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The Oldest Surviving Animated Films Part II (1909–1915)

I enjoy educating others about film history and the early years of cinema.


1. Affairs of Hearts (1909)

Affairs of Hearts (1909), also known as Affairs of the Heart, quite literally portrays hearts falling in love and getting married. Once again, French artist and filmmaker Émile Cohl combined hand-drawn and cut-out images with stop-motion animation.

Besides the main plot, the film contains a sequence of hearts spinning and arranging themselves in positions on playing cards. At several points, a group of hearts arrange themselves in a four-leaf clover pattern. In the end, they arrange into a smiley face resembling a jack-o-lantern.

2. The Hasher's Delirium (1910)

In keeping with the psychedelic and surreal imagery that Émile Cohl is known for, The Hasher’s Delirium (1910) takes place in a café, where a hasher—an old slang term for waiter—becomes drunk and hallucinates a series of images on a white plate.

These morphing images, all hand-drawn by Cohl, range from grapes and a lighthouse to a ghost, a bat, and an eel. The hasher is by turns amused, baffled, and frightened by these hallucinations. Occasionally, words like “wine” and “absinthe” appear in the plate.

This film was released in the U.S. as a split reel along with The Centenarian (1910), a film which has since been lost.

3. The Comedy-Graph (1910)

The Comedy-Graph (1910) begins in live action, with a clown walking onto a stage. On the stage is a box with a smile on it, and the clown uses it to project images on the wall.

In true Cohl fashion, the cartoon faces displayed range from happy and smiling to horrified, angry, and ghoulish. There’s an image of a man who loses all his limbs and then morphs into the face of a bald man. At some point, the alphabet is displayed, and the letters turn into faces one by one.

The Comedy-Graph was released in the U.S. as a split reel with Better Than Gold (1910), a film that has since been lost.

4. L'enfance de l'art (1910)

As L'enfance de l'art (1910) was never officially released in the U.S., its French title was never translated into English. The title roughly translates to The Childhood of Art, and the film itself signals a divergence of sorts from Cohl’s usual style.

It begins with the strange, simple image of a bearded man simply opening and closing his mouth. Next, we see an artist taking his canvas out into a field to paint. He’s approached by a strange lion-like creature with tusks, which proceeds to swallow the artist. The artist’s arm sticks out of the creature’s mouth and goes on painting, until a woman arrives on the scene and rescues him.

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The film then shifts its focus to a brief hand puppetry sequence. A hand with a face drawn on it mouths some words and holds a pipe. This is followed by a cartoon of a rhino morphing into an elephant, then a bird, followed by a host of other images.

None of these scenes have anything to do with each other.

5. Brains Repaired (1911)

In the live-action portion of Brains Repaired (1911), a frantic woman brings her husband to the doctor, claiming he’s delusional and needs help. The doctor reveals his unorthodox methods when he places a cone-shaped instrument on the man’s head and peers inside his brain.

The doctor sees a cartoon sketch of the human brain, which morphs into screaming faces, followed by a little dancing man and a series of other images, designs, and patterns. The doctor’s treatment for this chaos involves drilling a hole into the man’s brain and pulling out a long white string that represents his insane thoughts.

The string morphs into another animated sequence of shifting line-drawn images. Once that's over, the doctor hands the string to the wife, who happily kisses her husband and rejoices that he’s cured.

6. Little Nemo (1911)

Winsor McCay was one of the most influential cartoonists in animation history. He began his career making posters and illustrating newspapers and magazines. In 1903 he began working for the New York Herald, where he produced several newspaper comic strips. His most successful was Little Nemo in Slumberland (1905–1911, 1924–1926), the story of a boy and his adventures in his dreams.

Between 1911 and 1921, McCay self-financed and animated 10 films, the first of which was Little Nemo, AKA Winsor McCay, the Famous Cartoonist of the N.Y. Herald and His Moving Comics (1911). Part live-action and part animation, this film begins with a scene of McCay betting his colleagues that he can make 4,000 drawings move.

McCay hand-drew each of the frames and filmed them at Vitagraph Studios. The film, which depicted characters from the comic strip dancing and interacting with each other, was originally released entirely in black and white. Due to a favorable reception from audiences, McCay decided to hand-color the animated frames.

