One could argue that cinema audiences in the 1900s were less sophisticated than they are today. Marshaling the evidence, one might make an Exhibit A of Le Cochon Danseur (The Dancing Pig), a Pathé-produced silent short that showcases the figure of the title. “Apparently based on a Vaudeville act,” writes the Independent‘s Clarisse Loughrey, “it sees a pig dressed in a fancy tuxedo attempt to seduce a young lady, who in turn rips off his clothes and forces him to dance despite his shameful nakedness.”
Just how deeply the original French audiences thrilled to these proceedings is lost to history; but then, so is the name of the film’s director. This aura of mystery made Le Cochon Danseur an object of fascination a century after its release. But that wasn’t the only factor in play: the design of the pig costume remains impressive today, let alone when considered by the presumed standards of 1907.
The filmmakers must have known this, since the film’s ending cuts — in a time when editing of any kind was a rarity in the cinema — to a close-up of the oversized porcine head expressing a well-articulated look of satisfaction.
We see the pig “flapping his ears, boggling his eyes, flailing his tongue, and chuckling evilly, bearing his sharp, scary teeth,” as the Villains Wiki puts it. “This implies that he possibly ate the woman and revealed himself to be a horrid monster.” It is this final sequence that has made the dancing pig “a popular Internet meme villain” over the past decade and a half. You’ve almost certainly spotted him once or twice, though probably not the colorized version seen in the restored and enhanced video at the top of the post. The original black-and-white film, the inspiration for so many memes and so many nightmares, appears just above.
“Somehow, I feel like I’m actually looking at a hellish human-pig hybrid, not just a 20th-century human in a 20th-century version of a mascot suit,” writes cinephile Tristan Ettleman in his own consideration of the picture. Perhaps Le Cochon Danseur has proven even more compelling to us fully connected 21st-century sophisticates than it did to its first viewers. Or perhaps it simply taps into a universal truth of existence: to paraphrase a much-quoted observation attributed to Margaret Atwood, giant anthropomorphic pigs are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid giant anthropomorphic pigs will eat them.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities 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.