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The Films of Ladislaw Starewicz: Bizarre Early Animation, 1911-1933

With the re-emergence of animation as a popular vehicle for moviegoers of all ages, viewers in recent years have grown more open to types of animated films aside from those programmed and output by computers. Fans of stop-motion movies like Coraline and Fantastic Mr. Fox may find it hard to believe that such intricate work could have been done without enormous budgets and studio support. But in fact films like these were being made a hundred years ago, chief among them the work of Polish-born filmmaker Ladislaw Starewicz.

In particular, Starewicz’s 1933 short “The Mascot” plays like a blueprint for the style of Tim Burton productions like The Nightmare Before Christmas, with its large cast of bizarre dolls and puppets brought to life by painstaking stop-motion work. It’s impressive even by today’s standards.

With its story of a child’s toy dog roaming the streets of Paris trying to find its way home, “The Mascot” is a classic bound to enthrall any child. Yet despite his use of insects and animals, Starewicz was by no means a maker of children’s films. “The Cameraman’s Revenge” (1911) is a farce about marital infidelity starring a cast of exquisitely animated beetles and grasshoppers. And “Frogland” (1922) is a political allegory about a community of dissident amphibians.

Still, there’s nothing here that is less than suitable for viewers of all ages. If Mr. Beetle’s intentions toward his favorite dancer at the “Gay Dragonfly” nightclub go over children’s heads, they’ll be too enraptured by the lifelike character designs to care. Adults will be equally captivated by Starewicz’s wit and attention to detail (the hand-coloring of his 1923 “Voice of the Nightingale” puts the computer-colorized monstrosities of the early 1990s to shame). Utterly wonderful.

The Films of Ladislaw Starewicz will be screened Monday night (February 22) at Allentown’s Sugar City Arts Collaborative, 19 Wadsworth Street. Admission is free and open to the public.

m. faust

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