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Fairy Tales: Early Colour Stencil Films from Pathé DVD

Various , 1901-08

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Film Details

Directed by Various

Produced in 1901-08

Main Language - Silent

Countries & Regions - European Film, French Film

MovieMail's Review

These 25 gleaming hand-coloured jewels of early cinematic entertainment contain something of the medium's magical, entrancing possibilities, writes Graeme Hobbs.

Fire-sprites, fauns, butterflies and fairy godmothers, dancing girls, grimacing devils, capering demons and an imp in a salt-box: just some of the diverse characters to be found in this Aladdin's cave of early cinematic fantasy. The collection features 25 hand-coloured films made for Pathé Frères between 1901-08, which show cinema taking the traditions of theatre, pantomime and magic shows - impressive tableaux vivants, theatrical backdrops, exaggerated postures and extravagant gestures - into a new area of spectacle and adding the handy tricks unique to the medium, with sudden jump-cut appearances and disappearances a staple ingredient.

Some of the films are mesmerising, as with the swirls, ripples and flutter of a Loïe Fuller-inspired serpentine dance; others are strikingly bizarre, as with Segundo de Chomón's The Black Pearl, in which a woman descends to hell with a troop of spirits in a heavily decorated motor car to search for a black pearl which will free a phantom trapped in a graveyard. Some of the films are surprising, as with the proto-surreal walls with eyes in The Hen That Laid the Golden Eggs, and - in Tit for Tat - the sharp taste of his own medicine that an entomologist gets at the hands of the insects he has pinned. Others are simply exquisite, such as The Fairy of Spring, in which a poor couple invite an old woman in from the snow and feed her - whereupon she turns into a goddess of Spring who turns the year onwards and plucks a bouquet of yellow flowers containing twins which she presents to the couple. And then there are the colours, shown to better effect nowhere than in Ferdinand Zecca's Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, whose tints of jade and turquoise, scarlet, crimson, fuchsia and mustard culminate in a spectacular sunburst 'apotheosis' that was a regular feature of the films.

The musical accompaniments are provided courtesy of the roster of artists at touch music (Philip Jeck, Fennesz, Marcus Davidson, Achim Mohné to name four), the presumed intention being to marry the technical innovations and trickery of the early twentieth century with the sonic explorations of the twenty-first. Mostly, the soundtracks complement rather than illustrate, happy to burble along in a self-absorbed background haze of waves and wisps of dessicated sound, though there are exceptions: Michael Esposito and Mike Harding add the clickety-whirr of period projectors and 'electronic voice phenomena' to three films and sound recordist Chris Watson (whose recording of Scott's expedition hut can be found on The Great White Silence) adds woodland noises fo Gaston Velle's Metamorphosis of a Butterfly. And The London Snorkelling Team have great fun with a suitably skew-wiff score for The Black Pearl (a audio-visual highlight of the set this).

These are gleaming jewels of early cinematic entertainment that contain something of the medium's magical, entrancing possibilities.

Graeme Hobbs on 16th November 2012
Author of 294 reviews

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Film Description

During the belle époque in turn-of-the-century Paris, a short-lived film form called 'scènes de feeries', or 'fairy films', was made popular thanks to the Pathé Frères company. In jewel-like colours, the films - made to appeal to young and old alike - recreated the theatrical spectacles of the age with their fantastical settings, dancing girls, mythical beasts, supernatural beings and a plethora of stage tricks enhanced by the techniques of the new medium of film.

Presented here with original hand-colouring, each film is accompanied with a newly commissioned soundtrack by recording artists from the leading experimental music label Touch. Contributions from such acclaimed composers as Chris Watson, BJ Nelson, Hildur Gudnadóttir and Fennesz combine with the beautiful images to create a unique and unforgettable experience.

Enhanced by the techniques of the then-new medium of film, they give modern audiences a glimpse into the magical world of the 19th century theatre. This release should appeal to fans of Jan Švankmajer and Lotte Reiniger, or to anyone interested in early cinema or experimental film and music.

DVD Details

Certificate: PG

Publisher: BFI

Length: 164 mins

Aspect ratio: 1.33:1

Format: DVD Colour

Region: 2

Released: 3rd December 2012

Cat No: BFIVD529

DVD Extras

  • Newly commissioned scores by Touch recording artists, including Philip Jeck, Fennesz and Chris Watson
  • Au Pays de l'Or (1908, 8 mins)
  • Barbe-bleu (Georges Méliès, 1901, 11 minutes)
  • Little Red Riding Hood (Anson Dyer, 1922, 8 minutes)
  • La Danse du Diable (Sint-Lukas versions): nine alternative scores by students from Sint-Lukas Brussels University College of Art and Design
  • Fully illustrated booklet with film notes and credits.

Film Stills

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