The Cameraman's Revenge
Ladislaw Starewicz is well known as one of the father figures of stop-motion animation. He pioneered stop motion animation in the early 20's, when he worked at a museum as an entomologist. This enabled Starewicz to animate the animals he was working with and eventually, it led to him making films with the creatures. He is very well known for making his puppets look and act human, giving his films a reflexive quality that audiences can take away. Starewicz "maintained a fascination with the strange, almost surreal properties of the form, exploring both its capacity for rendering realistic motion and movement, as well as its more 'fantastic' and explicitly cinematic qualities. His films are marked by a concern with the animated nature of the cinematic medium, its ability to bring things and events to life while also retaining a trace of the arrested motion that is its foundation. His films are often joyful but somewhat cruel celebrations of movement, featuring characters that are often but one step or 'stop' away from annihilation" (Danks, p. 1. ).
One of his most impressive works was The Cameraman's Revenge, a film created in 1912 with a running length of thirteen minutes. Mr. and Mrs. Beetle are the main characters, with an opening title that states that Mr. Beetle goes on frequent business trips and is bored. Their life together is too calm. Mr. Beetle then packs his bags and kisses his wife before going to the "Gay Dragonfly Night Club," his local favorite spot. While there, Mr. Beetle watches his favorite dancer, and soon pushes a grasshopper out of the way in order to get to her. Little did he know that the grasshopper was a cameraman, who then filmed Mr. Beetle and the dragonfly together as they leave the club. Grasshopper follows them to the Hotel d'Amour and films the couple further through the keyhole in their suite. The film then switches focus to Mrs. Beetle, who is also restless and has an artist friend. She sends a letter to her friend telling him to come at once and that her husband is away. The artist quickly comes and the two are caught in an embrace by Mr. Beetle. The artist escapes up the chimney and Mr. Beetle puts a painting over Mrs. Beetle's head. Mr. Beetle forgives her and eventually takes her to a movie. Unfortunately for Mr. Beetle, the projectionist is actually the grasshopper who caught him in the act with the dragonfly. He shows the film and Mrs. Beetle gets upset and beats him with her umbrella. Mr. Beetle is humiliated and goes to the grasshopper, getting in a fight. The ending sequence states that they hope the Beetles have a more dull home life; and then show them alone in a prison cell.
Starewicz was able to take the ordinary insect puppets and a normal topic like infidelity and weave it into an entertaining storyline. Although Starewicz predominantly created his films for children, this film caters mostly to adults yet can be seen as entertaining for any age group.
The animation in this film is absolutely seamless for its time. One of the first examples of how easy the animation flows is when Mr. Beetle is packing his bags right in the beginning sequence. He is standing above his suitcase folding his clothes away neatly, tucking the moving fabric inside before closing it shut and walking away. These puppets hardly appear to be manipulated: they look as if the beetles themselves are weaving the tale and dancing around. He was able to take a set and a bunch of puppets and breathe life into the whole set. Another particularly amazing scene is when the artist is delivered the letter from Mrs. Beetle. You can watch the brushstrokes and the paintings appear before your eyes.
The audience is left with some to interpret. Starewicz shows everything that needs to be shown, although it is quite hard to decipher emotion in these films. The audience sees the Beetle family deal with their problems and the infidelity between the creatures is quite clear. Since these films are reflexive, the audience has their own interpretation to do. He consistently wanted the medium of the camera to show upon the audience and for the audience to interpret his films as pertaining to their own life experiences.
Starewicz was a pioneer in the field of stop-motion animation. His films are intricately woven and are nearly seamless for a piece during that time. His work influenced many stop-motion works in the future, such as James and the Giant Peach, Coraline, Antz, Toy Story, and The Nightmare before Christmas.
Fitz, Tim. (1997, JULY 12). The cameraman's revenge. Retrieved from http://www.awn.com/heaven_and_hell/STARE/stare12.htm
Danks, Adrian. (2004, April). Ladislaw starewicz and the mascot. Retrieved from http://archive.sensesofcinema.com/contents/cteq/04/starewicz_mascot.html
----Kristina Mahar, 2010.