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Directors: Herbert M. Dawley & Willis O’Brien
Release Date: November 17, 1918
Rating: ★★★

The Ghost of Slumber Mountain © Willis O'BrienThis film was produced, acted and animated by Herbert M. Dawley and Willis O’Brien.

Dawley plays ‘Uncle Jack Holmes’, who tells two boys a story about how he camped out on slumber mountain and meets the ghost of Mad Dick there (played by O’Brien). The ghost tells Holmes to watch through a magic instrument, and the uncle suddenly sees prehistoric animals in the distance.

At this point the film is nine minutes away, and by O’Brien’s skillful animation we watch a Brontosaurus wandering, a Diatryma (a giant flightless bird, now Gastornis) catching a snake, two Triceratopses fighting, and a Tyrannosaurus killing one of the Triceratopses.

Especially the animation on the first Triceratops is well done, O’Brien even shows the creature breathing. Another nice detail is that of the Tyrannosaurus licking its lips. Most importantly, O’Brien doesn’t show the prehistoric creatures not as monsters but as convincingly living creatures. No wonder this master animation was asked to do the dinosaur animation for ‘The Lost World’ (1925), and for all kinds of creatures in ‘King Kong‘ (1933).

It’s a pity the film is rather lackluster (in the end it all appears to be a dream, and even the boys don’t really buy that trite ending), for the animation is certainly worth watching once.

Watch ‘The Ghost of Slumber Mountain’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Ghost of Slumber Mountain’ is available on the Blu-Ray of ‘The Lost World’

Director: Willis O’Brien
Release Date: 1917
Rating: ★★★★

R.F.D. 10,000 B.C. © Willis O'Brien‘R.F.D. 10,000 B.C.’ is a short cartoon by stop motion pioneer Willis O’Brien (1886-1962) of later ‘King Kong‘ fame.

The cartoon tells about two rivaling cavemen, one of them a mailman, craving for the same cave woman, Winnie Warclub. At St. Valentine’s Day the mailmen exchanges Johnny Bearskin’s valentine for an insulting one, but Johnny soon finds out the truth, and knocks the mailman literally in two, winning both Winnie and the mailman’s job.

‘R.F.D. 10,000 B.C.’ precedes The Flintstones by 45 years, and shows that from the start Willis O’Brien was a capable stop motion animator. The film also shows he was interested in the prehistory right from the outset. The mailman’s cart is pulled by a sauropod, which we can clearly see breathing heavily in the end.

The puppets of the cavemen are elaborate and capable of rolling their eyes. O’Brien’s animation of the mailman is most impressive: we can clearly watch him carrying heavy mail (the sense of weight is well brought across in the animation), and his moves are genuinely sneaky. Johnny and Winnie aren’t half as good.

The film is entertaining, and shows O’Brien on par with Władysław Starewicz as the major pioneer in stop motion animation.

Watch ‘R.F.D. 10,000 B.C.’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘R.F.D. 10,000 B.C.’ is available on the Blu-Ray of ‘The Lost World’

Director: Břetislav Pojar
Release Date: 1959
Rating: ★★½

Lev a písnicka (The Lion and the Music) © Břetislav Pojar‘Lev a písnicka’ is a Czech puppet film in the tradition of Jiří Trnka.

The short tells about a bandoneon-playing actor who travels through the desert, but who finds a resting place at an abandoned ruin. There he performs before a small crowd of animals (two lizards, a fennec, and an antelope). But then a ferocious lion enters the scene…

In ‘Lev a písnicka’ Pojar tells a surprising story. Moreover, he uses a small but effective decor, and some spectacular cinematography. He shows he’s a clear master of animation, making the inner feelings of expressionless puppets come to life by movement only. Especially the animation of the lizards is well done. But the film’s animation highlight goes to the scene that shows the lion’s despair after he has swallowed the bandoneon, which keeps on playing in his stomach, robbing him from his stealth, and thus of a welcome meal.