7. How a Mosquito Operates (1912)

The second animated film by Winsor McCay, How a Mosquito Operates (1912) was based on a particular strip of his comic series, Dream of the Rarebit Fiend (1904–1925). The series had no recurring characters or central storyline, but rather a recurring theme, in which a character would eat a cheese-on-toast dish called a Welsh rarebit and then have a bizarre dream.

The comic featured a mosquito feeding on a sleeping man who has been drinking extensively, and ends with the man waking up. The film ends with the mosquito exploding from having drank too much from the sleeping man.

This film features minimal backgrounds and does not contain intertitles. Rather, it relies on the character’s actions to tell the story, as opposed to the comic, which relied on dialogue.

8. Gertie the Dinosaur (1914)

Out of all of Winsor McCay’s accomplishments, Gertie the Dinosaur (1914) is his most famous work. This twelve-minute cartoon is cited as the first use of registration marks, key frames, tracing paper, film loops, and other animation techniques. As a result, some consider it the first true cartoon.

Gertie the Dinosaur begins with a live-action sequence taking place inside a museum, which has a dinosaur skeleton on display. A group of well-dressed men attends a dinner where McCay himself draws a picture of a dinosaur and introduces her as Gertie. He commands Gertie to perform tricks for the men, such as raising her foot and bowing on command.

Gertie obeys at first, but then starts to rebel. She gets distracted by a pterodactyl, pulls a tree out by its roots, tosses a mammoth into a nearby lake, and then throws a boulder when the mammoth sprays her with water. The men are left impressed by Gertie’s intelligence and charm.

9. The Keeping Up With the Joneses Series (1915)

Keeping Up With the Joneses (1915) was an animated series based on a newspaper comic strip by Pop Momand. Only two short films were made of this series, as its animator, Harry S. Palmer, lost a patent infringement suit in February 1916 over the use of transparent celluloid sheets.

This domestic comedy featured the McGinis family: Pa, Ma, their daughter Julie, and the housekeeper Belladonna. Their neighbors, the Jones family, do not appear on screen. Rather, the McGinises refer to them as wealthy and sophisticated, and are jealous of their material possessions and social standing, hence their desire to “keep up.”

One of the shorts, subtitled Men’s Styles, begins with Pa McGinis reading a fashion magazine in the living room. He enters a store and buys a new hat, thinking he looks dapper, but is ridiculed by Ma when he returns home.

The other short, Women’s Styles, also begins with Pa reading a fashion magazine, this time voicing his disapproval at the dresses that are currently in style. He looks up and is appalled to see his daughter wearing such a dress. He checks on the housekeeper and sees that she’s wearing a similar dress. He seeks out Ma, hoping she can talk some sense into them, only to find her dressed the same way.

10. The Dreamy Dud Series (1915–1920)

Dreamy Dud was a character created by animator and comic strip artist Wallace Carlson. His first film, which has since been lost, was Joe Boko Breaking Into the Big League (1914). This film caught the attention of Essanay Film Manufacturing Company, which allowed him to create the Dreamy Dud series.

Dud is a little boy with an active imagination who gets into mischief, then learns an important lesson at the end of each cartoon. In Dreamy Dud. He Resolves Not to Smoke (1915), he steals a man’s pipe because he’s fascinated with smoking. Unfortunately, the smoke from the pipe turns into a ghost.

The ghost picks Dud up, flies him to the moon, and leaves him there. Dud falls off the moon and crash-lands to earth. He’s then seen waking up in bed, revealing that this was a dream.

The only other Dreamy Dud film that has survived is Dud Leaves Home (1919). In this film, he's caught stealing money from his mother to buy ice cream, and runs away to avoid punishment. Along the way he is frightened by imaginary ghosts, so he returns home.

The other films in this series were Dreamy Dud Sees Charlie Chaplin (1915), Dud, the Circus Performer (1919), Dud’s Home Run (1919), and Dud, the Lion Tamer (1920).


FlourishAnyway from USA on June 01, 2018:

Some of these are very unusual. We have certainly come a long way in a century or so. It’s unfortunate that some of the originals were lost to history.

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