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Film Details

Directed by: Alice Guy Various Gaston Velle Ferdinand Zecca Lucien Nonguet Segundo de Chomón Albert Capellani

Produced: 1908

Countries & Regions: France

DVD Details

Certificate: U

Studio: British Film Institute

Length: 164 mins

Format: DVD

Region: Region 2

Released: 3 December 2012

Cat No: BFIVD529

Languages(s): English
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Fairy Tales: Early Colour Stencil Films from Pathé

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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




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Collection of French fairy films made by Pathé between 1901 and 1908. The hand-coloured moving images feature a host of tricks with mythical and supernatural beings and dancing girls at the centre of the stories. The films have been set to new music, scored by musicians such as Chris Watson, BJ Nilsen, Hildur Gudnadottir and Christian Fennesz. The collection comprises: ’Drama at the Bottom of the Sea’ (1901), ’The Seven Castles of the Devil’ (1901), ’Ballet des Sylphides’ (1902), ’Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves’ (1902), ’Eccentric Waltz’ (1903), ’Japonaiseries’ (1904), ’Weird Fancies’ (1904), ’Metamorphosis of a Butterfly’ (1905), ’The Hen That Laid the Golden Eggs’ (1905), ’Martyrs Chrétiens’ (1905), ’Loïe Fuller’ (1905), ’The Wonderful Album’ (1905), ’The Bewitched Shepherd’ (1905), ’Tit for Tat’ (1906),’ The Fairy of Spring’ (1906), ’Magic Roses’ (1906), ’The Golden Beetle’ (1907), ’Cinderella’ (1907), ’The Red Spectre’ (1907), ’The Talisman’ (1907), ’The Black Witch’ (1907), ’Sleeping Beauty’ (1908), ’The Blue Bird’ (1908), ’The Black Pearl’ (1908) and ’The Fairies and the Faun’ (1908).
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.

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