Followers of the Chief surely know of my fascination with the early days of cinema. Recently the UCLA Film & Television Archive preserved and restored a 1906 piece by pioneering Spanish film director and cinematographer Segundo Chomón. Bob’s Electrical Theatre (also known as Miniature Theatre) features puppets engaging in a variety of routines, including wrestling and fencing. It’s a follow-up to Chomón’s 1905 The Electrical Hotel, a short about a modern hotel, where luggage appears to unpack itself.
Both film and electricity were new inventions at the start of the 20th century and were naturally synchronous. Chomón’s made innovative use of early splice-based tricks, which complimented his penchant for optical illusions. He is often compared to another pioneer of animated films, France’s Georges Méliès. Méliès is best known for such classics as “The Vanishing Lady” (1896) and “A Trip to the Moon” (1902). Though there are similarities between the two, Chomón differs from Méliès in the variety of his movie subjects and his overall use of animation, an art form he played a key role in developing.
Although Bob’s Electrical Theatre is one of the earliest stop-motion puppet films ever made, it is sophisticated and unique. The lifelike use of puppet dolls here predates the work of Ladislas Starevitch, another pioneering stop-motion puppeteer, and Willis O’Brien who is best known for such classics as The Lost World (1925) and King Kong (1933).