J.R. Bray’s second attempt at animation, and the film is still rooted in the drawings come to life tradition of the earliest animated films.

Bray plays an artist drawing a dachshund and a sausage. While he’s away the dachshund eats the sausage, and later another till he explodes. Of course, all has been a dream, which clearly shows the strong influence of Winsor McCay’s dreams of the rarebit fiend.

‘The Artist’s Dream’ shows Bray’s extraordinary drawing skills, as his drawings are very clear and contain elegant shading. His handling of perspective is perfect and no less than McCay’s. The animation, on the other hand, is less fluent than McCay’s, if still of a remarkably high quality. Unfortunately, he would not transfer this level of art to his later studio films.

Watch ‘The Artist’s Dream’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Artist’s Dream’ has been released on the DVD & Blu-Ray-set ‘Cartoon Roots: The Bray Studios Animation Pioneers’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date:  July 27, 1913
Rating:
Review:

He Poses for his Portrait © Éclair New York‘He Poses for his Portrait’ is the second of only two surviving Newlyweds cartoons Émile Cohl made in the United States.

Like ‘Zozor ruine la réputation de sa famille‘ the film is based on the comic strip by George McManus, and the film is essentially an animated comic strip, with text balloons playing the most important part in telling the story.

In ‘He Poses for his Portrait’ a couple wants to have a picture painted of their little baby. Unfortunately, the brat drives the painter mad. As in ‘Zozor ruine la réputation de sa famille’ there’s hardly any animation, resulting in a pretty static and remarkably boring film. By all means, Cohl’s animated comic strips should be regarded as a failure, and belong to the weakest films in his enormous output, despite their success at the time. If anything, the series demonstrated that one needed little animation to please an audience, a message which several studios would take at heart in the decades afterwards.

Watch ‘He Poses for his Portrait’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘He Poses for his Portrait’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date:  1912
Rating:
Review:

Zozor ruine la réputation de sa famille © Éclair New YorkAfter his move to the United States in 1912 Émile Cohl starting experimenting with putting the idiom of comic strips to the animated screen, being the first person to do so.

Cohl used ‘The Newlyweds’ my comic artist George McManus as the source for his new series, and the resulting films form not only the first animated series, but also the first pictures that could be titled animated cartoons.

This could have been a milestone in animated cinema, but unfortunately, the result is appalling: apart from the metamorphosis with which Cohl bridges scenes, there’s no animation at all, resulting in extremely static images. The text balloons fill the whole screen, more often than not obscuring complete personages.

Without the text balloons, there’s no story to follow. The result is that this is probably the first film suffering from too much dialogue, despite being silent!

Despite all its flaws, the Newlyweds films were a success, and Cohl made several of these pictures, of which only two survive: this one, ‘Zozor ruine la réputation de sa famille’, and ‘He Poses for his Portrait‘ (also known as ‘Le Portrait de Zozor’).

Watch ‘Zozor ruine la réputation de sa famille’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Zozor ruine la réputation de sa famille’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date:  May 4, 1913
Rating: ★★
Review:

Bewitched Matches © Éclair New YorkAfter short stints at Pathé and Eclipse Cohl sailed to the United States to join Éclair New York.

‘Bewitched Matches’ is one of the few films Cohl made in the United States before sailing back again to France in 1914.

‘Bewitched Matches’ has a rather zany fairy tale plot of a witch visiting three daughters. When their father chases the witch out of his house, the witch bewitches the matches. This leads to a long animation sequence in which the matches form images of a horse, crosses, a windmill, the American flag, a pipe smoking man, a radiant sun, an acrobat on the tightrope and a skeleton.

Neither the framing story nor the animated part is too interesting, and ‘Bewitched Matches’ should be regarded as one of Cohl’s lesser inspired films.

‘Bewitched Matches’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

 

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date:  1912
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

es métamorphoses comiques © Émile CohlMany of Émile Cohl’s films contain metamorphosis, but this is Cohl’s only film with the word ‘metamorphosis’ in its title.

