Friday, December 21, 2012

The Insects' Christmas (Shitmas-Log Supplemental)

"The Insects' Christmas" is a Russian stop-motion animated short from 1913. The film was made by entomologist/puppet maker/animator Ladislav Starevich who studied insects in such great detail that he dissected and pulled apart every appendage and reconstructed their fragile bodies into malleable stop-motion puppets. Starevich did this to photograph and study their movements. The story of this particular short is a fairly tale involving Father Christmas spreading holiday cheer to everyone, even the smallest of creatures. The "Insects' Christmas" is just under 7 minutes so please join me after the jump to watch the film and discuss this child's story turned nightmare in more detail:

The short is beautifully made. The animation bestows great character and expression onto the creatures. Father Christmas' creation of the Christmas Tree is definitely a "how the hell did they do that?" moment. The matte paintings and sets are wonderfully drawn, giving the short a strange depth and an odd realism. "The Insects' Christmas" is first and foremost a children's film and it works very well at creating whimsical and humorous moments, but the characters themselves are just so fucking frightening! The character of Father Christmas resembles a zombie from an '80s Italian horror film with his corpse grey face and pupil-less eyes and then of course there are the insects. They move beautifully, especially the beetles. The way they roll around in the snow is genuinely funny. BUT THEY ARE REAL BUGS! Animals acting like humans in cartoons are always designed with human-like characteristic or at least softer features. People love big round eyes, chubby circular faces and for some reason animals that wear gloves (pants are optional). Real insects that move like people are pretty horrific and the dancing frog looks identical to the frog Thomas Bryce and I dissected back in High School. It even has that "left in formaldehyde" stiffness that assures its low ranking on Dancing with the Stars.

Comrade Starevich had a larger vision for his films. They were a teaching tool for children about the natural world and that answers the question about the real bugs. And honestly, without them the short would be far less interesting. I have watched the film 4 times already and it keeps drawing me back in. "The Insects' Christmas" is equal parts light-hearted kids stuff and unsettling experimental cinema, a perfect Shitmas discovery.

The End

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