Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Mad About Ladislas

The amazing animated films of Ladislas Starewitch (also sometimes spelled Starevich, Starewich, or Starewicz, perhaps other ways too) are among my favorite later-life discoveries. Like many Americans of my generation, I was first exposed to his work by the late-lamented USA Network program NIGHT FLIGHT, which frequently showed longer or shorter excerpts from his charming yet macabre masterpiece "The Mascot" (1933), which somehow became known among those of us who saw this unlabelled fragment as "The Devil's Ball."

I'm not certain how my subsequent education in Starewitch unfolded, but it was probably through the legitimate VHS, laserdisc, and DVD releases, such as THE CAMERAMAN'S REVENGE AND OTHER FANTASTIC TALES. Adding a delicious layer of complexity to his legacy was the chance inclusion of his short live action film "The Portrait" (1914) as a bonus on the Ruscico DVD of Aleksandr Ptushko's THE VIY, a silent work that laid the groundwork for the great frisson of THE RING and remains a goosebumper in its own right. I'm always eager to see and learn more about this amazing pioneer of the fantastic cinema.

Last week, I discovered by chance that a number of Starewitch compilations had been issued on DVD in France (with English subtitles!), so I popped over to Amazon.fr to see what was available. Unfortunately, most of these releases now appear to be out of print... but I did discover, to my surprise, that a book about Starewitch's work had been published in France in September 2003 and remains available. I promptly ordered a copy of LADISLAS STAREWITCH (1882-1965) by Léona Béatrice and François Martin (pictured), and it arrived here in no time. It's a nice, thick paperback -- written in French, of course -- but it appears to be extremely well researched, and it contains a complete filmography and other lists of great value to scholars, regardless of how well they speak or read the language. One of the appendices compares different versions of the short animated film "The Cameraman's Revenge," and includes some intertitles in English. The only drawback is that this book about a supremely visual artist contains no photographs.

Evidently unavailable at present are the DVD releases of Starewitch's LE MONDE MAGIQUE, and LE ROMAN DE RENARD (TALE OF THE FOX, a feature), which are still pictured at Amazon.fr. I've also noticed DVD-Rs of three other titles -- TALE OF THE FOX, LADISLAS STAREWICZ FANTASIES and THE MAGIC WORLD OF LADISLAS STAREWICZ, all with English subtitles -- which an eBay seller is presently auctioning. It occured to me, in my desperation, that some of this blog's readers may have copies of these discs they wouldn't mind making available to me at a friendlier rate than the $25 per DVD-R that this fellow has set. If you do, I'm very interested; please write me via the Contact link found at the top of the right-side column.

In my searches, I found this fascinating Starewitch website, which includes some actual animation samples. Worth visiting.

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