Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Remarkable Animation of Ladislas Starevich

I don't remember what circuitous route brought me to the gobsmackingly great animation of Ladislas Starevich, but it hardly matters. I watched his 1912 animated short The Camerman's Revenge on YouTube and was simply blown away. I mean this was 1912! And it's just lovely. As the description on the YouTube posting so aptly puts it, "[it] is about infidelity among the insects, a topic which I dare say has never before or after been attempted on film." Mr. and Mrs. Beetle are dissatisfied with their bourgeoise marriage, so they both embark on affairs - he with a glamorous dragonfly who dances in a nightclub, she with a local artist. Well, just watch. I promise you, it's not like anything you've ever seen:

Starevich began as a naturalist - he had been made director of the Museum of Natural History in Kovno, Lithuania and his first films were live action documentary shorts about insect life. After directing a few films for the museum, he wished to feature insect behavior that was impossible to film, as the creatures were nocturnal and wouldn't behave normally under the lights. After seeing a short film by Emile Cohl, he decided to try stop action animation using insect carcasses. He soon branched into narrative shorts and moved to Moscow, where he created a series of animated shorts using dead animals which were acclaimed all over the world. Some people apparently couldn't believe they were animated and assumed the animals had been trained somehow - which sounds ridiculous to us, but imagine how magical his work must have seemed at the dawn of moviemaking.

You can see another of his charming insect films, The Dragonfly and The Ant, below:

After the September Revolution he joined the Russian expat community in Paris and worked there for the remainder of his life. He continued to make strange and creative animated movies until his death in 1965. Terry Gilliam has said he is a huge influence on his work.

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