Archive for September 4, 2022

The Sunday Intertitle does not exist

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on September 4, 2022 by dcairns

No intertitles in 1907’s THE HAUNTED HOTEL, another weirdie from J. Stuart Blackton. Thought to be the first ever use of stop motion: Blackton animates a still-life: his writhing sausage anticipates the crawling steak of POLTERGEIST. He borrows from Melies the magic-trick jump-cut, and also makes the building itself alive via all kinds of fancy effects.

The very fuzzy version on YouTube doesn’t do it justice:

The moon arcs across the sky in what looks like animation, but may only be pop-up book type articulation: wisps of real smoke escape from the chimney, attesting to live-action: but these might be superimposed. A film from 1907, and I’m still guessing as to how the effects were done.

When they ran this at Gaumont, resident artist Emile Cohl was immediately charged with figuring out what was involved and replicating it. By careful study of the footage he was able to work it out. So his career got invigorated. Segundo de Chomon also obviously pieced it together, and so he was able to enhance his Melies-inspired work with animation, something Melies himself apparently couldn’t be bothered with. Or maybe, I don’t know, he thought it was cheating or something.

Blackton’s work is clever and fluid. When he wants the coffee pot to levitate, he slips into live action and achieves it with wires, so as to get the flowing liquid and steam. Then back into animation for the sugar tongs, which rest on a mound of sugar lumps so they don’t have to hover.

The presence of a pip-smoking homunculus in the milk jug would put me off drinking the contents, personally. And the sausage being, it seems, alive, makes it unappealing as foodstuff.

At least the Fagin-like protag can enlist jumpcuts of his own to help him change into his pjs without wasting screen time or offending the ladies.

A troupe of double-exposed wraiths then cavort round his bed, trampling him, and then the whole place starts to tilt like Chaplin’s log cabin. The hotel is holistically haunted: the very building is possessed of a malign animus.

Finally, in a breathtaking and authentically horrible climax, the room spins like a 30s newspaper, one wall disappears, and a carbuncular colossus peers in through a mysteriously vanished wall, seizing the sheeted protag in a giant Kong mitt. The transition to model shot is beautifully done. The fact that the giant nudges the sky, wobbling it, as he ducks from the diorama, only enhances my pleasure.