Film History Essentials: Le Singe Musicien (1878)

(English: The Musician Monkey)

What it’s about:

A monkey perches atop a music stand holding either a human-sized violin or a monkey-sized cello. It wears a brightly-colored outfit and a jaunty cap with an enormous plume. As it plays the instrument, its head sways smoothly back in forth, perhaps in time to the music. Its right hand draws the bow back and forth across the strings as its left hand dances on the neck until you can almost hear the tune it plays.

Why it’s essential:

This is one of several surviving proto-animations from Reynaud’s praxinoscope, but in contrast to his very abstract Rosace Magique, Le Singe Musicien features a recognizable image. We might even call this one of the first animated cartoon characters. (You see me hedging my bets there, even in 1878. I said cinematic “firsts” are notoriously hard to pin down.) And for an animated loop that lasts approximately 2 seconds, it’s such a dynamic character! The whole body is in motion, foot tapping, feather bobbing . . . even the eyes blink. Thoroughly charming.

Why you should see it:

Try this: Put the animation on a loop (it might help to watch it in GIF form, from somewhere like here), and then play some violin music behind it . . . Maybe a favorite classical piece, or something like this street violin cover of “Dance Monkey.” The beauty of it is, almost anything energetic or upbeat will work. Perhaps that’s partly why this still exists. As the music plays, let the image fill your screen and just . . . watch, and you tell me why Le Singe Musicien is still around.

~ by Jared on January 3, 2023.

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