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The Forgotten: Furniture Moving

A man loses his furniture to his creditors, but, animated by its own will, it returns to him, in this early part-animation by Émile Cohl.

Very nicely restored edition of Émile Cohl's Mobilier fidèle (The Faithful Furnishings, 1910, sometimes known as The Automatic Moving Company).

Cohl was one of the very first movie cartoonists. His earliest shorts, notably Fantasmagorie (1908) used line drawings to capitalize on animation's ability to make one figure morph magically into another. The stick figure characters, white lines on black, are pretty crude. Eventually he discovered cut-out animation, which was less fluid but allowed for very detailed drawings (since you don't have to draw a dozen new images per second), showing what a fine illustrator he could be.

But it didn't take Cohl long to discover the idea of combining animation with live action (as Segundo de Chomón was also doing). Animation becomes just another special effect, as in many modern films. We do it with CGI, he did it by having props, whether it was snapping false teeth, or as here, furniture, move about among live actors (who generally hold still until the stop-frame action is over).

A nice, nightmarish little film. Though the rebellious piano, carpet, etc., are just being loyal to their original householder, they exert considerable malevolence towards the folks who think they own them. I'm reminded of David Bowie's Berlin period, where the drugs he'd been on caused him to imagine the furniture moving around the room whenever his back was turned. There's also a touch of Polanksi's Repulsion and Lynch's Eraserhead to this show.

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The Forgotten is a regular Thursday column by David Cairns, author of Shadowplay.

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