Nevertheless, the film is hampered by a slow speed, and quite some scenes are unessential to the story. In the end Pojar’s film is too long and too unfocused to become a real classic.

Watch ‘Lev a písnicka’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Lev a písnicka’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Annecy – Le coffret du 50e Anniversaire’

Director: Bill Justice
Release Date: November 10, 1959
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Noah's Ark © Walt DisneyThis is the second of no less than three Disney interpretations from the classic story from Genesis, the other ones being the Silly Symphony ‘Father Noah’s Ark‘ (1933) and a sequence from ‘Fantasia 2000’ (1999), starring Donald Duck.

This second version is the most extraordinary of the three as it exchanges the ordinary cel animation for stop motion, an animation technique not practiced at the Disney studio. Yet animators Bill Justice and X Atencio gave it a go. For novices in this particular technique, the stop motion is of a remarkably high quality, on par with other stop motion films of the time.

In classic animation tradition, the film start with human hands handling the material, and even the film’s title is animated in stop motion, using a string of wool. Justice’s and Atencio’s designs, too, are refreshing: all characters are mostly made of ordinary material, like corks, pencils and clothespins, often still very visible. The cinematography, too, is superb. For example, there’s a clever montage scene of Noah and his sons building the ark.

The story (by T. Hee) is told by Jerome Courtland in rhyme and features a jazzy score by George Bruns and several songs by Mel Leven. The makers don’t take their story too seriously, and at one point there’s even room for a blues song sung by an abandoned female hippo who grieves, while her husband Harry dances with all other female creatures.

In all, ‘Noah’s Ark’ is a nice departure for Disney, and the film’s looks remain unique within the Disney canon. At 20 minutes the short may be a little too long, but the sheer fun with which this film has been made is contagious.

Watch ‘Noah’s Ark’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Noah’s Ark’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities’

Director: Lucjan Dembiński
Release Date: 1959
Rating: ★★
Review:

Pyza © Studio Filmów Lmów Lalkowych‘Pyza’ is based on children’s books by Polish author Hanna Januszewska (1905-1980).

‘Pyza’ starts with a mother making dumplings for her numerous children. One of the dumplings changes into a girl, who soon goes for a walk. Outside she meets a rabbit, and the two become friends and have some little adventures together.

‘Pyza’ features no dialogue and uses the simplest puppet designs. This children’s film looks attractive, but emotion is more suggested than felt, and the animation is rather lifeless and stiff. Moreover, Dembiński’s timing is pretty relaxed, and the film balances on the verge of boring. In the end, the directionless story and the uninspired animation render a film too poor to enjoy.

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

 

‘Pyza’ is available on the DVD set ‘Anthology of Polish Children’s Animation’

Director: Władysław Starewicz
Release Date: 1958
Stars: Patapouf
Rating: ★★
Review:

Winter Carousel © Ladislaw StarewiczWładysław Starewicz was a stop motion pioneer, who had made some very important films in the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s. ‘Winter Carousel’ was the last film he completed, and the short’s style is practically the same as that of his films of forty years earlier: the film is essentially silent, and populated by various animals, whose rather gritty look is typical for the Polish-Russian filmmaker.

‘Winter Carousel’ stars brown bear Patapouf and his rather mischievous friend Rabbit, who had been introduced in Starewicz previous film, ‘Nez au Vent’ (Nose in the Wind, 1956). In ‘Winter Carousel’ the duo encounters a jolly snowman, who apparently is father Winter, and a female polar bear. Both Patapouf and Rabbit are clearly interested in the female creature, and the three go skating together, playing blind man’s buff, and riding a Christmas tree carousel. This part of the film is a delightful sequence: Starewicz’s arctic backgrounds are pretty evoking, there’s a unique sense of poetry in the images, and his suggestion of speed during the skating and carousel scenes is impressive.

