Sunday, 18 March 2012

Profile: Ladislaw Starewicz

(Figure 1: Ladislaw Starewicz)

Starting out using many 'unorthodox' methods in order to create stop-motion animation films such as dead insects before moving on to create his own models and humanoid puppets, Ladislaw Starewicz grew up in Russia where his interest in traditional animation and the visual arts swiftly took flight. This ultimately lead up to his recognition as a film director in the 20th century when he began to work on stop-motion animation in 1910. The director started out with the strange technique of using dead insects to portray the actors. The use of simple, human-like motion in such simple creatures gives the audience much more to relate to. His first animated film using this techniques was 'Cameraman's Revenge', created in 1912, which used the real life dead bodies of insects in order to create an uncanny realism to the characters.

"From this he developed an array of techniques which he most successfully employed in The Cameraman’s Revenge, a landmark film that offered a template for future animators. So real was the film to audiences that some reviewers thought Starewicz had trained insects to “perform” for the camera." (Paul Gallagher, 2010)

The color-scheme the film uses ranges from a variety of three colors, red, orange and blue, each set clearly identified by the aid of the color scheme. This may have been used to appeal to a younger audience; Starewicz's films were often created with a young audience in mind, but due to the animator's style, by today's standards they would appear to be dream-like and nightmarish with somewhat grotesque looking characters in abstract situations. E. H. Larson discusses this: 

"Starevitch's film "The Mascot" contains some of the darkest, most disturbing, imagery ever created for the cinema, and is practically guaranteed to unsettle the dreams of any viewer, regardless of their age. Starevitch is perhaps the only animator of his generation who surpassed the nightmarish qualities of the darkest elements found in the early cartoon features from the Walt Disney Studios."  (E. H. Larson, 1999)

 It is not certain whether or not his films where in fact tending towards an adult of a young audience due to the fact that they remain uncannily in the center borderline between a disturbing nightmare world or a child's daydream. Plenty of today's animation has the same quality, particularly found in the style that Tim Burton uses in his stop-motion animation films.

Moving on from his deceased insects, Starewicz's puppets included anthropomorphic characters, sometimes with the least amount of human identity in them at all, creating a grisly appearance of, for example, a realistic, dead frog.

"The Mascot", released in 1934 is widely identified as his best-known film and the film in which he truly lets his nightmarish style shine. The fairly simple plot serves merely as a scape-goat in order for Starewicz to reveal his talent with stop-motion animation in its full glory, experimenting with new techniques all the while.

The storyline follows a group of toys who have been separated from their owner, who is at the mercy of scurvy, and their adventures to get back home, all while the main character, a toy dog named Duffy puts his own life at risk to acquire an orange to cure her. 

Starewicz's dreamy and uncanny style is prominent throughout the film, sometimes taking a turn towards something we'd see in a nightmare, especially at the Devil's ball where an all manner of weird creatures feature some screen time. His films are well-known for their dark humor in child-like situations and this film has no shortage of that.


Fig 1 Ladislaw Starewicz (<no date>) (Accessed 18/03/12)


Larson, E. H. (1999) (Accessed 18/03/12)

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