Emile Cohl
aka, A FANTASY. 1908

Director: Emile Cohl

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Stop moton animation is the earliest narrative animation done with film, & one of the pioneers was Emile Cohl (full name Emile Eugene Jean Louis Courtet, 1857-1938). In America Windsor McCay went on the vaudeville circuit with his "moving comics" cliaming to have invented animation, but he well knew the works of Emile Cohl, who comes much closer to deserving his sobriquet "the father of animation. Cohl's biography before the silent film era began was already significant in the history of arts, but it will always be his cartoons for which he is best remembered. At the age of fifty he became interested in the new technology of moving pictures.

The Automatic Moving Company (Mobilier fidelle, 1909) is a delightful short work of stop motion animation regarding a household of furniture packing itself off to a new destination.

The title of the original French title implies the fidelity of the furniture, but the American release gave it a new title that is more apt to lend the viwer to believe a moving company somehow orchestrated the automatic move rather than the possessions of the house following their owner like pets.

When the self-packed boxes line up to go get in the truck, however, there's a definite feel of a herd of sentient critters aware they are going on a journeyThis delightful film runs about four minutes.

Emile CohlIn addition to stop-motion, Cohl was simultaneously a pioneer of hand-drawn animation. He had debuted his first film, Fantasmagoria (1908), at only two & a half minutes length, requiring 700 drawings with several transformative shifts but no narrative thread. It looks like animated chalk drawings on a blackboard, but was actually drawn black lines on white & shown as a negative.

Phantasmagoria was an homage to the Incoherent Movement of Parisian caricaturists whose work was already long forgotten, though in his youth Cohl had been, with Andre Gill, the short-lived movement's instigator.

This little film stars a stick-figure clown who both watches & participates in a stage-performance of animals & transformations & magic. Emile's hand appears toward the conclusion, as the novel new form of cinema probably did need, at this early date, a kind of explanation of the authority behind the drawing.

This & several similar very short pieces that followed in quick succession were an influence sundry avant gardists of the time, including the dadaists & cubists, whom Cohl in turn spoofed in The Cubists (1913).

The Dentures (Le Ratelier, 1909) is a much more strongly narrative film that done with live-action rather than drawings, then moves toward a bit of stop-motion. A family gathering around the dinner table, with "little mother" getting fitted for dentures.

The dentures are soon lost & a clown-tramp sits on them, running about until the police help get the dentures off his buttocks. In the end we see the teeth sitting on a desk in the police office biting at air.

The Hasher's Delirium The day would come when mind-altering drug-use would not be an acceptible explanation for why fantasy events occur in a film.

But for The Hasher's Delirium (Le Songe d'un garcon de cafe, 1910) it served as the primary explanation, lending a hint of narrative structure rather than merely antic transformations.

The Hasher's Dream in less than a minute & a half shows the hashish eater, wino, & absinthe drinker sitting in his delierium watching beautiful strange events & demons in an enormous moon.

During these early years of the development of animation it would be Cohl who made the first color cartoon, the first stop-moton cartoon from moving pieces of paper, the first animated "commercial," the first puppet animation, the first animated "series" character, & many other innovations.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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