But then suddenly Father Winter starts to melt and reveals a female wooden creature (clearly a goddess of spring) underneath. Thus, strangely, the last five minutes of the film take place in spring. Unfortunately, from that moment all suggestions of narrative are thrown out of the window, and things just happen on the screen. We watch Patapouf en Rabbit gamble with some dice, watching a performance by a grasshopper and drinking in a long, plotless and completely superfluous kind of epilogue. None of theses spring images matches the winter scenes, and in the end the film is too uneven and too rambling to be a lasting work.

The animation is at times quite good, especially in Rabbit’s and Patapouf’s little gestures, but the complete result is unfortunately rather boring. In fact, this product, already old-fashioned and hopelessly dated by its release, is a rather sad ending to Starewicz’s great career. With this film he only managed to proof that he was a relic from another era.

Watch ‘Winter Carousel’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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

Directors: Włodzimierz Haupe & Halina Bielińska
Release Date: 1958
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Zmiana warty (The Changing of the Guard) © Włodzimierz Haupe & Halina Bielińska

‘The Changing of the Guard’ is a stop motion film that tells a story with the simplest of means.

The background consists of highly graphical wiry outlines of buildings set in an empty stage. The ‘actors’ are matchboxes. We watch them marching, while one of them, a night guard, falls in love with a female matchbox in a window (the matchbox is recognizable as a woman, because of the three lips painted on its front). When the two meet at night, they catch flame, which devours the complete regiment. So, the next day the civilians put up a ‘no smoking’ sign.

Haupe’s and Bielińska’s stop motion is very primitive, yet effective, and their minimalist approach shows how little one needs to tell a communicating and resonating story. Admittedly, their story is not too interesting, verging on the brink of a farce, but the elegant designs and effective animation make it a short fun to watch.

Watch ‘Zmiana warty’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Zmiana warty’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Anthology of Polish Animated Film’

Directors: Walerian Borowczyk & Jan Lenica
Release Date: 1958
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Dom (The House) © Walerian Borowcyk & Jan Lenica‘Dom’ is an avant-garde film with strong surrealistic images. The film consists of six unrelated ‘scenes’ connected by the image of a woman looking into the camera.

It’s as if Borowczyk and Lenica explored the possibilities of experimental cinema, trying out several techniques in a row. Thus we watch cut-out images of a strange contraption, a pixillated scene of two men fighting, an octopus-like wig destroying a still life setting, a man repeatedly hanging his hat on a coat rack, a sequence of old family pictures and postcards, and a live action scene in which a woman caresses a plaster male head.The film’s weird atmosphere is greatly enhanced by Włodzimierz Kotoński’s modern music, which uses electronics and percussion only.

It’s hard to make sense of it all, but it’s clear that with this film Borowczyk and Lenica proved to be strong new voices in avant-garde cinema.

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

 

‘Dom’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Anthology of Polish Animated Film’

Directors: Stephen & Timothy Quay
Release Date: 1992
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Stille Nacht III Tales from Vienna Woods © Brothers Quay‘Stille Nacht III: Tales from Vienna Woods’ is the third of the Quay Brothers’ ‘Stille Nacht’ films, and somehow the most incomprehensible of them all.

Star of this film is a loose flying hand, which is saved from a bullet by a hanging table, which produces a long spoon to catch the bullet. The gun shot is the only sound besides the odd Czech soundtrack, featuring some orchestra and a voice reciting over it. The film is very beautifully made, and some forest feeling is created using numerous pine cones, but it’s hard to make head or tale of this highly surreal film.

Watch ‘Stille Nacht III: Tales from Vienna Woods’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Stille Nacht III: Tales from Vienna Woods’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Brothers Quay – The Short Films 1979-2003’

Directors: Stephen & Timothy Quay
Release Date: 1992
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Stille Nacht II Are We Still Married © Brothers Quay‘Stille Nacht II: Are We Still Married?’ is the second of four ‘Stille Nacht’ films the Brothers Quay  made: all four are very short and shot in black and white.

