Studio: British Film Institute
Length: 164 mins
Region: Region 2
Released: 3 December 2012
Cat No: BFIVD529
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Fairy Tales: Early Colour Stencil Films from Pathé
Collection of French fairy films made by Pathé between 1901 and 1908. The hand-coloured moving images feature a host of tricks with... Read More
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.