Saturday, June 2, 2018

Fantasmagorie (1908) -- June 2, 2018

This post is part of the Springtime Silent Movie Challenge: In the Beginning..., hosted by Fritzi at Movies Silently. "Here’s the challenge. Before June 21, 2018, you will:
"Watch 5 movies made between 1906 and 1914
"Watch 5 movies made in 1905 or before
"Share your experience on your blog, on social media or here in the comments (I will set up a special post for the purpose to publish on June 21)"

For my five movies made between 1906 and 1914, I thought I would continue to look at some pioneering efforts.

My eighth film, my third from 1906-1914, may be the first fully hand-drawn animated movie.
Émile Cohl made "Fantasmagorie" in 1908 when he was 51 years old.  Cohl had already lived an exciting life as a caricaturist and a professional stamp collector.  Cohl had been a disciple of André Gill, who had once gone to prison for drawing a picture of a pumpkin.  Gill and Cohl were members of les Hydropathes, a group of artists who liked to shock people.  The Hydropathes disbanded and Cohl became one of the Incoherents.  Their art prefigured Dada and Surrealism.

A caricature of author Émile Zola by Cohl.  Zola and Cohl were on opposite sides of the Dreyfus affair.

In 1907, Cohl joined the Gaumont studio and learned the art of the motion picture.

According to one source, "Fantasmagorie" required 400 drawings, each of which was shot twice.  Like J Stuart Blackton's "Humorous Phases of Funny Faces," it was drawn with black ink on white paper, but printed as a negative, to resemble chalk drawings.  Much of the movie consists of a rapid series of transformations which make sense in a surrealistic way.

First we see a hand, presumably Cohl's, draw a little clown who hangs by his arms from a trapeze.

The clown pulls the trapeze bar down.  As it wipes across, the clown is replaced by a portly man with a hat and an umbrella.

The scene becomes a movie theater.  The man sits in a seat.  The clown rises from the floor and bothers him.  Then a spider drops the ceiling and transforms into the clown.  A woman enters the theater and sits in front of the man.  She wears a hat with huge plumes, which block his view.  He plucks out each feather and throws it aside.  Each feather transforms into something else.

The lady's hat turns into a bubble containing the clown.  The bubble turns into a balloon.  The clown goes into a box.  The man throws his luggage on top.

The clown pops out of the box and pokes the man with his pointy hat.  Through a hard-to-explain series of transformations, the clown's head winds up as the cork on a champagne bottle.

Then the champagne bottle turns into a cannon and shoots its cork at the clown.  The bottle walks forward and swallows the clown.  The bottle transforms into a flower with the clown standing in its middle.  Then comes my favorite part of the movie: the stem of the flower becomes the trunk of an elephant and the clown takes a ride on it.

The elephant transforms into a police station and the clown goes in the door.  A cop locks it behind him, but the clown climbs out the second-story window.

The clown falls and his head comes off.  The hands appear again and glue his head back in place.

The clown gets up, drinks from a jug, inflates like a balloon, and lands on the back of a horse.  The clown waves goodbye and the movie ends.

If you have never seen "Fantasmagorie" before, watch it.  It is charming.  If you have seen it before, watch it again.

Coming Next Saturday: The first movie directed by DW Griffith.

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