Wednesday, September 15, 2010
The Best Years of Our Lives #4.
In which we further interrogate the age-old question, “What is film?” “Pauvre Pierrot” is one of three animated shorts made by director Émile Reynaud in 1892 and the first projected for public exhibition. But it’s less cinema than theater. There’s one set, a stately courtyard outside the lady’s balcony (think Cyrano de Bergerac), and the film makes four cuts: from the original wide background to a medium shot of the courtyard to the original to a medium shot of the balcony to the original again. It’s like Google Street View zooming in on two buildings in a single block. Yep, I’m the guy comparing the first animated film to Google Street View.
My unflappable millennial “impress me” stare notwithstanding, "Pauvre Pierrot" is a cute little picture. Our hero surveys the scene before bounding into the courtyard to seek the lady when he’s forced into hiding by another suitor. Obviously this shall not stand, and even more obviously, our hero is invisible as long as he’s behind a column, because the world is two-dimensional even for the characters. You’ve seen all this physical comedy before, but this is something like the origin, at least cinematically. After “Dickson Greeting,” I should really be grateful that this has something like scenes, or at least scaffolding.
The star here is Reynaud, with those hand-painted images and surprisingly fluid animation. While Edison Labs was capturing the verbs of American life (“Fencing,” “Boxing,” “A Hand Shake”), Reynaud was pioneering escapism. So now you know who to thank for Roland Emmerich.