Archive for Starewicz

The Drastic Mr. Fox

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , on January 2, 2021 by dcairns

Snow!

Wes Anderson acknowledged Lasislas Starewicz as a big influence on his approach to animation in THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX and ISLE OF DOGS — LE ROMAN DE RENARD (1937) would seem the most obvious connection.

Starewicz’s work might be better known if his sensibility weren’t so unique. It’s not that he saw animation as being other than the children’s medium it seems cursed to be — just that Starewicz was the Great Un-Disney. I just watched his THE INSECTS’ CHRISTMAS, the title of which alone gives you a sense of his itchy, uncomfortable vibe. A miniature wooden Father Christmas comes down off a tree and gives presents to all the beetles in the snow. It’s sheer madness.

The puppets (or actual bugs, perhaps) move quite herky-jerky in that 1914 short, but in RENARD, which took five years to make (with Mrs. Starewicz, Irene as co-director; their daughter, “Nina Star,” acts in some of their films; it was a family concern) everything seems to be on ones. The motion is smooth as velvet, even when the characters rush about — in fact, the Starewiczs sometimes slip into live action so a figure can vanish in a realistic motion blur.

And these mammalian protags and antags are much closer to child-friendly plush toys than the spiky bugs of earlier films. The trouble is, the story is by frickin’ Goethe, and it’s bloody horrible. Mr. Fox is a psychopath. His trickster activities have a lot of Brer Rabbit about them, but they’re all really nasty. The attempts to render things more comical are extraordinarily creepy.

The King of the Animals, a lion, naturally, is constantly hearing complaints about Renard’s depredations. Like, one time, they bring in a bier. On it is a chicken carcass, a victim of this vulpine Mack the Knife. Staggering around the bones is a little anthropomorphized chicklet, crying for its momma. Just horrible. You can’t not be impressed and depressed at the same time.

At one point, in his defense, Mr. Fox conjures up the fantasy image of his wife and child. The Starewiczs dutifully show the baby suckling at the (humanoid) breast of the mother — and her foxtit moves in a lifelike, fleshy way — I’m assuming the cloth is two-thirds full of sawdust or birdseed or something. Because that detail matters. You can’t make a proper kids’ film if the animals’ knockers don’t move right, just ask Ralph Bakshi.

When Renard spins one of his bogus yarns and describes how Heaven can be accessed via the bottom of the village well, we see the afterlife, populated by a choir of disembodied rabbit heads, each equipped with angel wings. Why do the rabbit heads have no bodies? Because farmers cut their heads off?

There’s SO much visual invention here and yet the movie will mostly make you sad and frightened. Still, the monkey lawgiver who peers at us from a screen within a screen is voiced by Claude Dauphin, also the President of the Galaxy in BARBARELLA, again on a screen of his own.

Sunday without Intertitles

Posted in FILM, literature, Painting with tags , , , , on April 26, 2015 by dcairns

No intertitles here, in the only surviving fragment (that we know of) from THE PORTRAIT (1915), a Gogol adaptation attributed to the great Ladislas Starewicz (though the IMDb knows nothing of this). Echoes of Cocteau and RINGU.

It’s proper terrifying. The projector whirr it comes fitted with is annoying though, so I suggest muting this video, setting it to full screen, but in another window playing Aaron Copland’s Grohg, which is here. Watch it alone after dark, and stuff will happen to you.

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It’s interesting to see a Starewicz film (if that’s what this is), or part of one anyway, that’s deliberately scary. Most of his children’s animations are creepy without seeming to intend it. Even his other Gogol adaptation is more humorously grotesque than sincerely spooky, to my mind.

Lenny Borger informs me that Starewicz’s producer was Louis Nalpas, who went bankrupt with his 1929 MONTE CRISTO. As his finances failed and he traded the film industry for the yoghurt industry (People Will Always Need Yoghurt), Nalpas gifted Starewicz’s films back to him, a kindly gesture which seems to have resulted in nearly all of them surviving (although who knows how many fell through the cracks of film history like this one?).

Wish Upon a Starewicz

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on March 12, 2013 by dcairns

Researching NATAN in the Gaumont-Pathe Archive, I learned that any late 1920s or early 30s documentary footage that was more stunningly framed than absolutely necessary was likely to be the work of Pierre Chenal. He made lots of little documentary subjects that the IMDb doesn’t know about yet. PARIS CINEMA is one, and it’s notable for a ton of invaluable making-of footage and behind-the-scenes tomfoolery in the major studios and labs of Paris, circa 1929.

Most exciting of all for auteurists and overgrown, morbid schoolboys, is the visit to the workshop of Ladislas Starewicz, master animator, who was based in the City of Light at that time. As with Jan Svankmajer, his place of business is a cross between Aladdin’s Cave, Lilliput and a Natural History Museum for toys. Or a flea market and an alchemist’s laboratory. Wallow in it!

Incidentally, I can’t locate the Starewicz productions mentioned here on his list of IMDb credits either — lost films, neglected ones, or abandoned projects?

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Starewicz with his daughter and star, Nina Star.