Gertie the Dinosaur Gertie the Dinosaur

If you’re hungry for animation but uninspired by the holiday season’s offerings, The New Yorker has a suggestion for you. An article by Richard Brody, one of the magazine’s film critics, spotlights the remarkable trove of early animated film that — with their copyrights long expired — can be viewed on Youtube. Read the article here.

In thoughtful prose, Brody whisks us back in time, past the cg revolution and the golden age of Disney and Looney Tunes, to the silent era. He focuses on that brief, heady period between the invention of animation and the early days of its industrialization (which began in 1914, with the patenting of cel animation).

Brody singles out notable films from those decades. Some are well known: Winsor McCay’s Gertie the Dinosaur, Emile Cohl’s Fantasmagorie. Others, like the clay animation of Chinese-American artist Joseph Sunn, were new to me. Helpfully, Youtube versions of the films are embedded in the article.

For practical reasons, these shorts tended to be visually more simplistic than the live-action films of the day (or indeed the animation of today). Brody argues that the early animators compensated by resorting to a kind of self-reflexive comedy, introducing themselves — in live-action sequences — into their films to interact with their cartoon creations. Thus they were able to depict the very process of animation, and the difficulties it brought.

Brody’s article is a nice example of a high-profile publication engaging in serious criticism of non-mainstream animation. What a lovely holiday present.

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