‘Les métamorphoses comiques’ is arguably Cohl’s most avant-garde film. the short features live action images changing into animation and back again. Metamorphosis indeed runs galore, with Cohl’s typical stream-of-consciousness-like flow. Many of the images are pretty abstract, anticipating the work of Norman McLaren. Nevertheless, despite all the avant-garde frenzy, the most disturbing picture is a live action shot of a young boy smoking…

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

 

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

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date:  1911
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Les exploits de Feu Follet © Émile Cohl‘Les exploits de Feu Follet’ is the first of only two surviving films Émile Cohl made for French film company Eclipse, the other being ‘Les métamorphoses comiques’.

With this film Cohl returned to the looks of his first films ‘Fantasmagorie‘ (1908) and ‘Le cauchemar de Fantoche‘ (1908): the film is shot in white on black and features a stickman. This stickman flies with a balloon to the moon and falls down into the ocean, where he is swallowed by a whale. Curiously, the whale, moon, and an eagle are drawn much more classically than the stickman, making ‘Les exploits de Feu Follet’ less consistent in its looks than either ‘Fantasmagorie’ or ‘Le cauchemar de Fantoche’.

Cohl’s timing is very sloppy in this film, and unfortunately there’s is little metamorphosis, with Cohl relying much on cut-out shortcuts. There’s practically no story, only a string of events. So, this film is not among Cohl’s best.

Watch ‘Les exploits de Feu Follet’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Les exploits de Feu Follet’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date:  1911
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Le cheveu délateur © PathéIn this short comedy a man disapproves of the suitor of his daughter and consults a magician, who can extract a man’s history from a single hair.

The hair reveals that the suitor has spent some time in prison, so the man throws the suitor out, leaving it to the magician to ask the hand of the daughter. ”Le cheveu délateur’ is a rather silly film, full of broad comedy.

As may be expected, the hair section is done in animation. Unfortunately in this segment Cohl’s animation isn’t too interesting, showing mostly the suitor travelling, by train, by balloon, and by elephant. Cohl’s metamorphosis technique is only used sparingly, and never leads to strange associations like in his best films.

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

 

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

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

Le retapeur de cervelles © PathéThis short starts with a couple visiting a psychiatrist.

The woman exclaims that her husband is rather cuckoo, so the psychiatrist takes a look inside the husband’s head using a ‘cephaloscope’. As may be expected in an Émile Cohl film what the doctor sees is shown in animation: a series of weird images, tied by Émile Cohl’s trademark metamorphosis.

When the psychiatrist has seen enough, he drills a hole in the man’s skull and pulls out the crazy thoughts, which manifest themselves as more animation on a black screen, much in the vain of Cohl’s debut film ‘Fantasmagorie‘ (1908). Thus the man is saved and the film ends.

Cohl’s stream-of-consciousness way of animating works quite well for a film about craziness, and the framing story is amusing enough to keep the film interesting, even though it’s certainly not one of Cohl’s masterpieces.

Watch ‘Le retapeur de cervelles’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

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

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date:  1910
Stars: Lucien Cazalis
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Jobard a tué sa belle-mère © Pathé‘Jobard a tué sa belle-mère’ is not an animation film, but one of ten comedy shorts Émile Cohl directed in a collaboration with actor Lucien Cazalis for Pathé.

The ten films all feature the character Jobard, played by Cazalis. It’s a pity that ‘Jobard a tué sa belle-mère’ appears to be the only one to have survived in some quality, because the film shows Cohl’s skills as a live action comedy director. Indeed, the film is a prime example of early French comedy film.

In this episode Jobard scares his mother-in-law to death. Literally. Or so he thinks. So he sets out to buy a wreath, which he loses immediately at a cafe. So he buys a circular bread instead, which he accidentally replaces with a tire. In the end he ends with a cushion, accidentally stolen from the police office.

Lucien Cazalis, who plays Jobard is quite a good comedian, and the film clearly shows that French comedy had a huge influence on American slapstick comedy. It’s a pity Lucien Cazalis has been completely forgotten, today, for he clearly deserves more recognition.

