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Director: J. Stuart Blackton
Release Date: April 6, 1906
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Humorous Phases of Funny Faces © Vitagraph‘Humorous Phases of Funny Faces’ is arguably the first drawn animation film. Like Blackton’s first film, ‘The Enchanted Drawing’ from 1900, the short combines the tradition of live sketching with that of trick filming to a novelty effect. Made for Thomas A. Edison, the film is an important step forward, however, because, unlike ‘The Enchanted Drawing’ there now is animated movement.

The film starts with a live action hand drawing the face of a man on a chalkboard. Next to the man a woman is drawn, now without the hand. The two faces alter, and at one point the man grows a cigar and a top hat. This ‘scene’ ends when the man’s smoke covers the whole woman, and the hand erases the drawing.

Next come two other faces. Little is happening here, so soon we cut to an old man with an umbrella. This part shows a little arm movement, done with cut-out. Blackton used the cut-out technique more extensively in the last shot, that of a clown, toying with his hat, a hoop and a poodle. The film ends with the hand erasing again. The whole experience lasts less than three minutes.

Overall, the image is pretty static, and it’s clear that the whole film is made pure for the novelty of its tricks. Of course, ‘Humorous Phases of Funny Faces’ is historically important, yet, it’s difficult to call this first hand-drawn animation film (and probably the first one to use cut-out) an instant classic, as apart from the movement hardly anything is happening, and only the smoke gag comes somewhere near being funny. Moreover, Blackton’s arm can be seen a few times, which hampers the trick.

Watch ‘Humorous Phases of Funny Faces’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Humorous Phases of Funny Faces’ is available on the DVD ‘Before Walt’

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