Archivos mensuales: Mayo 2016




Starewitch arrived here, just where I am right now, in 1920. I have tried to imagine the landscape but I can’t. They, probably, understood nothing at all; didn’t speak French, and had no idea about the place; the city and its customs. Not google or Facebook, for sure! I prefer not to think about his first night there being, again in a new country; this time in a post-war situation. Despite this entire circumstance, he didn’t lose hope and he carried on working, went ahead with his personal projects, and found the way to feed his family.

I wonder how it would have been if he was an American, with the only obsession to fight for his puppets and his films, in a land where “war” was a Griffith film. But, he wasn’t. He was a Russian running away from death, literally struggling for survival, in a land where the blood of the fallen was still flowing in the streets.

We prefer to remember “the happy twenty” like a romantic moment full of prosperity and enthusiasm because that is more comfortable than feeling the desperation and pain before the mass killing of the war which produced the reaction so-called “happy twenty”. I can’t blame them, how could we do it? After the war, they had to carry on with their lives among the devastation, walking between millions of dead people. Millions of people had to resurrect from their own ashes. There wasn’t a single human being who had not lost some of his loved ones. So, they had to call the life back with all their strengths, and that was the “folly of the twenties.” It is better to focus in Charleston when you think about that time.

However, for a certain group of Russian people who were into filming, the situation was not the worst. Once in Paris, Ermolieff visited his old Pathé chief. On July 16, 1920, Pathé signed with Ermolieff a lease of Montreuil studio, along with a promise of sale in 52, rue du Sergent Bobillot, known today as “Albatros” cinema school. Ermolieff created Ermolieff-Cinéma, which became Films Albatros in 1922. It was a short, but interesting adventure. For a while, the Russian community made an oriental inspired cinema with splendorous decorations and costumes. Russian was in fashion in Paris for a moment in the middle of twenties’ folly. Starewitch made one animated film for this studio, The Scarecrow.


The first Pathe’s studio today used by  “Albatros” school cinema. 

Paris danced to Charleston, but it didn’t dance for long. In Joinville-le-Pont, the French cinema industry struggled for waking up again after the war. I am pretty sure that Starewitch knew the relevance of the French film companies at the moment when he arrived there with a mountain of other fellow Russian cinema workers. He was already a successful director, and I imagine that he hoped to have some opportunity in Europa with his work, although he had to learn to speak French and break through a period of adaptation. I suppose he went to Joinville-le-Pont, (sometimes, I ride my bicycle until there), in the first place because he probably knew the fame of the place, at that time known as ‘Little Hollywood’.
He built his own studio at his home, and with the help of his family, he quickly started working; making new puppets and new films while he worked taking pictures for Albatros films company, and also while working as a cameraman for others.

He made Le Mariage de Babylas Midnight Wedding, L’épouvantail, The Scarecrow, 1921, Les Grenouilles qui Demandent un Roi, The Frogs Who Wanted a King 1922, Amour Noir et Blanc, Love in Black and Bhite, 1923, and  La Voix du Rossignol,The Voice of the Nightingale, 1923. He was honoured with the Hugo Riesenfiels Medal “as the most novel short subject motion picture in the USA during the year” 1925  for his The Voice of the Nightingale.
In 1924, he made La Petite Chateuse des Rues,The Little Street Singer. In these films, he was assisted first by his daughter Irina (who had changed her name to Irène) who collaborated in all his films and dedicated her life to defend the rights of his father’s work. His wife, Anna Zimermann, made the costumes for the puppets and Jeane Starewitch (Nina Star) was the star for the most of his films (The Little Street Singer, The Queen of the Butterflies, The Voice of the Nightingale,and The Magical Clock etc). This year, Starewitch moved to Fontenay-sous-Bois, where he lived until his death in 1965. I guess he thought it would be easier to be closer to the Russian community in Montreuil. In fact, he was known for his generosity and hospitality, especially with refugees from the Soviet Union.