Watch ‘Jobard a tué sa belle-mère’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Jobard a tué sa belle-mère’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

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

La musicomanie © Émile Cohl‘La musicomanie’ opens with a live action sequence in which a man and a woman make music in a small room with instruments that appear and disappear.

Nothing of their antics is remotely interesting, but when the man goes to sleep he dreams of instruments and music notes. The man’s dream is an elegant animated sequence in which Cohl uses his trademark metamorphosis technique, now using instruments as a theme.

As always, Cohl’s stream-of-conscious-like metamorphosis animation is interesting to watch, even though this film brings nothing new. When the woman wakes the man, the film ends.

Watch ‘La musicomanie’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘La musicomanie’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

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

Rien n'est impossible à l'homme © Émile CohlÉmile Cohl was an extremely prolific animation artist, virtually responsible for almost the world’s complete animation output of 1908-1910. Thus it doesn’t come as a surprise that not all his films are masterpieces.

For example, ‘Rien n’est impossible à l’homme’ is a rather disjointed gag film about what man can do nowadays. The most interesting scene is the first one, in which we watch a live action street scene from above (supposedly from an airplane, but the camera remains static throughout). Other scenes use cut-out animation to show a diver smoking at the bottom of the sea, or a musician making an obelisk cry.

None of the gags are remotely funny, and the whole film feels like a garbage bag of unrelated gag material, making watching the short a rather tiresome experience.

Watch ‘Rien n’est impossible à l’homme’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Rien n’est impossible à l’homme’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

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

Monsieur de Crac © Émile Cohl‘Monsieur de Crac’ is a short animated gag film in which Mr. Crac (the French name for the Baron von Münchhausen) has some strange adventures, including his half horse drinking from a fountain. Most strange is Mr. Crac’s adventure inside the Etna, where he encounters a multitude of staring faces.

‘Monsieur de Crac’ is solely done in cut-out animation. Cohl’s drawing style often was old-fashioned, but in this film his drawings have a particularly 19th century feel, especially in Cohl’s neat and detailed background art. The drawings are reminiscent of the drawings of 19th century comic masters Wilhelm Busch and Rodolphe Töpffer, and they fit Rudolf Erich Raspe’s classic 1785 story very well.

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

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date:  August 23, 1910
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Les quatre petits tailleurs © Émile Cohl‘Les quatre petits tailleurs’ is a fairy tale, in which four tailors all desire the heart of the same woman. The woman’s father tells them that the best tailor will win the heart of his daughter, and they are all invited to his house to show him their skills.

The first makes use of a bendable needle, the second doesn’t even need a needle – making the thread doing the work, and the third is so delicate he can even sew the wings of a fly. The fourth tailor works slowly and meticulously. Yet it’s he who completes his task, and it’s him the daughter wants.

‘Les quatre petits tailleurs’ is a live action film, with the tricks of the first three tailors done in stop motion. The film profits from some nice staging, and good comic acting. For example, it’s made clear that the fourth tailor and the woman desire each other even before the contest begins. He’s the only one giving her attention (and a rose) beforehand.

Watch ‘Les quatre petits tailleurs’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

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

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date:  June 21, 1910
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Les douze travaux d'Hercule © Émile Cohl‘Les douze travaux d’Hercule’ is a funny re-telling of the twelve labors of Hercules.

In Émile Cohl’s cut-out film Hercules is a rather fat man with quite a stupid look on his face, and the way in which he does the twelve labors is devoid of all realism. For example, every scene ends with hercules leaving the scene flying. Because of its comic character and silly animation, the film is quite entertaining.

The short even contains a novelty: in ‘la ceinture d’Hyppolyte’ Cohl suggests a fight between Hercules and the Amazones by showing 37 frames of pure abstract shapes, which are held for only 1 to 2 frames, giving the viewer an impression of a series of explosions. This comic device of abstract images suggesting a fight most probably had never been used on the animated screen before. But of course would be repeated in many cartoons after. The cut-out shapes are similar to those of artist Jean Arp, whose much more famous work is of a later date.

Watch ‘Les douze travaux d’Hercule ‘ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Les douze travaux d’Hercule ‘ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

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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