Emile Cohl: 1908 Shorts

Fantasmagorie (1908)

The adventures of a prankster clown and his transforming world. One of the strangest animations ever, setting the stage for everything from Betty Boop to Don Hertzfeldt. Seen this before, of course.

Le Cauchemar du Fantoche (1908)

The Puppet’s Nightmare: Stick-figure man is sleeping when the world revolts on him, the line-drawing nature of his surroundings morphing into an endless series of free-association torments.

Un Drama Chez Les Fantoches (1908)

Back to unreliable stick-figure world. In this one, a woman gets her dress torn off, and later possibly murdered, but these being stick figures I guess there’s no fear of censorship. The stick-figure violence is less surreal than the others, so potentially more disturbing, until the two identical fighting dudes melt into puddles and the woman refashions them into a boa, then we’re back in Fantasmagorie territory for a spell. All four characters bounce back and take a bow at the end, just to make sure we know they’re alright.

Hat guy going to jail for murdering that woman:

Le Cerceau Magique (1908)

A man with Meliesian powers of stopping/starting the film to replace objects is approached by a little girl whose hoop has broken. The man transforms his cane into a new hoop, displays its new magic abilities, then the girl quickly tires of her magic hoop and hangs it on a wall, where it becomes a frame for some goofy animations, which are frankly not too exciting, and barely decipherable through a haze of film decay for half the time.

Le Petit Soldat Qui Devient Dieu (1908)

Return of the hoop girl… she runs off then stop-motion soldiers maneuver in front of a child-drawn house and ride paper boats into the river, where they’re discovered by a grotesque gang of shoddy blackface actors. Not sure what any of these things have to do with each other, unless Cohl was creating a universe of interrelated shorts which all take place within the hoop-girl’s imagination.

Les Freres Boutdebois (1908)

Acrobatic Toys: Stop-motion acrobats on a tiny stage self-assemble then perform tricks until the film ends abruptly. I liked the quirky xylophone music.

L’Hotel du Silence (1908)

Flabbergasted man enters hotel where things move on their own. The actor expends much effort trying to convince us how insane this all is, but 108 years later it’s more tedious than insane. Cool set design, though. The flabbergasted man is impressed by the hotel’s wizardry, but eventually he’s dirty and tired and hungry and overcharged, wishing Yelp existed so he could give this place a scathing review. IMDB says it’s a Méliès remake.

Transfigurations (1909)

Actors take turns looking into a peephole where they see different animated horrors, which is a better framing story than the girl with her magic hula-hoop (better animations, too). The proprietor laughs at each customer, who leaves angrily. I don’t understand his business model. Also, couldn’t all of Cohl’s films have been titled Transfigurations?

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