Trying to describe the plot of Fantasmagorie, the world’s first animated cartoon, is a folly akin to putting last night’s dream into words:
I was dressed as a clown and then I was in a theater, except I was also hiding under this lady’s hat, and the guy behind us was plucking out the feathers, and I was maybe also a jack in the box? And I had a fishing pole that turned into a plant that ripped my head off, but only for a few seconds. And then there was a giant champagne bottle and an elephant, and then, suddenly I was on an operating table, and you know how sometimes in a dream, it’s like you’re being crushed to death? Except I escaped by blowing myself up like a balloon and then I hopped onto the back of this horse and then I woke up.
The brainchild of animation pioneer Émile Cohl (1857 – 1938), the trippy silent short from 1908 is composed of 700 drawings, photographed onto negative film and double-exposed.
Clocking in at under two minutes, it’s definitely more diverting than listening to your bed mate bumble through their subconscious’ latest incoherent narrative.
The film’s title is an homage to a mid-19th century variant of the magic lantern, known as the fantasmograph, while its playful, nonsensical content is in the spirit of the Incoherent Movement of the 1880s.
Cohl, who cut his teeth on political caricature and Guignol puppet theatre went on to create over 250 films over the next 15 years, expanding his explorations to include the realms of live action and stop motion animation.
The crashing modern score giving such urgency to Fantasmagorie, above, was composed by Fabio Napodano.
Fantasmagorie has been added to our list of Free Animations, a subset of our larger collection, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, Documentaries & More.
For the definitive biography of Emile Cohl, read Emile Cohl, Caricature, and Film by Donald Crafton (Notre Dame).
Take a Free Animation Course from a Renowned French Animation School
Early Japanese Animations: The Origins of Anime (1917 to 1931)
Watch The Idea, the First Animated Film to Grapple with Big, Philosophical Ideas (1932)
Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Join her in New York City tonight, May 13, for the next installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.
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