The genius of Segundo de Chomón

Une Excursion Incohérente (1909)

For some while we have been bemoaning the lack of a DVD of the work of Segundo de Chomón, the brilliant Spanish trick filmmaker from the 1900s period, whose work is frequently compared to that of Georges Méliès. Examples of his work ripped from a VHS of unclear history can be found online in assorted places, but at last we can report the publication of an official DVD, Segundo de Chomón, el cine de la fantasía.

Produced by the FilmoTeca de Catalunya, and with films taken from the collections of the BFI, CNC Archives du Film, Eye, La Cineteca del Friuli and others, the multi-region DVD contains 31 titles (144 minutes of film), with an original music score by Joan Pineda. There is a booklet, Segundo de Chomón: Más allá del cine de las atracciones 1902-1912, written by Joan M. Minguet, author of the main work on de Chomón, Segundo Chomón. El cinema de la fascinació (2009). There are subtitles available in Catalan, Spanish and English.

The films are:

Los Héroes del Sitio de Zaragoza (1905)
L’Hereu de Can Pruna (1904)
Barcelone, Parc au Crépuscle (1904)
Le Roi de Dollars (1905)
Plongeur Fantastique (1905)
Ah! La Barbe (1905)
Les Cent Trucs (1906)
Le Courant Électrique (1906)
L’Antre de la Sorcière (1906)
Le Spectre Rouge (1907)
La Boîte à Cigars (1907)
Les Oeufs de Pâques (1907)
Sculpteur Express (1907)
Les Tulipes (1907)
En Avant la Musique (1907)
Kiriki, Acrobates Japonais (1907)
La Maison Ensorcelée (1907)
Les Lunatiques (1908)
Les Papillons Japonais (1908)
L’Insaisissable Pickpocket (1908)
Création de la Serpentine (1908)
Electric Hôtel (1908)
Le Petit Poucet (1909)
Le Voleur Invisible (1909)
Voyage sur Jupiter (1909)
Le Théatre Electrique de Bob (1909)
Une Excursion Incohérente (1910)
Gérone, la Venise Espagnole (1912)
Superstition Andalouse (1912)
Métamorphoses (1912)
Barcelone, Principale Ville de la Catalogne (1912)

Segundo de Chomón (1871-1929) became involved in film through his wife, who was an actress in Pathé films. In 1902 he became a concessionary for Pathé in Barcelona, distributing its product in Spanish-speaking countries, and managing a factory for the colouring of Pathé films. He began shooting actuality films of Spanish locations for the company, then 1905 moved to Paris where he became a trick film specialist. The body of work he created over five years was outstanding. Films such as Le Spectre Rouge, Kiriki – Acrobates Japonais, Le Voleur Invisible and Une Excursion Incohérente are among the most imaginative and technically accomplished of their age. De Chomón created fantastical narratives embellished with ingenious effects, gorgeous colour, innovative hand-drawn and puppet animation, tricks of the eye that surprise and delight, and startling turns of surreal imagination (see, for example, the worms that crawl out of a chocolate cake in Une Excursion Incohérente, one of a number of films where visitors or tourists are beset by nightmarish haunted buildings, a favourite de Chomón theme).

It is curious why he is not generally known as one of the early cinema masters, except among the cognoscenti in the field. Perhaps it is because there is a smaller body of work than that created by Georges Méliès (his works can perhaps be described as a cross between that of Méliès and another who combined trickery with animation, Emile Cohl); perhaps it is because he was a Spaniard working in France for the key part of his film career that has meant that neither side has championed him as much as they might have done. De Chomón carried on as a filmmaker, specialising in trick effects, working for Pathé, Itala and others, and contributing effect work to two of the most notable films of the silent era, Pastrone’s Cabiria (1914) and Abel Gance’s Napoléon (1927). Perhaps the publication of Segundo de Chomón, el cine de la fantasía will bring hilm back into the spotlight that his genius undoubtedly merits.

Le Théatre Electrique de Bob (Bob’s Electric Theatre), from UCLA’s YouTube channel, where it is dated 1906 though this is apparently the 1909 version of the film also on the DVD (see UCLA’s Silent Animation site)

Another example of Segundo de Chomón’s work to be found legitimately online is on the Europa Film Treasures site, the ingenious Les Kiriki – Acrobates japonais (1907).

(A question to those who might know – the DVD seems to be derived from the earlier VHS set, maybe from the 1980s, examples of which you can find draped all over YouTube. Can anyone confirm this?)

6 responses

  1. The films included in the dvd came from newly restored prints -that’s what Filmoteca de Catalunya says. Some of this new pristine prints in 35mm have been shown in Barcelona and New York, as far as I know.
    The origin of those obscure VHS is quite simple, I guess. There is a kind of internal edition in VHS of all Segundo de Chomón’s films preserved at Filmoteca de Catalunya. This was somehow made public in Barcelona as Filmoteca de Catalunya’s Library has a dvd copy of the 3 original VHS. Here you can find the films included:
    http://beg.gencat.net/cgi-bin/vtls/vtls.web.gateway?bib=0309-49460&conf=080033++++++++++++++
    I think that Minguet’s book will be (if it’s not yet) published also in English translation.
    And there’s another delicious Chomón film in Europa Film Treasures: Pickpocket ne craint pas les entraves / Slippery Jim. A masterpiece of tricks, animation and narration (not included in the dvd, alas!):
    http://www.europafilmtreasures.eu/FT/250/about-the-film-slippery_jim

  2. Dear colleagues: Thanks for your review of the DVD on Second Chomón. I think it might be of interest to know that a few months ago I published the English version of my book: “Segundo de Chomón. The cinema of fascination” (ISBN: 9788439381419). Best wishes.

  3. Thank you Daniel for the explanation of the earlier de Chomón ‘release’, though the examples on YouTube have titles which give their source as being a number of archives – BFI, Nederlands Filmuseum, Gosfilmofond etc – so presumably the FilmoTeca obtained copies of these for its own reference purposes?

    And thank you (and congratultations) Joan for your work on de Chomón and the news that your book is available in English. I will certainly be seeking out a copy.

  4. What I heard about is that they made agreements with others film archives in order to collect and preserve a complete collection of surviving Chomón’s films (including films “coloured by”, films in which he made the tricks and films “directed” by). But it’s only secondhand information…

  5. Hi Vanessa, I don’t know why that should be – it looks straightforward enough on the gencat.cat link provided above. I have a copy (picked up in Spain), the English version. Perhaps you could check with the author – his personal site is http://www.joanminguet.net/

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