The rest of his films were made in Fontenay-sous-Bois. Among the most notable are The Eyes of the Dragon 1925, a Chinese tale with complex and wonderful sets and character design in which Starewitch shows his talent as a decoration artist and ingenious trick-filmmaker clearly influenced by the orientalist style that had been adopted by the Russian filmmakers community in Albatros studio. The Town Rat and the Country Rat, 1926, a parody of American slapstick films; The Magical Clock, 1928, a fairy-tale with amazing middle-age puppets and sets, with the music by Paul Dessau; Love in Black and White, 1928, the Hollywood expansion is clear through the presence of a puppet of Charlotte in the short,, and The Little Parade, from Andersen’s tale The Steadfast Tin Soldier.


The Romance of Renard or The Tale of the Fox the first stop-motion animation feature film ever and its production has its own amazing history. This point is a very important moment in the history of animation; it started in one era and finished in another. Everything had changed then, the sound, the colour. That Fox is a masterpiece lost in the middle of the fireworks of the new technologies. However, the meaning inside it has not timed, and, ironically, the story inside looks like a mirror of the changes that were happening in the animation world and with the film itself.

Six weeks after the premiere of The Little Parade, the sound was added by Louis Nalpas Company to the film. Starewitch started a collaboration with him, wishing to make a full-length feature film: Le Roman de Renard. It was 1928. That was the same year that Walt Disney released his Steamboat Willy showing a new path for sound cartoons. Nalpas not only wanted to produce a feature film with sound but with a stereoscopic process as well. It must have been a tough moment for Starewitch. Roger Richebé was the Nalpas partner and he had an agreement according to which he, the producer, had the right to the final cut.

I can feel how painful this part would have been for an artist like Starewitch. That historical
moment is not only remarkable for the personal life of Starewitch. It is also an important day in the cinema history because it means the end of the artistic independence, like at the end of Le Roman de Renard the fox loses his freedom to serve the king. Just like that from that day, the artist was not free ever again, not even the owner of his work, not in the business of cinema anymore.

Starewitch thought that “sound had supremacy over picture”. However, he understood that times were changing and there was nothing to do about it, and, overall, he was not able to do it all alone. Thus, despite his reluctance, he shot the film with sound finishing in 1931. Nalpas had chosen the process of post-recording on disc, but that technique was taken over quickly. That mistake put Nalpas in economic problems, and after that, he refused to finance the post recording of Le Roman de Renard . Starewitch brought the dispute to the court and as a result, he obtained the right to the movie, but five years had already passed by then, and he needed another producer.

Meanwhile, in 1930, in EEUU, Disney had given colour to animation with the success experiment of the Flowers and Trees, and an excellent entrepreneur as Disney was, he had the patent on the process for three years. This was an insurance for Disney, ensuring an important business advantage, and killing in one day the possibilities of other processes like hand-painted films. “Since the arrival of the colour, black and white movies are suddenly too old”, the British distributor of Starewitch will say.

Despite the film was finished long away, Starewitch and his fox had to wait until October 3, 1937, when, thanks an agreement with Berlin’s UFA , a German version of the Le Romance de Renard saw the light of day. This same year Disney conquered the world with his version of Snow White, changing the rules of the animation business forever.

On 10 April 1941, with the help of Roger Richebé, the film could be seen on French screens. However, the problems were not finished, not even then. The ending of the Fox was a considerate immoral for Franco and Benito Mussolini who banned the film in Spain and Italy. Starewitch has some problems as well, being criticised and under suspicious for his collaboration with UFA.

Le Romance de Renard was the third animated feature film to have sound, after Quirino Cristiani’s Peludópolis, 1931, and The New Gulliver, 1935 from the Soviet Union.

In 1933, Ladislas and Irene Starewitch produced and directed a long film which was greatly reduced, becoming Fetishe Mascotte, The Mascot, distributed in 1934. Starewitch made a contract with Marc Gelbart from Gelma Films to make a series with this character. It was intended to make 12 episodes, but because of economic reasons, only 5 were made between 1934 and 1937 and were distributed in the entire world. These were Fétiche Prestidigitateur, The Ringsmaster, 1934, Fétiche se marie, The Mascot’s Wedding, 1935, Fétiche en Voyage de Noces, The Navigator, 1936, and Fétiche et Les Sirens ,The Mascot and the Mermaids, 1937. However, these episodes were not released because sound could not be added. There was also an unfinished film, Fétiche père de Famille The Mascot and his Family, 1938. In 1954, L. Starewitch conceived The Hangover, using the images not included in The Mascot.


