The Cameraman’s Revenge (1912): The Truly Weird Origin of Modern Stop-Motion Animation

These days, ever more ambi­tions com­put­er-ani­mat­ed spec­ta­cles seem to arrive in the­aters every few weeks. But how many of them cap­ture our imag­i­na­tions as ful­ly as works of the thor­ough­ly ana­log art of stop-motion ani­ma­tion? The uncan­ny effect (and imme­di­ate­ly vis­i­ble labor-inten­sive­ness) of real, phys­i­cal pup­pets and objects made to move as if by them­selves still cap­ti­vates view­ers young and old: just watch how the Wal­lace and Gromit series, Ter­ry Gilliam’s Mon­ty Python shorts, The Night­mare Before Christ­mas, and even the orig­i­nal King Kong as well as Ray Har­ry­hausen’s mon­sters in Jason and the Arg­onauts and The 7th Voy­age of Sin­bad have held up over the decades.

The film­mak­ers who best under­stand the mag­ic of cin­e­ma still use stop-motion today, as Wes Ander­son has in The Fan­tas­tic Mr. Fox and Isle of Dogs. They all owe some­thing to a Pol­ish-Russ­ian ani­ma­tor of the ear­ly-to-mid-20th cen­tu­ry by the name of Ladis­las Stare­vich. Long­time Open Cul­ture read­ers may remem­ber the works of Stare­vich pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here, includ­ing the Goethe adap­ta­tion The Tale of the Fox and the much ear­li­er The Cam­era­man’s Revenge, a tale of infi­deli­ty and its con­se­quences told entire­ly with dead bugs for actors. Stare­vich, then the Direc­tor of the Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry in Kau­nas, Lithua­nia, pulled off this cin­e­mat­ic feat “by installing wheels and strings in each insect, and occa­sion­al­ly replac­ing their legs with plas­tic or met­al ones,” says Phil Edwards in the Vox Almanac video above.

“How Stop Motion Ani­ma­tion Began” comes as a chap­ter of a minis­eries called Almanac Hol­ly­would­n’t, which tells the sto­ries of “big changes to movies that came from out­side Hol­ly­wood.” It would be hard indeed to find any­thing less Hol­ly­wood than a man installing wheels and strings into insect corpses at a Lithuan­ian muse­um in 1912, but in time The Cam­era­man’s Revenge proved as deeply influ­en­tial as it remains deeply weird. Stare­vich kept on mak­ing films, and sin­gle­hand­ed­ly fur­ther­ing the art of stop-motion ani­ma­tion, until his death in France (where he’d relo­cat­ed after the Russ­ian Rev­o­lu­tion) in 1965.

And though Stare­vich may not be a house­hold name today, Edwards reveals while trac­ing the sub­se­quent his­to­ry of stop-motion ani­ma­tion that cin­e­ma has­n’t entire­ly failed to pay him trib­ute: Ander­son­’s The Fan­tas­tic Mr. Fox is in a sense a direct homage to The Tale of the Fox, and Gilliam has called Stare­vich’s work “absolute­ly breath­tak­ing, sur­re­al, inven­tive and extra­or­di­nary, encom­pass­ing every­thing that Jan Svankma­jer, Waler­ian Borow­czyk and the Quay Broth­ers would do sub­se­quent­ly.” He sug­gests that, before we enter the “mind-bend­ing worlds” of more recent ani­ma­tors, we “remem­ber that it was all done years ago, by some­one most of us have for­got­ten about now” — and with lit­tle more than a few dead bugs at that.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

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

The Mas­cot, a Pio­neer­ing Stop Ani­ma­tion Film by Wla­dys­law Starewicz

The His­to­ry of Stop-Motion Films: 39 Films, Span­ning 116 Years, Revis­it­ed in a 3‑Minute Video

Ray Harryhausen’s Creepy War of the Worlds Sketch­es and Stop-Motion Test Footage

Spike Jonze’s Stop Motion Film Haunt­ing­ly Ani­mates Paris’ Famed Shake­speare and Com­pa­ny Book­store

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

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!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.