Archive for Segundo de Chomon

The Sunday Intertitle: Playing War

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , on January 11, 2015 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2015-01-11-11h41m29s126

LA GUERRA E IL SOGNO DI MOMI (1917).

Giovanni Pastrone (CABIRIA) and Segundo de Chomon, the Spanish special effects genius, collaborated on this strange, wondrous and possibly wrongheaded attempt to show the First World War as imagined by a child safe at home while his father is at the front.

Chomon was a pioneer not only of mixing animation with live action, going one better than Melies whose films only SEEM like cartoons, he built the first camera dolly, and this movie features several elegant and beautiful tracking shots, reframing the action and enhancing the emotion.

Pastrone’s battle scenes are exciting and sophisticated in their use of film language (and are all embedded in the action as flashback scenes from a letter home).

The weirdness comes from the juxtaposition of these off elements. The live action war pays lip service to humanism while serving up the typical endangered women and children, ravaging huns, and righteous avengers who put everything right in the end. This was seems to have no real costs.

The animated was is sheer spectacle too, though we’re told that it’s the product of a child’s imagination after he’s been distressed by vivid accounts of warfare, The mass destruction IS kind of disturbing in spite of the funny puppets and Thunderbirds explosions, though. Robbed of the expressivity of human beings, these toy soldiers behave like automata, “only following orders,” their faces masklike and set in inappropriate dopey smiles. I guess the overall effect is as conflicted as you could hope for in a movie made while the war was still stuck in bloody stalemate. It can’t be anti-war because it adopts a simple goodies and baddies perspective, but it manages to avoid being overly enthusiastic about violence.

Its noblest aspect is that it fails as propaganda.

The Earlies

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on November 20, 2013 by dcairns

Strange and beautiful: LA FEE AU PIGEONS (THE PIGEON FAIRY) 1906, Gaston Velle with Segundo de Chomon. From the Corrick Collection.

Pordenone, Italy, early October.

Professor Vanessa Toulmin, director of the National Fairground Archive, was looking forward to one event in particular at Pordenone — the screening of early cinema made using the Joly-Normandin system, which involved five sprocket holes per frame and did not catch on (my favourite early camera is the one Griffith used, which punched sprocket holes in the film as it went, and sounded like a machine gun in consequence). A whole programme of these films, drawn from several collections, was to be shown. As an expert on fairground attractions, freak shows, circuses, music hall and seaside entertainments, the movies she likes best are one shot and forty-five seconds long. Some of her colleagues would go even further, she said: for them, cinema lost everything the moment showmen started projecting it on a screen. “Mutoscope or nothing!” is the cry.

normandin2

YouTube is the modern Mutoscope, in a way, and a lot of early cinema is available on it. The short duration of a Lumiere Bros film would seem nicely fitted to the medium… I’d also seen plenty of early cinema on VHS and DVD.

But seeing the Joly-Normandin films, and then a selection from the Corrick Collection, projected big, albeit mostly on digital, was revelatory. Of course, the films triumphed over the penny arcade stuff by virtue of scale, so it’s totally perverse to look at them on a little window on a little monitor — they need to be seen BIG. They are big short films, mostly framed in wide shot so as to cram in as much detail as possible. While I don’t usually enjoy processions and parades as a subject (pageantry is just shit, to me), but one simply view of crowds on a London street decorated for Victoria’s Jubilee revealed something curious and touching, bottom left of frame. As the throng on the pavement shuffled through the camera’s field of vision, each pedestrian glanced up, into its round glass eye, and the same expression flashed across each face. It was partly wariness and partly hope. What did they fear, and what did they hope for, these long-vanished anony-mites? To be shown as they are? To be immortalized, in a way that doesn’t benefit them, but only us?

Then they drift out of frame, to keep their appointments with Death.

When the Devil Drives

Posted in FILM with tags , , on July 25, 2011 by dcairns

What if there was someone even better than Georges Melies? Not able to take his unique place in film history, but even more beautiful to watch? This isn’t hypothetical: Segundo de Chomon was a real guy, or I think he was: looking at his work, sometimes it feels like he was dreamed into being by cinema.

More from me at The Chiseler.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 514 other followers