Léona Béatrice Martin-Starewitch, his granddaughter, and her husband, François Martin started the reconstruction of the original movie from multiple copies of The Mascot distributed in the United Kingdom and the USA, the negative of The Hangover, and material from the personal archives of Starewitch. In 2012, the negative called “LS 18” has found recovering its length and montage from 1933. It was named “Fetish 33-12”.

In 1946, Starewitch tried to make The Midsummer Night’s Dream but abandoned the project due to financial problems. Next year, he made Zanzabelle a Paris adapted from a story by Sonika Bo. In 1949, he met Alexandre Kamnka, Alkam Films, an old Russian friend, who produced Starewitch’s first colour film, Fleur de Fougère, Fern Flower. It won the first prize as an animated film in the 11th International Children Film Festival in Venice Biennale.

After the success, he started a collaboration with Sonika Bo to adapt another of her stories, like Gazouilly petit oiseau , Gazouilly the Small Bird, and Un Dimanche de Gazouillis, Gazouillis’s Sunday Picnic. Still working with Alkam films, Starewitch made Nose to Wind. That year, his wife Anna died. Due to the success of the previous film, Winter Carrousel was made, starring the bear Patapouf, the protagonist, and the rabbit going through seasons. This was his last completed film. All his family collaborated on it, as remembers his granddaughter Léona Béatrice, whose hands could be seen in animation tests from Like Dog and Cat, Starewitch’s unfinished film.


Ladislas Starewitch died on 26 February, 1965 while working on Comme Chien et Chat, Like Dog and Cat. He was one of the few European animators to be known by his name in America before the 1960s, largely on account of La Voix du Rossignol and Fétiche Mascotte because The Tale of the Fox was not widely distributed in the US. Filmmaker Terry Gilliam ranks The Mascot among the ten best-animated movies of all time.

He held all his puppets during all his life. A lot of them, after being starred in a film became secondary characters in others. For instance, in Fétiche Mascotte, 1933 there are puppets from The Scarecrow, The Little Parade, and The Magical Clock. And that is the reason because it is still possible to watch his work today. I cannot avoid wondering how he did it to come here from Russia with them in those circumstances. They are just the same that stand in front of my camera today, still playing his song, smiling like the forgotten Norma Desmon in Sunset Boulevard only for me. I cannot believe these puppets are watching me today just in front of my very eyes!

In 1923, The Voice of the Nightingale had a remarkable answer from the USA audiences. It was so successful that Starewitch received an offer to work there for the film industry. But Americans asked him to produce 1500 metres of film every month. While he was making 120 metres max on his own. If he accepted he would have had to give up his working system, adopting a new one following the modern Taylor philosophy. That meant loose the personal control over every part of the production, and of course, forget to work together with the rest of the family members. He could have won millions becoming a famous and rich Hollywood producer. He could have written a different history of animation. But he did not. That condition was impossible for him to accept. He could not renounce to make every puppet by himself; every shoot and every cut. Nina star could have been a rival for Shirley Temple, and maybe Starewitch thought about that, not like a dream, but a nightmare. Films will be not a game anymore for them, and he preferred to have a life than to have a place in the big Hollywood. And for that, I feel a deep admiration for you, Mr Starewitch.

People like Starewitch loved what they did, and I really believe that they did it because that was what they were, and they were not able not to be. They were consistent and loyal with themselves. They had to do it. That was an answer to them; that is the sense of the artist’s lives. It was personal and for his honesty with themselves, they became valued for the rest of us.

Nowadays we teach our youngest that there is only one, absolute and unique goal in the life and it is the same for all of us; be famous and rich. It is for this that we teach names, dates, and numbers. “He was famous, he was the first, he was the best” because that is what you have to be. We don’t teach to love life itself, the act of creation itself; we are not helping the youngest to understand themselves or how to discover their own, personal, private and unique path making creations through  which share their personal world.

We are telling only the half part of the history, and with that, we are stealing from the new generations the opportunity to know about the reality of life and about themselves. For this, they think that all, out of a computer program, is already done. But it is not.
Ladislas Starewitch is buried in the beautiful Fontenay sous Bois cemetery with his wife Anna and his two beloved daughters. Just a ten-minute walk from my house. He lies under his Russian name, Wladyslaw Starewicz.


