Mest Kinematograficheskogo Operatora (The Revenge Of A Kinematograph Cameraman or The Cameraman’s Revenge). Today we go back a mere 108 years to Wladyslaw Starewicz’s The Cameraman’s Revenge, a terrific 13-minute piece of stop-motion.
Mr Beetle seeks companionship from a statuesque dragonfly dancer. Unaware that her ex-boyfriend, a slender grasshopper and an industrious cameraman, watches their every move. Will Mrs Beetle forgive him? Will he get away with adultery?
A plot line that was a little more progressive in some ways for silent cinema. A restless husband who is bored of his home life wants to feel a life again. In fact we reviewed such a film in Lillian Gish in A Mothering Heart. Usually, we have the husband be the sole cheater in the marriage. Yet here we have both husband and wife become the adulterers in their obviously unhappy marriage. When Mrs Beetle is chastised for her indiscretions that we have to know that Mr Beetle has his coming. After all he was being filmed by our good Grasshopper.
For a 13 minute stop motion film we have plenty of events spread throughout. We have an action/fight scene, a chase scene, espionage, romance. Almost everything you can ask for in a film if we are honest. But having the twist in this little tale be that all of the characters is insects is something that animated films really have not taken advantage of as often as they should.
While this has some adult threads, this is a light-hearted jaunt that has actual slapstick scenes abound that would have Buster Keaton proud for their stunt work. As our brief 13 minutes go by we see the twists and turns the film takes. The humorous fact that Mrs Beetle is also cheating brought a chuckle as mentioned. Simply due to the lack of seeing such shenanigans in films at the time. The decision to have the film have this comedy aspect helps break up the fact that we are indeed seeing insects as our main characters.
Though the story is inventive, it is a little lacking for 13 minutes (despite its ingenuity). We very much make up for from a technical standpoint. The painstaking effort that would have been required to create this film, even if it is just 13 minutes is incredible. There are little touches such as the beetle painting and the movements being as smooth as possible between its moves and the painting itself. It is truly mesmerising to see the level of detail in. Another touch is usually with our titular cameraman who takes his time placing his bike down at the hotel, takes time and precision setting up his tripod for the camera.
It is these little touches that have the film stand out and show how important it was to the director to show how these insects are acting as humans. This brings the audience in and allows them to feel towards the characters and once the film has us with these characters, it doesn’t let go until the credits.
This isn’t even considering the efforts that was put in to have the insects actually act and yes they act. We see gesticulations and movements that would not be remiss in a standard Biograph at the time. Also, there is a fight scene that honestly I have seen worse in modern day cinema. From top to bottom the work here is on such a high level even for modern day stop motion due to the fact that real insects were used for these characters as they are quite obviously not as malleable as claymation.
Director Wladslaw Starewicz is a filmmaker who for those who do not know should immediately go and research him. (we will leave some other films below for your viewing pleasure). His inventiveness to use animals at this time was inspired and as his abilities and technical progress grew as years went by. With this creativity he would go on to create some profound pieces of cinema. The fact that Starewicz is not as celebrated as a filmmaker is a travesty, though those who know his work will always greatly admire him.
There could honestly be fewer films in the 1910s that was as technically appealing as The Cameraman’s Revenge. Without a doubt it was a pioneer in the stop motion genre. A gloriously charming success.
Wladslaw Starewicz’s other work
For more information check out this great piece on Starewicz https://silentology.wordpress.com/2019/08/20/animated-insects-and-animal-tales-the-art-of-ladislas-starevich/