Sunday, September 13, 2009

Early Superimpositions (1900, Frederick S. Armitage)

The following is a collection of three early shorts by American director Frederick S. Armitage, who here experiments with superimposition as a form of visual effect. All three are available on the "Unseen Cinema" box-set, in the volume "Viva La Dance: The Beginnings of Cine-Dance." Please note that, since I penned each of these reviews separately, there is some overlap of information. Davey Jones' Locker (1900)
USA, 1 min

Around the time that Georges Méliès was experimenting with superimposition and other optical effects to enhance his on-screen "stage acts," American director Frederick S. Armitage was testing similar techniques for manipulating cinematic reality. Davey Jones' Locker (1900) was produced for the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, and was created by double-printing two sets of images, originally filmed between 1896 and 1899, over each other. The result is that the two images – one a character (a dancing skeleton) and the other an environment (a shipwrecked boat in the waves) – appear to coexist with each other, the skeleton given the translucent weightlessness of a ghost or spirit. The film is an amusing curiosity, but lacks the complexity of contemporary Méliès efforts like The Four Troublesome Heads (1898) or The One-Man Band (1900).
Neptune's Daughters (1900)
USA, 1 min

Neptune's Daughters (1900) was produced by prolific early American director Frederick S. Armitage for the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company. The short film is notable for its early use of superimposition, double-printing images from Ballet of the Ghosts (1899) over an ocean landscape from Sad Sea Waves (1897). The result is that the four woman, draped in white, appear to emerge from the ocean like ghosts, before breaking into dance on top of the water surface. Armitage made a few of these short films and this is probably the least visually impressive of the three I've seen, though all are worthwhile for anybody interested in the early development of cinema's visual effects.
A Nymph of the Waves (1900)
USA, 1 min

Of the three ocean-themed cine-dance superimpositions directed by Frederick S. Armitage for the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, A Nymph of the Waves (1900) was the most impressive. The scenario is reasonably straightforward. Armitage superimposed existing footage of dancer Catarina Bartho (from the film M'lle. Cathrina Bartho (1899)) over the image of water from Upper Rapids, from Bridge (1896). The result is that the dancer appears to be performing a burlesque dance routine on the surface of the water, twirling and kicking as the waves appear to lap about her ankles. The effect is actually quite convincing, and the water flowing steadily from left to right creates the pleasant illusion of camera movement in the opposite direction.

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