Fantasmagorie (1908) Review

Fantasmagorie (1908) Director: Émile Cohl

Fantasmagorie (Cohl).GIF


Produced by the Gaumont Company in France, Fantasmagorie is a stream-of-consciousness silent cartoon that uses innovative new stop-motion cinematography (which was first pioneered in America). The title of the film is a nod to the fantasmograph, a 19th century device which predated modern movie-making. I was interested to learn that Émile Cohl actually drew the objects seen in the film on hundreds of white backgrounds, and then flipped the colors to negative.

Fantasmagorie is a unique, hand-drawn, absurdist cartoon –it is often regarded as the first animated film. It consists of one stick-figure clown who encounters various odd situations. Objects randomly transform into various other things, such as a glass bottle morphing into an elephant and so on. Several times, Mr. Cohl’s hands appear to change the cartoon as we break the fourth wall. This is a brilliant albeit wandering little cartoon experimentation which anticipates the rise of Disney and other great animators.

Émile Cohl (1857-1938) produced a wide variety of films as part of the “Incoherent Movement,” an early and short-lived French movement that predated the latter avant-garde movement. His greatest film Fantasmagorie is a top example of early animation. It is now freely available to watch online as it has entered the public domain.

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