Friday, 23 October 2009


French animator and science teacher Émile Reynaud is often considered the inventor of animated film as we know it today, having patented the praxinoscope in 1877, and the Théâtre Optique in 1888. Originally released along with two other Reynaud animations, Pauvre Pierrot is the first ever animated film, and it is remarkable to see what has survived. The remaining fragment, lasting around four minutes, tells the story of Pierrot the Clown, an unfortunate character frequently seen in mime and commedia dell’arte, and allegedly dating back over 4,000 years. Pierrot comes to visit the mansion of Columbine, the object of his affection, in the hope of serenading her. Columbine is not particularly enthusiastic about his visit and spurns his advances. Having left dejectedly, Pierrot returns drunk, desperate to prove his love. Unbeknownst to him however, Columbine’s lover Harlequin has been hiding in the garden and decides to pull a prank on him by tapping him surreptitiously with his sword. The scare tactic works and Pierrot absconds, leaving the couple to reunite.

While the story may not be of great interest, the images themselves are delightful and surprisingly well animated, and learning more about the man behind the film lends it more poignancy. Reynaud’s praxinoscope presentations had been a huge hit in the 1890s, but the dawn of the cinematograph meant that the novelty of projected animation had all but worn off. Frustrated, Reynaud threw most of his picture bands in the Seine, leaving only small (but beautiful) fragments for future generations.

No comments:

Post a Comment