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’

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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: 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: 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’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: June 12, 1909
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

L'éventail animé © Émile CohlDespite its title ‘L’éventail animé’ is not an animated film, but the first of several films by Émile Cohl consisting of tableaux vivants. I’m including the film in this blog because it’s interesting to watch Émile Cohl’s very diverse oeuvre as a whole.

‘L’éventail animé’ shows ladies and their fans throughout the ages, e.g. Eve, Sappho, Cleopatra, empress Messalina, Aude (a character in ‘Chanson de Roland’), and a modern woman. The action is set in a fan-shaped frame, and the tableaux are remarkably beautiful and stylized. On the DVD the film is greatly enhanced by a lovely score using guitar and harp.

Watch ‘L’éventail animé’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘L’éventail animé’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: April 24, 1909
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Clair de lune espagnol © Émile Cohl‘Clair de lune espagnol’ is a bizarre live action movie about a toreador who wants to commit suicide.

When he’s about to jump, the toreador gets caught by an airship and is taken to the moon, which he wounds with a rifle. The celestial creatures then punish him and throw him back to earth, where he’s reunited with his love.

The film has a strange, rather surreal atmosphere, but lacks real wit. Highlight is the scene with the man and the moon, which uses quite some animation on the moon, whose face changes repeatedly.

Watch ‘Clair de lune espagnol’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Clair de lune espagnol’ 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’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: October 8, 1908
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

L'Hôtel du silence © Émile Cohl‘L’hôtel du silence’ is Émile Cohl’s answer to J. Stuart Blackton’s influential ‘The Haunted Hotel’ from 1907. Unlike Blackton, Cohl doesn’t employ stop motion in his film, however, making ‘L’hôtel du silence’ an addition to the trick film tradition, not an entry in the animation canon.

The film features a man visiting a hotel without any personnel. The man’s stay at the hotel is far from pleasant, however: his dinner disappears into the floor, his bed throws him on the floor when the alarm clock rings, and a shower soaks him completely. In the end, he’s confronted by an enormous bill. The man tries to sneak away without paying, but he is held inside the lobby by the desk. Even the door refuses to let him go out before he has paid some tips. This last gag is arguably the best of the whole film.

The unknown actor who plays the hapless visitor clearly is a professional clown: he acts out his emotions to the audience with broad gestures, and he’s clearly used to slapstick comedy, making him a forerunner of the American slapstick tradition. The camera remains static, with all the actions taking place in two tableaux: the lobby and the bedroom. Cohl uses a lot of contraptions and quite some trick photography, but no animation to tell his story, which is quite static, but pretty amusing for a film of the 1900s.

Watch ‘L’hôtel du silence’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘L’hôtel du silence’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: 1908
Rating:  ★★
Review:

Le petit soldat qui devient dieu © Émile Cohl‘Le petit soldat qui devient dieu’ is a short film about a little tin soldier.

We watch him and the other tin soldiers leave their box, and perform some antics in front of a childlike drawing of a house. At one point the little soldier is left behind, when the others return to their box. Suddenly we watch him floating on a paper boat down the sewer, and on the Seine.

Apparently the tin soldier floats to the ocean, because in the next scene he’s found by an African boy and taken to his negro tribe, who are about to kill another black man. The chief licks the tin soldier and dies instantly. Then the other tribesman crown the other black man. The end.

‘Le petit soldat qui devient dieu’ is another one of Cohl’s early experiments in stop-motion, blending it with live action. Unfortunately, the short is the weakest of Cohl’s 1908 films: the tin soldier sequences are very static, all taking place against the same backdrop, and consisting of little more than soldiers marching. Moreover, none of the action makes sense. But the end is the worst: not only is this scene totally incomprehensible, the cannibals are but white men in blackface, and their characters are the worst cliche cannibals imaginable.

