Archive for Segundo de Chomon

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.


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.

Fairy Dust

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on September 11, 2010 by dcairns

So, no sooner — literally NO sooner — than I posted my wanted ad for the ten movies still eluding me from my quest to see all the films depicted in Denis Gifford’s Pictorial History of Horror Movies, than a Shadowplayer going by the nom-de-plume of BURNTRETINA alerts me to a Segundo de Chomon movie of that title. The year isn’t quite the same, but as he says, records are unreliable for that period (early 20th century).

It so happens I’ve already gathered up many Chomon movies, but have only watched a delirious few. So I search my stock and Here’s the still from the Gifford ~

The Chomon movie begins in a whole different setting, the “black rocks” of the title, with a sort of cactus-like promontory in the centre. An elderly woman bearing a bundle enters, and meets a lazy man coming the opposite way. A heavily-pantomimed exchange seems to establish that she’d like some help with her burden, but he’s too tired. He stretches, lies down to nap, and as the transforms into a fairly queen and waves her wand, he’s beset with supernatural perils. A stream of water cascades down on him and he writhes about beneath its blast for fourteen long seconds, until we’ve gotten our money’s worth. The rocks transform into monsters and bite at him…

Finally, our hero awakens from this nightmare, only to go back to sleep again. And finds himself staggering perplexed from a crypt, in a snowy graveyard. Now this certainly resembles the setting of Gifford’s still. Both are snowy cemeteries, and the cypress trees (very Isle of the Dead) are identical. But look closer — none of the graves and crypts actually match up, and the character is differently costumed.

Then something very weird happens. There’s a jarring jump cut, and we briefly see a white-robed figure with outstretched arm. But before any detail can be ascertained, and before we can work out how this relates to the previous action (the backdrop is the same, however) we dissolve back to the Black Rocks, where the Fairy Queen appears before the penitent layabout in her Swan Carriage. The End.

Is the subliminal Figure in White one of the skeletal flashers from Gifford’s still? It seems quite likely. But why is the hero differently attired and wigged? If it’s the same character? It looks very much like a chunk is missing from the Chomon, and if so, that chunk would contain the answers. The alternative, that a second film exists, with the same title and an uncannily similar set, is actually very possible — the IMDb has a Ferdinand Zecca movie from 1902 with that title. Gifford dates his film as 1905, and the Chomon is down as 1907, making it slightly closer to Gifford… both are Pathe Freres productions, which is one reason they might resemble each other fairly closely…

For the purposes of my See Reptilicus and Die quest, I’m calling this one seen — but with attendant mysteries. Perhaps more information will emerge at a later time…


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