Chomón: Everything is Faked

Les Kiriki, acrobates japonais
R: Segundo de Chomón. P: Pathé Frères. Fr 1907/08

“In Spanish director Segundo de Chomón’s Les Kiriki, acrobates japonais (“The Kiriki, Japanese Acrobats”), French performers made up to appear Japanese, nod their heads and wriggle into balanced contortions. But the orientalist costumes weren’t the only trick in this 1907 film. In fact, just about everything in Les Kiriki is faked. In addition to the actors’ costumes, if the acrobatic feats seem impossible (like the little boy holding four grown men balanced on a beam over his shoulder), it’s because they are. These stunts were the result of early special effects experimentation. Chomón had the actors lie against a black background, making it appear as though they were standing up when they were actually horizontal on the ground. As they ‘climb’ and stack themselves atop one another, they are really crawling across the floor while the camera shoots them from above.”
Molly McBride Jacobson
Atlas Obscura

>>> the documentary Japanese Acrobats

Les papillons japonais
R: Segundo de Chomón. P: Pathé Frères. Fr 1908
Print: Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek

“Consider that many of Chomón’s films resemble natural history films popularizing the scientific study of plants, animals, and insects. The transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly and then a serpentine dancer in Les Papillons Japonais (1908) is clearly operating with this in mind. And the frequent references to plants, from the botanical forms reflected in the serpentine dancer’s billowing fabric to prop flowers transforming into female dancers, as in Les fleurs animées (1906), call to mind the popular image of flowers blooming in early time-lapse films, from Oskar Messter’s Blumen-Arrangment (1898) to Percy Smith’s From Bud to Blossom (1910). The resemblances stem from an important overlap between early trick and popular science films. At least in Europe and the United States, at the turn of the century, the use of time-lapse photography to reveal the movements of plants, for example, was promoted and received as a wondrous special effect that brought nature to life, frame by frame, as in a stop-motion animated film. Although they circulated primarily in the didactic form of popular science, such spectacular metamorphoses overlapped with the trick film genre because they highlighted how the motion picture camera could make nature unnatural: flowers blooming appeared to dance with a magical life of their own. What’s more, the whole enterprise seems to crystalize in the live-action realm what Esther Leslie claims about cartoon animation: ‘In animated nature, technology and magic are one.’”
Colin Williamson: Meditations on Metamorphosis: Natural History and Animation in Chomón’s Trick Films. Sept. 2018
animationstudies 2.0

>>> Segundo de Chomón