Sunday, January 27, 2013

Beyond the Black Maria: "Little Nemo"

"Little Nemo", 1911. (public domain)

18. "Little Nemo" (1911) Watch
One trend in the brief history of cinema is relatively quick evolutions. In only the last decade, we've seen almost an absolute eclipse, at least in the US, of hand-drawn animation by the sparkling juggernaught that is CGI, led by the galactic success of Pixar and to a lesser extent Dreamworks. Not since the advent of commercially viable talkies in 1927 all but wiped out silent films has there been such a rapid and monumental shift in the business of moviemaking.
"Little Nemo" is metafictional. The short film consists mostly of live-action scenes depicting New York Herald cartoonist Winsor McCay trying to convince a group of his colleagues that the Little Nemo comic strip which he created can be adapted into moving pictures. We see him toil away at his drawing table cartoonishly surrounded by stacks of hundreds of sheets of paper which will make up his animated film. The story culminates after a month's time when McCay shows off his efforts in 2 minutes of well drawn but crudely animated characters from his comic strip. Not only is this film an early example of animation, but also the genre of films about filmmaking, and given that it was adapted from an existing comic strip, it could also be considered the first comic book movie. It's really somewhat astonishing just how rapidly the very new medium of cinema began to change and grow even in the first decades of its existence. What an excited time to call oneself a filmmaker, when there were really no rules and the future of the art form must have been a Wild West of endless possibilities. 

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