The amazing animations of Ladislas Starewicz

Ladislas Starewicz

A couple of nights ago, Mr Moviegrrl and I were just flicking around the TV channels sometime around midnight, and stopped when we came to find a rather bizarre piece of black and white stop frame animation. Very old, incredibly well made and decidedly creepy we were utterly transfixed by the story of a small toy dog, apparently in hell, trying to ensure that nobody ate an orange he was looking after.

No credits came up at the end, but a swift piece of Google-Fu later and we discovered we’d been watching a short film called Fetiche Mascotte made in 1930 by Polish animator Ladislas Starewicz.

It tells the tale of a hand-sewn toy dog, who tries to find fruit for his young owner, a young girl suffering from scurvy. He finds an orange from a stall, but ends up going through a series of strange hellish adventures before he can return to his young mistress.

Starewicz was born in Russia in in 1882 to Polish parents. A museum curator originally, with an focus on etymology, his first movies were an attempt to recreate the fighting behaviour of stag beetles. However whenever he turned the lights on to film them, the beetles, who were nocturnal, would fall asleep.

Taking his cue from animator Emile Cohl, he tried a different approach, using stop-frame animation to recreate the beetle’s behaviour. His success motivated him to move to Moscow and join Aleksandr Khanzhonkov’s film company. Over the next few years he made a number of films, but probably the most sucessful and charming of these is The Cameraman’s Revenge, which looks at infidelity in the insect world.

After the October Revolution, Starewicz fled to France, initially living in Paris but ultimately settling in Fontenay-sous-Bois where he made films for the rest of his life. His first full-length animated feature was The Tale of the Fox, which was critically acclaimed and the third animated feature to have sound.

By his death in 1965 he was one of the few European animators known by name. Terry Gilliam has called Fetiche Mascotte the best animated movie ever, and Wes Anderson was clearly influence by Starewicz when he made Fantastic Mr Fox.

The use of grotesques, sly humour and a great deal of charm, means that Starewicz is a talent worth checking out, most of his films are available on YouTube and there are several websites dedicated to his art.

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~ by moviegrrlreviews on August 8, 2010.

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