Watch ‘Le petit soldat qui devient dieu’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Le petit soldat qui devient dieu’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

 

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: December 14, 1908
Rating:  ★★★★
Review:

Les frères Boutdebois © Émile Cohl‘Les frères Boutdebois’ are two wooden puppets who perform some acrobatic tricks against a theatrical backdrop.

The film contains no story and ends abruptly, but the stop-motion is quite good, and an enormous improvement on ‘Japon de faintasie‘. The two puppets seem to have some character, and the trick photography is pretty convincing.

Somehow this short little film seems the direct ancestor of Jan Švankmajer’s stop-motion films, both in animation style and in atmosphere, even though this film lacks Švankmajer’s surrealism (or that of Cohl’s own ‘Fantasmagorie’ for that matter).

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

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

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: November 23, 1908
Rating:  ★★★★★
Review:

Le cerceau magique © Émile Cohl‘Le cerceau magique’ starts with a live action sequence taking place in a park.

There a girl brings her broken hoop to her uncle, who conjures a new one, a bigger one, and an even bigger one. The last hoop is a magical hoop, able to change the man’s and girl’s outfits into 16th century costumes.

Happily the girl runs off with the hoop, which leads to a short string of images showing life in 1908 Paris. But at one point she hangs the hoop on a wall, and here the real film starts, because inside the hoop all kinds of images form and move, like origami animals, some dice forming a word, a paper man with a wheelbarrow circling the hoop from the inside, a compass drawing a flowery figure, a moon-face, a clown balancing on his nose, etc. The film ends when the girl takes the hoop from the wall again and bows to the audience, implying that she was the conjurer of these images.

‘Le cerceau magique’ is a unique film because it features both stop-motion and drawn animation. Rarely are these techniques used together. Cohl even adds live action to the mix, leading to a quite enjoyable film, if a rather directionless one. Unfortunately, the surviving print is very bad, and quite a bit of the middle section is indistinguishable through the wearing of the film.

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

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

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Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: November 12, 1908
Rating:  ★★★★½
Review:

Un drame chez les fantoches © Émile CohlAfter two drawn animation films of mind-blowing surrealism, Émile Cohl turned down his wild fantasy to tell a much more consistent tale.

‘Un drame chez les fantoches’ tells of a man, who, after being rejected by a woman, enters her house, chases her away and rips off her dress. The woman is rescued by a policeman, who gets awarded for this deed. The evil man gets arrested, but he escapes from jail to beat up another man. In the end the woman declares her love for the policeman, and all four protagonists take a bow to the audience.

‘Un drame chez les fantoches’ is told in the same simple stick man style as ‘Fantasmagorie‘ and ‘Le cauchemar de Fantoche‘, but metamorphosis now is used as a story device to go from one scene to another. At that point the scene devolves into abstract shapes, which then rearrange into another setting. This is a novel and totally unique way of cutting, and it’s a pity it has not been used more often. The cartoon’s clear plot makes ‘Un drame chez les fantoches’ the first drawn film ever to tell a story.

Watch ‘Un drame chez les fantoches’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Un drame chez les fantoches’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: October 16, 1908
Rating:  ★★★★½
Review:

Le cauchemar de Fantoche © Émile Cohl‘Le cauchemar de Fantoche’ can be seen as the sequel to ‘Fantasmagorie‘.

Like Cohl’s groundbreaking film, the short consists of a stream-of-consciousness-like series of images, in which metamorphosis and free association run wild. The little clown from ‘Fantasmagorie’ is nowhere to be found, and the hero of this film, despite being called Fantoche as well, is a rather bland stick man, who has to endure quite some body deformations, for example changing into a pumpkin and into an umbrella. At one point he’s even hanged.

Nothing is certain in Cohl’s fantasy world, and ‘Le cauchemar de Fantoche’ is every bit as interesting as ‘Fantasmagorie’, and the only reason it is much, much less known, is because it suffers the fate of simply not being the first.

Watch ‘Le cauchemar de Fantoche’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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

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