The second, like the fourth, is set to a song by the band His Name Is Alive, in this case their song’Are We Still Married’, and thus essentially is a video clip. The film features a small rabbit trying to catch a ping-pong ball which flutters across the room like a moth. Also featured is a breathing girl doll.

Like the other Stille Nacht films the Brothers Quay manage to evoke a wonderful atmosphere, while using various camera techniques from the silent movie era, sometimes zooming in on a very small detail of the scene. The Jan Švankmajer influence, too, is very present. The film may be very incomprehensible, it makes a very intriguing watch.

Watch ‘Stille Nacht II: Are We Still Married?’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Stille Nacht II: Are We Still Married?’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Brothers Quay – The Short Films 1979-2003’

Directors: Stephen & Timothy Quay
Release Date: 1988
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Stille Nacht I Dramolet © Brothers Quay‘Dramolet’ is the first of four films the Brothers Quay made between 1988 and 1993 bearing the title ‘Stille Nacht’ (silent night).

This first film is by far the shortest of the four, but establishes the overall style of the series: black and white images featuring dolls and lifeless objects interacting, camera techniques from the silent era, moving in on very small details within the scene, a high level of surrealism, Jan Švankmajer-like animation, and no hint of a story.

In ‘Dramolet’ a rather rugged doll looks through a window into another room, where iron screw grows a plenty. Then he returns to his own table, where the same stuff appears in his bowl. When he tries to grab his spoon, the wall behind him sprouts several others.

This  very short film was made for MTV and is a beautiful product of the highly creative atmosphere of the time, when MTV invited artists from the whole world to create short films for them.

Watch ‘Stille Nacht I: Dramolet’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Stille Nacht I: Dramolet’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Brothers Quay – The Short Films 1979-2003’

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

Le mobilier fidèle © Émile Cohl‘Le mobilier fidèle’ can be translated as ‘The Faithful Furniture’.

This short is a comic live action film in which a man is in love with his furniture, giving it much attention. Unfortunately, the man is too poor to pay the rent, and his furniture is sold on the street. But his pieces of furniture get bored at their new homes, and all return to their former owner, in rather funny scenes using stop motion.

‘Le mobilier fidèle’ is an enormous improvement on J. Stuart Blackton’s moving furniture in ‘The Haunted Hotel’ (1907), and an early example of European comic film art. Two years later, however, the film would be topped by Romeo Bossetti’s ‘The Automatic Moving Company’.

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

‘Le mobilier fidèle’ 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’

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: ★★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: 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: 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: ★★
Review:

Monsieur Clown chez les lilleputiens © Émile Cohl‘Monsieur Clown chez les lilleputiens’ is one of Cohl’s experiments in puppet animation.

Unfortunately, puppet animation never became Cohl’s forte, and this film shows Cohl’s limited fantasy when using this technique, which is disappointing when compared to the wild, limitless surrealism (avant la lettre) of his drawn films.

‘Monsieur Clown chez les lilleputiens’ just shows a clown performing some tricks for an audience at a circus. The clown performs tricks with an elephant, a black dog, a chair, a horse, and a female acrobat. The film knows only one setting and one camera point, and there is little to laugh. The best gag is when the clown pulls an enormously long thread, only to reveal that the thread is attached to a miniature horse.

Watch ‘Monsieur Clown chez les lilleputiens’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Monsieur Clown chez les lilleputiens’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: February 9, 1909
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Soyons donc sportifs © Émile CohlThis stop-motion film consists of a series of twelve ultra-short scenes in which we watch a puppet using various ways of transport and doing some sports.

All actions go wrong: the puppet’s horse throws him off, his car breaks down, he falls with his bicycle, his boat capsizes etc. The film is enriched with witty intertitles. The film is extremely simple: all scenes take place at the same small table setting, without any background art. Nevertheless, the puppet has a grain of a character, as he repeatedly looks at the audience for recognition.

Watch ‘Soyons donc sportifs’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Soyons donc sportifs’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

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