When the sun shines, I like to walk to visit them. I put some water in their plants while I imagine all of them still making puppets with the clouds. To arrive at them you have to pass before close to the World War deaths. It is impossible do not wonder how the human being can be at once as amazing as cruel and stupid. I do not know.


Léona Béatrice Martin-Starewitch, his granddaughter, and her husband, François Martin works still today to hold fresh the important and beautiful heritage of him. Here you can see their official website.

Rest in peace Mr Starewitch and family, you deserve it. Very thanks for your amazing  work and his “never give up”  heritage.

Only Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam know how much they owe to Starewitch work without which works like Nightmare before Christmas did not exist.

I have read a lot about the surrealism in Starewitch’s work. But if you ask me I tell you that his work is full of symbolic meanings and deep sense. If you want to know about it, let me explain in the next post,


See the pictures of the post in the Instagram count of #pllTHEBIRTHOFSTOPMOTION


My gratitude to Isabel, responsible of this amazing meeting.

Sometimes life kisses us in the mouth, in a surprise. And that is the most beautiful day.

Usually, most of the articles are written by filling them with dates, names and places that can easily be found online. But, I always wonder what kind of information  the reader can achieve with that.

To me, names, dates, and numbers are almost impossible to be remembered . However, I never forget a  man’s story, and that feeling I get when I understand his work. It is not possible to appreciate someone’s work if you know nothing about the author. I love to study about stories, fantasies and narratives because I really believe that every meaning of human life is in there. We need to realise that these meanings are the basement of the human soul.




A couple of days ago, Isabel, a friend, invited me to visit the local village’s museum, Nogent Sur Marne Museum. She insisted. I am a writer, so I am always curious. You never know what is around the next corner waiting to surprise you. The Nogent Sur Marne Museum is a little space with some pictures from the XIX century given by the local generosity, showing country scenes.


At this moment, and until 31th May, there is a small temporary exhibition about the history of the cinema in the area; I will share that interesting part with you some other day.

Here is the web of the museum of Nogent Sur Marne.

I walked to the end of the exhibition where a small space hides a surprise inside a couple of glass cases. Like some lost treasure from a pirate’s map, quietly protected behind the glasses a century old piece of animation looked at me silently. I could not believe what was before my very eyes! The old Lion Queen herself from the Tale of the Fox, Le Romand de Renard, 1930, joined by her loyal troubadour cat who carries on playing and singing his sweet love song always close to his beloved queen.

….. You know how much I love you, meow, meow, I won’t go away, meow, meow, as you know, you own my heart give me yours. Tonight, in the moonlight with ecstasy, meow, meow, I want to say you’re my only love, meow…..

I still can hear the magical sound coming from the cat’s instrument.
They are not alone, with them are a couple of rats from The Town Rat and the Country Rat, 1926; some diabolic creatures from the hell from the glorious The Mascot, 1934, and a couple of insects from earlier legendary films like The Cameraman’s Revenge, 1912– a century old.

Like an old Norma Desmond walking down through the stairs, shining again for a second under the camera lights, at the end of the (also forgotten)
Sunset Boulevard, these old puppets pose for my camera-phone smiling again as if the times of their greatest moments had come back (thanks to my honest admiration).

I wish to ask them for an autograph, have the opportunity to sit down and talk. I cannot even imagine what kind of amazing things these old puppets could explain if they could talk. I would give a hand to have the opportunity to take pictures of these puppets properly, making them sparkle again.

I was a professional photographer once, and now I feel like a child putting the objective of my spontaneous camera in front of the display trying desperately to steal a smile from these old characters that I know well from years ago. Just as if I was five, and that was a shop window in Christmas, and I was wishing the toys inside would be mine but now I know that I can have them. I have come back a couple of times to visit them again at the museum, only to be sure that I was actually watching the real ones.

Ladislas Starewitch is a man to be remembered, and today I want to honour him, one of the main, but forgotten, master of animation and cinema the world has ever known.


Well, guys, I have the pleasure of introducing you to the real father of STOP MOTION !

