Watch The Amazing 1912 Animation of Stop-Motion Pioneer Ladislas Starevich, Starring Dead Bugs

Last week we fea­tured 1937’s The Tale of the Fox, the crown­ing glo­ry of inven­tive Russ­ian film­mak­er Ladis­las Stare­vich’s work in pup­pet ani­ma­tion. But he did­n’t always shoot pup­pets as we know them; at the dawn of his career — and thus the dawn of Russ­ian ani­ma­tion — he had to make use of what lay close at hand. Today we go back a cou­ple decades fur­ther, to the time when Stare­vich (then known, before his immi­gra­tion to Paris, as Władysław Starewicz) worked not as an ani­ma­tor but as the direc­tor of Kovno, Lithua­ni­a’s Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry. Inter­est­ed in film­ing noc­tur­nal stag bee­tles but unable to get a per­for­mance out of them under film lights, he hit upon the idea of shoot­ing not liv­ing insects but dead ones, their legs replaced with wire which he could repo­si­tion frame-by-frame. The result? Stare­vich’s ear­ly, still-enter­tain­ing shorts like 1911’s The Ant and the Grasshop­per (also known as The Drag­on­fly and the Ant) at the top.

But you haven’t tru­ly expe­ri­enced dead-bug ani­ma­tion until you’ve seen The Cam­era­man’s Revenge, just above. Stare­vich made it in 1912, by which time his ani­ma­tion skills had devel­oped to the point that each play­er moves in a man­ner both real­is­ti­cal­ly bug­like (some con­tem­po­rary view­ers mis­took them for trained insects mov­ing in real time) and par­o­d­i­cal­ly evoca­tive of human char­ac­ters. Slate’s Joan New­berg­er describes the plot of this “com­ic melo­dra­ma in metic­u­lous­ly detailed minia­ture sets” as fol­lows: “We meet a bee­tle cou­ple, Mr. and Mrs. Zhukov (zhuk means bee­tle in Russ­ian), both of whom are car­ry­ing on extra­mar­i­tal affairs. Zhukov wins the affec­tions of a drag­on­fly cabaret dancer, but flies into a rage when he comes home to dis­cov­er his wife in the ‘arms’ of an artist (also played by a bee­tle).” But the plot thick­ens, and this seem­ing­ly sim­ple (if obvi­ous­ly com­plex in craft, espe­cial­ly for the time) tale even uses a bit of cin­e­ma-with­in-cin­e­ma at its denoue­ment. Starewicz made ear­ly stop-motion for sure, but he did­n’t make the ear­li­est. has a post on that, cit­ing the 1902 Thomas Edi­son-pro­duced Fun in a Bak­ery Shop as the first sur­viv­ing exam­ple — but, alas, a bug­less one.

Stare­vich’s films can be found in our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More. Look under Ani­ma­tion.

via Slate’s Vault Blog

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Tale of the Fox: Watch Ladis­las Starevich’s Ani­ma­tion of Goethe’s Great Ger­man Folk­tale (1937)

The Mas­cot, Pio­neer­ing Stop Ani­ma­tion from Wla­dys­law Starow­icz

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­lesA Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

by | Permalink | Comments (6) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (6)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • VikingVoyager says:

    Don’t know who did the Eng­lish trans­la­tion for the first film but the “drag­on­fly” [sic] is a “grasshop­per.”

  • Wojtek Starostecki says:

    Wla­dys­law Starewicz was Pol­ish nation­al­i­ty. He was born in the Russ­ian annex­a­tion, he worked in Moscow, and lat­er in Paris. In 1939 he intend­ed to return to an inde­pen­dent Poland, a few months before the Sec­ond World War.

  • MerryMarjie says:

    This is incred­i­ble for that time peri­od! The intri­cate moves by the insects show great tal­ent, and I was very impressed by this film. Great find!

  • obsolete1 says:

    When I die, I hope some­one will cut my arms off and stick wires in me so that peo­ple may be enter­tained! It will be my gift to the world!

  • jessie says:

    Accord­ing to a Gail Mor­gan Hick­man’s mas­ters the­ses on the sub­ject Ladis­las Stare­vitch actu­al­ly cre­at­ed pup­pets for his ani­ma­tions, but they were so life­like that it is a com­mon mis­con­cep­tion that they are real bugs.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.