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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’

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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: 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’

Director: Winsor McCay
Release Date: January 1912
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

How A Mosquito Operates © Winsor McCayWinsor McCay’s second cartoon is about a giant mosquito who sucks a sleeping man until his body is a giant bulb. Then, suddenly aware of the audience, he performs some tricks on the man’s nose, sucks some more and explodes.

Unlike McCay’s first film, ‘Little Nemo‘, a long live action intro is absent, and more importantly, this one tells a real story. These are both great improvements on ‘Little Nemo’. Moreover, the mosquito is quite a character, arguably the first in animated history: he wears a tall hat and carries a suitcase. Besides, he’s not only a menace to the man, but also playful and a bit of a showoff. In ‘Before Mickey’ Donald Crafton tells us McCay even baptized the character ‘Steve’.

The film stands in the tradition of McCay’s ‘Dream of the Rarebit Fiend’ comics and is a rather peculiar combination of a sleeper’s nightmare and a bit of silliness. The mosquito is larger than life, and when he sticks in his long proboscis into the man’s head, it looks incredibly painful. This makes some of the action a discomforting watch, and this is perhaps the first time an animated film tries to draw on an audience’s emotions.

Unfortunately, the action is rather slow, and there’s a lot of reverse animation, in which McCay reuses the same drawings in reverse order. This may have spared drawings, but it doesn’t look convincing in its perfect symmetry of movement. Nevertheless, the realism with which the man is drawn and animated remains absolutely stunning.

Despite some flaws ‘How a Mosquito Operates’ remains an original and fresh film, and like all McCay’s films, very well animated.

Watch ‘How a Mosquito Operates’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Winsor McCay’s second film
To Winsor McCay’s first film: Little Nemo
To Winsor McCay’s third film: Gertie the Dinosaur

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