Ladislas Alexandrowitch Starewitch was born on 8th of August, 1882 in Moscow. Son of Alexandre Starewicz and Antonina Legiecka, members of the small Polonaise aristocracy from a village then called Surviliskis in Lituania, then part of the Russian Empire. Alexandre, his father, took part in the January Insurrection of 1863, and because of that, he had to go into exile to Moscow, where Ladislas was born. After the death of his mother and his sister’s too, his father decided to send him to live with his maternal grandfather in Kaunas where he grew up in a feminine universe. Probably was there where his love for fairy tales started.

I imagine him like a little stubborn kid, expelled from school because he was too independent; and he had a critical mind. Interested in almost everything, he was a self-taught man; always curious, always wanted to prove and taste everything. He knew pretty well what he wanted and he was always ready for doing whatever was necessary to achieve it.

Later it was in Kaunas, Lithuania, where he got married to Anna Zimmermann, and where his first daughter was born , Irina- his future assistant director, and his passion for cinema.
The director of the Kovno Ethnography Museum, Tadas Daugirdas, asked him to photograph the countryside and film folk ceremonies. There, he shot his very first live-action film, Beyond the River Niemen, in 1909. In 1910, he became director of the museum as well. Starewitch carried on making films, sometimes ethnographies, and sometimes about the life of the insects like Zukow Walka, The Dragonfly life in 1909. Always with the support of Daugirdas, he decided to make a film about a combat between the beetles Lucanus cervix with a pedagogic objective for the museum. But that kind of insects have a night life and they did not always want to fight in front of the camera; other times they simply died under the intense lights of the stage.


At that time, cinema was as young as extended  everywhere, especially French cinema.France was the motherland of the invention and in the first decade of the 1900s, the French companies, like Gaumont and Pathé, were the kings of the business, known all around the world. In 1907, Pathé had a Russian branch in Moscow. There, Joseph N. Ermolieff was hired as a projectionist to later become director of Pathé-Russia. Pathé, Gaumont and Eclair hoarded until 1910-11 75% of the films produced and distributed in Russia. Emile Cohl, so called the Father of the animation, became a start for Gaumont; later he worked for Pathé, both of them with an office in Russia at that moment. Thus, it’s not surprising that Starewitch watched Emile Cohl’s rudimentary but effective 2D animation work  and a stop motion animation made out of paper cuts in the local cinema.
That was an inspiration for Starewitch and his beetle problem; he decided to work with the dead beetles filling them with wires so he would be able to move them like Cohl animated the paper cuts in his film. Then, with the patience of Jacob, and some dead beetles filled with wires, he produced a film, shooting picture by picture. That innovative way of moving his characters meant the birth of a new kind of cinema making. Piękna Lukanida, Lucanus Cervus in 1910 was his first movie. The Stop Motion Animation had been born!


Animated by the success of his first film, Starewitch wrote and directed his first scripts. Until the beginning of the war, there were three companies that dominated the Russian market: the Russian subsidiary of Pathé, Thiman & Reinhardt, and Kanzhonkov.

Kanzhonkov was the most important pre-revolutionary cinema entrepreneur. From a newspaper publication Aleksandr Khanzhonkov, the most relevant Russian director and producer of films at that moment, found out that a certain young clerk in Lithuania had been taking prizes for fancy Christmas dresses made of wrappings and hay. Not knowing exactly what it could come out of this offer, Khanzhonkov immediately invited Starevich to Moscow. Starewitch worked with him until the Revolution of  October forces both of them to leave the country.

This was a great period. Starewitch made two dozen films; most of them animating dead animals as a puppets. La Bella Lucanide 1912 inspired by the opera bouffe, The Beautiful Helena by Jacques Offenbach, gave him international fame. The result was above all expectations – many of the viewers were convinced that the insects on the screen were real trained beetles.
And after that, The Ant and the Grasshopper, a version of the Aesop’s fables, was the first film produced by a Russian company and distributed around the world. More than 140 copies were made. Zar Nicolas II offered a reward to Aleksandr Khanzhonkov who worked on it as the producer, and to Starewitch as director, which allowed him to go ahead with his work and have a better live. That was the first time the Zar gave such an honour to anybody. It was a remarkable success.
In 1912, he had his own movie studio inside his home in Moscow. Working with Khanzhonkov as the producer, he makes The Revenge of a Kinematograph Cameraman, 1912, the best-known film of this period.

