For animation buffs it's a must, but you don't have to be a specialist to enjoy The Cameraman's Revenge, a very early example of 'pixilation' by the hard-working pioneer Wladyslaw Starewicz. Starewicz and his helpers painstakingly manipulated a cast of flexible insect figures to tell this story, paving the way for the likes of Willis O'Brien, George Pal, Ray Harryhausen, and legions of modern digital effect creators.
The Cameraman's Revenge is only about 10 minutes long, but offers lots of amusing detail as the story follows the amorous adventures of two beetles from their home to a nightclub, a hotel, a cinema, and, eventually, a prison cell. There are two brief dance numbers at the nightclub performed by a frog and a dragonfly, a scuffle between a beetle and a grasshopper, and, for the finale, a large-scale donnybrook at the cinema, which ends with the projector bursting into flames. Pretty elaborate goings-on for 1912, when even John Bray and Winsor MacCay were just getting started, and Walt Disney was still in grade school!
This film, which is silent of course, also provides an interesting example of the impact title cards can have on the story being told. I've seen two versions of this film offered by two video companies, and watched them back-to-back, and although the image content itself is almost identical the title cards tell two very different stories. (And the plot outline someone provided on this film's IMDb page tells a third version of the tale, which suggests that there's another version out there somewhere.) The British Film Institute's print, which has rhyming title cards, tells the story of two sibling beetles, each secretly married, who hide this information from one another in order to inherit their late father's fortune. The Russian version tells a simpler story of a pair of beetles married to each other who are both guilty of infidelity. In the Russian version Mr. Beetle visits his girlfriend at the "Gay Dragonfly" nightclub, while in the English version brother Bill Beetle visits his wife at the music-hall. Personally, I prefer the straightforward-- and spicier --Russian story; the BFI version tries to cram too much plot into what should be a simple tale, and some of the rhymes are a bit awkward.
In any case The Cameraman's Revenge is a delightful and imagination film in whatever version you happen to find, and it would make an ideal lead-in to that other great animated work featuring beetles, Yellow Submarine.
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