Friday, January 18, 2013

The Films of Segundo de Chomon

Segundo de Chomon was a contemporary of Georges Melies and like the French man he frequently made fantastical films. However where Mieles is considered a great master known the world over (He is a major mover in Scorsese’s Hugo), Chomon is largely forgotten. Two years ago at the New York Film Festival a retrospective of Segundo de Chomon films was held in connection with a talk about why he mattered. Sadly the talk and retrospective only ran about an hour and a half total, with all of his surviving films running just under five hours. After the NYFF retrospective SC fell into obscurity again.

In the United States Chomon’s films are almost impossible to see. Flicker Alley included one film that aped A Trip to the Moon in their Melies set, but other than that there seems to be no official release of his films outside of Spain. Unofficially there is You Tube and German War Films who have a set that, to the best of my knowledge collects every known scrap of film that has survived (It can be found here and is worth every penny of the 20 or so dollars)

I have the German War Film set and I’ve seen every film in it. Watching it over one long Sunday night I both couldn’t understand why Chomon wasn’t better known, and yet at the same time I can kind of understand why he’s fallen into obscurity.

I really like many of Chomon's’s films. Things like the Electric House, Ah! La Barba and La Boite a Cigar are marvelous pieces of fantastic filmmaking. He’s a man who was doing stop motion animation ages before anyone else. He was also making Melies like films that seemed much more natural in their setting. Melies tends to be stage bound productions where Chomon’s films could be small scale affairs set in rooms closer to reality.

The problem with Chomon is that while he did make fantastic films, he also did other things because he wanted to make a money. If you go through Chomon ‘s films you get a mix of fantastic and the mundane. There are numerous travelogues. Films that show a city or a canal or a park. They are quite beautiful, but at the same time they are run of the mill, beautifully shot but nothing in them makes you think they were done by anyone super special. And that's the problem because he was essentially copying either documentarians or Melies I don't think he ever found his own voice or style with the result he got clumped with other people or even had his work mislabeled as someone elses.

I think that Chomon is a great filmmaker. I think his stuff is amazing and worth tracking down  (Buy the German War Films set above). I don't think I would be hard pressed to argue that perhaps he was better on a technical level than Melies, however I don't think that his story telling or influence was greater. I think his striving to make a buck kept him from developing into a unique filmmaker, though the fact that he was so good at what he did kept him working on other peoples films including the work of Abel Gance on a little cinema milestone called Napoleon.

For more info on Chomon at Wikipedia click here.

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