Humorous Phases of Funny Faces
Medium: short film
Year: 1906
Director: J. Stuart Blackton
Keywords: silent, animation
Country: USA
Format: 3 minutes
Website category: Other
Review date: 13 December 2012
It's probably the first proper animated cartoon. (If you're wondering about Little Nemo in 1905, I presume that claim is based on this film being started in 1904.) Anyway, it's throwaway, but I quite liked it.
It doesn't have a story, of course. A hand draws with chalk on a blackboard, then his drawings start to move. What we see includes:
1. Two faces, one male and one female, which react to each other
2. A man with an umbrella
3. Reverse-drawings that erase themselves.
4. A clown and his dog.
...and that's about it. There might be more, but if so, I've forgotten it. As with Samuel Johnson's dog, the most remarkable thing about the film is that it's doing what it is in the first place, but that first segment made me laugh. The faces are fun. The man is drawn first, looking like a glum potato. However he perks up when a hot babe gets drawn on the other half of the screen and soon the two are grinning and winking at each other. However the man then turns old and hairy, with a cigar that emits clouds of smoke. It's the human reactions that make this amusing. The woman's aghast expression at the end made me chuckle.
After that, though, there are no characters with personalities. It's just stuff moving, like an animation test reel or something. This doesn't make it bad, but it's clearly just an animator looking for something to animate. He plays around. We see what's surely stop-motion animation, although the film wants us to believe that it's all still chalk on that blackboard. (I've found one reference suggesting that some of it was live-action effects, mind you.)
As for its director, James Stuart Blackton is another key figure in the history of animation. He'd previously made the first silent film with animated sequences on standard picture film (The Enchanted Drawing in 1900), while before that he'd worked in vaudeville as the Komikal Kartoonist with his lightning sketches. However his dabblings in animation were only ever really experiments and he ended up running a studio of his own, Vitagraph Studios, which he sold to Warner Brothers in 1925. He'd been born in Sheffield, England, in 1875, but his family emigrated to New York when he was ten.
There's not much to review here. It's a three-minute quickie with no story. However that opening segment at least is good for a laugh, while the complete thing is perfectly watchable. You could do worse.