Acquiring the Lumiere patents, the French company Pathe quickly rose to dominate the film industry in the early days of cinema. Around this time (1908), Pathe invented the newsreel, which came to supplant the actuality films as the leading form of documentary on film. Most people saw a newsreel prior to a feature film from about 1910 into the 1960’s.
While Pathe made every type of film, their fantasy trick films from the first decade of the 20th Century are most memorable. There was a loss of cross-fertilization of ideas in those days, so Pathe copied Georges Melies, and Melies copied Pathe. We have already screened films in this series by Edison in America and Hepworth in Britain that were modeled on Pathe films.
Segundo de Chomon was a Spanish director who made a name for himself with the fantasy trick films that he did for Pathe. He is sometimes called “the Spanish Melies.” In fact, one of the films he made for Pathe in 1908 was a virtual copy of Melies’ A Trip to the Moon from 1902. Melies’ shot of the spaceship stuck in the face of the Man in the Moon is legendary, whereas de Chomon has the moon swallowing the bullet-shaped vehicle.
El hotel electrico (The Electric Hotel), remarkably preserved for a film that was once believed to be lost, is a dazzling experiment in stop motion photography, and one of the first examples of pixelation in cinema (where the actors themselves have to be positioned for the stop motion effects, as if they were inanimate objects.) The plot shows a man and a woman checking into a hotel, whereupon their luggage runs off by itself, up the stairs, and unpacks itself. Later, the man gets his boots blacked and the woman her hair done by brushes and other objects that move about on their own. The film ends with the joke that all is being controlled by a power room somewhere in the hotel, and the wrong switches get pulled, throwing everything into hilarious mayhem for the finale.
Such stop motion effects were (and still are) labor-intensive, so you do not see them that often in early cinema. That didn’t stop L. Frank Baum from putting a stop motion sequence in one of his Oz films from 1914 that is very reminiscent of The Electric Hotel. Unfortunately, Baum’s films were not well-distributed and lost money, so most people didn’t get to see them back when they were released.