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This Film Is More Than 100 Years Old

The Haunted Hotel (1907) / Hôtel Électrique (1908)

The Haunted Hotel (which was directed by J. Stuart Blackton and released in 1907) and Hôtel Électrique (which was directed by Segundo de Chomón and released in 1908) are two variations on almost exactly the same theme (that theme being haunted hotels, where everything inside moves around in marvellous stop motion ways).

The Haunted Hotel mixes live action, stop motion (and pixilation) animation, as well as a bunch of other film trickery techniques, to create a series of short scenes where a weary traveller is haunted first by his dinner, then by a napkin, and finally by the entire room itself. It’s wonderful. Especially the end.

This is one of the oldest surviving stop motion films (some of the same director’s earlier attempts are among the many lost), but it’s not only remarkably technically adept, but pretty funny too (I laughed at least three times in six minutes, which is fairly good going I reckon).

The Haunted Hotel was so successful in Europe that apparently every film maker in France spent the next year trying to work out all of Blackton’s techniques (according to wikipedia, at least), which is presumably how Segundo de Chomón’s Hôtel Électrique came about.

Hôtel Électrique copies the basic template of the first film, but upgrades the setting from some dismal single room to a plush, posh French hotel, at the cutting edge of modernity. No expense is spared in providing the guests with the luxuries deserving of their class. Suitcases are unpacked, shoes are shined, hair is brushed, faces are shaved, all in perfect stop motion.

In this film, though, it’s not ghosts pestering people, but electric automation. What starts off as smoothly gliding suitcases and carefully swirling razor blades devolves into chaos when the inevitably of technological failure rears its head and everything turns to horror. The only thing to do is escape with your lives.

It would be another 80 years until Stanley Kubrick remade these two films as The Shining. Never once did he admit his inspiration.

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Notes

1. I watched both of these on youtube

2. The Haunted Hotel here

3. And Hotel Electrique here

4. The picture quality on both is disappointingly terrible

5. Which is a shame

6. I don’t know if there’s better quality versions available elsewhere

7. But I assume there must be, because the gif of the woman having her hair brushed in Hotel Electrique on wikipedia looks utterly marvellous

8. Although maybe that’s simply because it’s been squidged down to almost nothing

9. I watched an earlier J. Stuart Blackton cartoon previously on here

10. Although it was so awful I hid it in the comments rather than give it any prominence on the main part of the article.

11. But The Haunted Hotel is so excellent I have forgiven him now

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Film Information

Title: The Haunted Hotel
Director: J. Stuart Blackton
Year: 1907
Duration: 7 minutes
Watch: youtube

Title: Hôtel Électrique
Director: Segundo de Chomón
Year: 1908
Duration: 10 minutes
Watch: youtube

Categories
This Film Is More Than 100 Years Old

The Wooden Athelete (1912)

The Wooden Athelete is a stop motion animation from 1912, depicting various acrobatic events in a small puppet circus, and I found this five-minute long cartoon, directed by Arthur Melbourne Cooper, almost entirely delightful.

Though the puppets are fairly simplistic, and the sets almost non-existent, there’s a real joy in every scene of this, and some pretty good jokes, too. I loved it.

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Notes

1. I watched this on the BFI player once again.

2. The whole thing is strangely risque, too, as the presence of clothing on some of the audience members at the beginning suggest this entire circus perform their routines 100% nude.

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Film Information

Title: The Wooden Athelete
Director: Arthur Melbourne Cooper
Year: 1912
Duration: 5 minutes
Watch: BFI player; youtube

Categories
This Film Is More Than 100 Years Old

The Acrobatic Fly (1910) / Birth Of A Flower (1910)

The Acrobatic Fly and Birth Of A Flower are two films released in 1910 by the brilliant nature film and stop-motion pioneer F. Percy Smith (whose incredible To Demonstrate How Spiders Fly I watched and reviewed previously).

The Acrobatic Fly was a part of an ongoing series of similarly themed short films, in which F. Percy Smith decided to use stop motion to make it look like insects were engaged in a series of pointless acrobatic displays.

I’m not entirely sure why, but I found this fairly disconcerting (presumably because of the use of real flies nailed to a pole).

I much preferred Birth Of A Flower. This film is a series of time lapse sequences, showing flowers opening up their petals into full bloom, and it’s really quite beautiful. Of course, watching it now, these sequences aren’t anything we haven’t seen before (although they’re still beautiful staged), but I expect a hundred and ten years ago footage like this would have been a pretty wonderful novelty.

Although maybe not as much of a commercial success as flies carrying dumbbells.
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Notes

1. I watched these both on youtube – The Acrobatic Fly here, and Birth Of A Flower here

2. That version of Birth Of A Flower is only an extract, but it’s been soundtracked by some Erik Satie music, so I preferred that version to the full version

3. Which can be viewed here

4. But which unfortunately has a fairly ugly watermark ruining it, unfortunately.

5. If you’d like to know more about F. Percy Smith, this Atlas Obscura article is pretty wonderful

6. And well worth your time.

7. This BFI article about Birth of A Flower is also interesting (but a lot shorter).
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Film Information

Title: The Acrobatic Fly
Director: F. Percy Smith
Year: 1910
Duration: 3 minutes
Watch: youtube

Title: Birth Of A Flower
Director: F. Percy Smith
Year: 1910
Duration: 7 minutes
Watch: youtube (extract only); youtube (full version)

Categories
This Film Is More Than 100 Years Old

Animated Putty (1911)

Animated Putty is a short demonstration of stop motion/claymation effects from 1911, directed by “trick” film specialist WR Booth. It consists entirely of a number of sequences where some lumps of putty roll around slowly forming themselves into intricate shapes and models, and it’s brilliant.

There’s two incredible scenes here. The first is one where a windmill builds itself from scratch, and then slowly creates its own sails as it spins. The second is where the pretty figure of a woman transforms into and utterly horrifying demonic gargoyle, which then proceeds to vomit up further gargoyles until we all scream.

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Notes

1. I watched this on the BFI site here.

2. WR Booth also directed ‘The “?” Motorist’ (1906) and ‘The Automatic Motorist’ (1911), both of which I reviewed here.

3. One of the first cartoons I made when I first got a 3DS was a little plasticine worm.

4. Which would have been obsolete a full century before.

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Film Information

Title: Animated Putty
Director: WR Booth
Year: 1911
Duration: 4 minutes

Categories
This Film Is More Than 100 Years Old

To Demonstrate How Spiders Fly (1909)

To Demonstrate How Spiders Fly is a very short educational film (it’s only a minute long), made using stop-motion animation to explain how spiders travel across unexpectedly large distances. It was directed by F. Percy Smith, a naturalist and photographer who helped pioneer the use of many now-familiar film-making techniques, such as time-lapse sequences.

I love spiders and I love stop-motion creatures and I utterly love this. What a wonderful thing.

And a hundred and ten years old.

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Notes

1. I watched this, yes, via the BFI Player – To Demonstrate How Spiders Fly
2. I think this may be my favourite thing
3. I just wish I’d seen it earlier so I could have incorporated this knowledge into Spiders Are Wonderful (multiple winner of the factual book of the year award in 2011).

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Film Information

Title: To Demonstrate How Spiders Fly
Director: F. Percy Smith
Year: 1909
Runtime: 1 minute