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The Films of Ladislaw Starewicz
with Little Bang Theory
1 November 2013
Legend has it, Ladislaw Starewicz started his career as an entomologist. In trying to film a fight between two beetles, the little buggers just wouldn't cooperate. But he soon discovered what we all do eventually: if his subjects were dead, they couldn't refuse his direction. And so was hatched one of the pioneers of stop-motion animation.
Last night, the Detroit Film Theatre at the DIA held a special presentation of a selection of Starewicz's animations, with music performed by Little Bang Theory live in the theater.
The program started with Starewicz's "The Cameraman's Revenge." Being a 100 year old film about a married beetle couple, I was expecting to be charmed, and maybe impressed with the early technology. What I was not expecting was for the piece to be downright hilarious. Who could have anticipated a grasshopperazzi?
The above does not, obviously, include the score created by Little Bang Theory. And that's a shame. Little Bang Theory performs some of the most charming, moving, delightful music I've ever heard. My first time seeing them was a few years ago at an event at the Opera House, I think it was, where several local acts had been invited to perform. Sitting in my theater seat, watching them at their little table covered in children's toys, I unexpectedly found myself moved to tears. To this day, I can't explain why — it's nothing as simple as being reminded of childhood and simpler times. Something much deeper and more layered is tapped into with their simple-seeming compositions.
Paired with the sometimes-funny, sometimes-surreal, sometimes-heartbreaking films, the combination was quite powerful. After pieces about insects celebrating Christmas, a couple of classic parables, and one about a nation of frogs begging Jupiter for a king (!), the program concluded with Starewicz's more well-known and beloved, "The Mascot."
His eye for detail, nuance, humor, timing, and storytelling was remarkable. As a result, unlike a lot of early films, "The Mascot" holds up today and is entirely watchable in its own right.
I tried to hold it together, and for the most part succeeded. But at the conclusion of "The Mascot," I caught a glimpse of the woman to my right brazenly and gleefully wiping the tears from her face. And I couldn't hold mine back.
Damn you, Little Bang Theory! You've done it to me again!
Included in the exhibition were the following films, all of which can be viewed online.
Cameraman's Revenge (1911)
The Insects' Christmas (1911)
The Ant and the Grasshopper (1911)
The Voice of the Nightingale (1923)
The Mascot (1933)