It was a beautiful time for him. His second daughter, Jeanne, who would be known as Nina Star for being the main star of most of his films, was born in 1913.
I love watching this little girl in Starewitch’s movies. I can  imagine the whole family working on it together. The mother made the costumes for the puppets. The sister was the assistant director and she was the main actress. Everyone had a role in this game. That is a great childhood.

During those years, he worked with real actors as well, and made live action films but, unfortunately, not one of those films survived. When the World War I broke out, he had already directed more than twenty films with some of the most famous Russian actors of that era, like Ivan Mozzhukhim. Particularly remarkable is The Night Before Christmas, 1913 that is an adaptation of the Nikolai Gogol story. His film Terrible Vengeance, 1913 won a gold medal at an international festival in Milan in 1914, being one of the five films which won awards among 1005 contestants.


The start of the twenty century was a hard time. Everything was changing; new countries like EEUU were emerging; new technologies; new communication systems; new philosophies, and new working class system too. New revolutionary ideas were springing up everywhere. It was a convulsion. In 1914, the first global war in the history breaks up, and in 1917, the Russian Revolution. The revolution hampered Khanzhonkov’s business. Ladislas Starewitch lost his comfortable life and tried to go ahead by working for other diverse producers. In Russia, the situation became hard day by day and Starewitch, like thousands of other cinema workers, decided to go out of the country in 1918. In 1920, the Red Army won and Lenin set implementation of a decree on the nationalisation of film industries. The studio team of Ermolieff, the old chief of Pathé branch, decided to go to France, via Constantinople.

Starewitch left Moscow in 1918, going to Odessa first, and then to Yalta, Crimea, where Khanzhonkov had also gone to. But before the Red Army conquered Crimea, he decided to go to Italy. It was not too long when he opted to go to Paris like thousands of Russians did.


After the January Insurrection, 1863 a big number of Russian refugees had gone to France; to the Paris suburbs. In the 1880’s there were an estimated 5,000 Russian emigrants in or near the French Capital. Maybe because of that, after the new revolutionary moment, Russians turned their eyes to Paris again. On the other hand, before the World War I, this area was the European Hollywood, thus made a lot of sense that the community of Russian cinema workers decided to choose the place.

In 1922, there were approximately 70,000 Russian exiles in France, and the number reached a peak of 175,000 in 1930. Starewitch and his family arrived in 1920, to Joinville-le-Pont first, also called “the little Hollywood”, the most important centre of French cinema production at that moment, but finally he settles in Fontenay-sous-Bois, which is really close to  where I am living right now. He lived in Fontenay until his death in 1965.

It was then when Владисла́в Алекса́н дрович Старе́вич, or Vladislavas Starevičius, changed his name to Ladislas Starevitch, as it was easier to pronounce in French and in English. However, he used to sign with Starewitch, that being the reason I am using this version. I saw his signature and I prefer to respect his own way.


I am pretty sure that I am walking the same streets that Starewitch did. Since I met his puppets, I look for him in every corner. I can imagine his arrival. The Spanish and the French are “cousins”. All of us are Latins, sons of the Romans. Our cathedral, our medieval streets and our passion for food is the same. However, I am an outsider here, an outlander. My problems are things like pointing my finger at the right cake in the bakery or not feeling too ridiculous trying to pronounce correctly the few French words that I know when I need it.

How it would have been if you were Russian, in a world just after a world war, almost one hundred years ago, I wonder. That I cannot imagine.
I have been a script teacher for a while. I have always felt that when we are teaching dates, names, and places, we are not actually “teaching” anything at all. When you tell the young ones that “Starewitch was the father of the stop motion” they feel invidious and small. “Starewitch and the others were great men, you are not”; this is what they hear. Nobody is showing them the real, human part of the history. Looks like one day someone wakes up and become the most famous director ever; invents stop motion; builds Disneyland from nowhere, or discover the relativity because today is the day. Being famous is the only thing that is important nowadays. Some idiot will call it “success”. But life is a process; a complicated, private and long one. And money is only a tool, not a goal. Unfortunately, we are hiding this part as if it was something dirty and shameful. However, if you ask me, this part is the only really interesting one.


See the pictures of the post in the Instagram count of the #pllTHEBIRTHOFSTOPMOTION

New pictures appear every day!