Although the first years of film and its early pioneers present a fascinating and occasionally bizarre history suited to a much longer post, today I thought we’d simply focus on two short and deliciously outlandish movies from the dawn of film. These films both tackle rather gruesome subjects; a dancing skeleton who falls apart and reassembles itself, a man dealing with four interchangeable heads. But don’t expect the gloomy or horrific, though…these macabre specters couldn’t be happier.
Our first film is Le Squelette Joyeux (The Skeleton of Joy), created in 1897 by Auguste & Louis Lumière. These Brothers Lumière worked in still photography until 1892, when they began patenting processes that led to the first ever screening of a projected motion picture in 1895. Although Thomas Edison’s laboratory was producing moving pictures slightly earlier than this, the Lumières’ improvements included the addition of projection technology that allowed a group of people to watch a film at the same time. In Le Squelette Joyeux (arguably one of the first instances of stop motion animation), a skeleton gambols happily, losing structural integrity as his gyrations grows more fevered, and stopping only for the occasional reassembly before dancing on.
Although the Lumières were undoubtedly pioneers in the creation of today’s moving picture, it was innovators like vaudevillian Georges Méliès who led the way in adding stories and effects to these early films. In the 1898 Un Homme de Têtes, also known as The Four Troublesome Heads, Méliès happily switches out his head among a set of four, punting the ones who become too disagreeable. Although perhaps too visible to our jaded modern eye, Un Homme de Têtes was one of the first known films to use special effects, creating the fascinatingly mobile cranium using multiple exposures on a black background.