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Ladislav Starevich

Ladislav Starevich (August 8, 1882 - February 26, 1965), born Władysław Starewicz (Russian: Владисла́в Алекса́ндрович Старе́вич), was a Russian [stop-motion]] animator of Polish descent who used insects and animals as his protagonists. (His name can also be spelled Starevitch, Starewich and Starewitch.)


Early career

Scene from The Cameraman's Revenge (1911)

Władysław Starewicz was born in Moscow, Russia from Polish parents (father Aleksander Starewicz from Surviliškiai near Kėdainiai and mother Antonina Legęcka from Kaunas, both from "neighbourhood nobility", in hiding after the failed Insurrection of 1863 against the Tsarist Russian domination), and had lived in Lithuania which at that time was a part of the Russian Empire. The boy was raised by his grandmother in Kaunas, then a capital of Kovno Governorate. He attended Gymnasium in Dorpat (today Tartu, Estonia).

Starewicz had interests in a number of different areas; by 1910 he was director of a museum of natural history in Kaunas. There he made four short live-action documentaries for the museum. For the fifth film, Starewicz wished to record the battle of two stag beetles, but was stymied by the fact that the nocturnal creatures inevitably went to sleep whenever the stage lighting was turned on. Inspired by a viewing of Les allumettes animées [Animated Matches] (1908) by Emile Cohl, Starewicz decided to re-create the fight through stop-motion animation: he removed the legs and mandibles from two beetle carcasses, then re-attached them with wax, creating articulated puppets. The result was the short film Lucanus Cervus (1910), apparently the first animated puppet film with a plot and the natal hour of Polish and Russian animation.

In 1911, Starewicz moved to Moscow and began work with the film company of Aleksandr Khanzhonkov. There he made two dozen films, most of them puppet animations using dead animals. Of these, The Beautiful Leukanida (premiere - 1912), a fairy tale for beetles, earned international acclaim (one British reviewer was tricked into thinking the stars were live trained insects), while The Grasshopper and the Ant (1911) got Starewicz decorated by the czar. But the best-known film of this period, perhaps of his entire career, was Mest' kinematograficheskogo operatora (Revenge of the Kinematograph Cameraman, aka The Cameraman's Revenge) (1912), a cynical work about infidelity and jealousy among the insects. Some of the films made for Khanzhonkov feature live-action/animation interaction. In some cases, the live action consisted of footage of Starewicz's daughter Irina. Particularly worthy of note is Starevich's 41-minute 1913 film The Night Before Christmas, an adaptation of the Nikolai Gogol story of the same name. The 1913 film Terrible Vengeance won the Gold Medal at an international festival in Milan in 1914, being just one of five films which won awards among 1005 contestants. [1]

During World War I, Starewicz worked for several film companies, directing 60 live-action features, some of which were fairly successful. After the October Revolution of 1917, the film community largely sided with the White Army and moved from Moscow to Yalta on the Black Sea. After a brief stay, Starewicz and his family fled before the Red Army could capture the Crimea, stopping in Italy for a while before joining the Russian émigrés in Paris. There, they formed a company in the remains of Georges Méliès' old studio. At this time, Władysław Starewicz changed his name to Ladislas Starevich, easier to pronounce in French. He made one animated film for this studio, The Scarecrow, before the operation was wound up, with most of the Russians joining the Berlin or Hollywood studios.

After World War I

Wishing to remain independent, Starevich moved to Fontenay-sous-Bois and started on a series of puppet films that would last for the rest of his life. In these films he was assisted first by his wife France Starevich and later by his daughter Irina (who had changed her name to Irène). The first of these films was Les Grenouilles qui demandent un roi (The Frogs That Demand a King, aka Frogland [US]) (1922), probably the closest Starevich ever came to political commentary in his French films. Following Aesop's fable of the frogs who demand a king from the god Jupiter and are disappointed by the results, the film shows a clear preference not for the pre-monarchial or decadent democracy (which would likely be the slant of an American or French film), but for King Log's form of libertarian government.

During the years at Fontenay-sous-Bois, the Stareviches made two dozen films. Among the most notable are La Voix du rossignol (The Voice of the Nightingale) (1923), a hand-tinted film (some sources say Prizmacolor) starring the young "Nina Starr" (Janina Starevich) and the naturalistic nightingale who convinces her to free him, and Fétiche Mascotte (Duffy the Mascot, aka The Mascot, aka Puppet Love, aka The Devil's Ball) (1934), a long and strange story about a loving dog puppet who practically goes through Hell to get an orange to a girl dying of scurvy, selected by Terry Gilliam as one of the ten best animated films of all time[1]. La Voix du rossignol was awarded the Hugo Riesenfeld Medal for being the "most novel short subject motion picture in the USA during the year 1925".

Often mentioned as being among his best work, The Tale of the Fox (French: Le Roman de Renard, German: Reinicke Fuchs) was also his first animated feature. Although most of the production took place in Paris from 1929-1931, it was finally released in Berlin in 1937 and in France in 1941. It was the third animated feature film to have sound, after Quirino Cristiani's Peludópolis (1931) and The New Gulliver (1935) from the Soviet Union.

Starevich introduced sound and color into his puppet films as soon as they became available. He kept every puppet he made, so stars in one film tended to turn up as supporting characters in later works (the frogs from Grenouilles qui demandent un roi are the oldest of these).

Ladislas Starevich died on 26 February 1965, while working on Comme chien et chat (Like Dog and Cat). It was left unfinished out of respect. He was one of the few European animators to be known by name in America before the 1960s, largely on account of La Voix du rossignol and Fétiche Mascotte (The Tale of the Fox was not widely distributed in the US). His Russian films were known for their dark humor, probably an inevitable consequence of the choice of dead beetles and grasshoppers as subjects. Once he switched to using more ordinary puppets for his French films, his work became more lyrical. However, the fact that he was working independently had the negative effect that the films are sometimes considered too long, too lyrical, and too uncommercial. The films are united, however, by their wild imagination.


Films directed in Kaunas, Lithuania; 1909-1910, (with their original titles in Polish):

  • Nad Niemnem, (1909) - Beyond the River Nemunas
  • Zycie Ważek (1909)- The Life of the Dragonfly
  • Walka żuków (1909) - The Battle of the Stag Beetles
  • Piękna Lukanida (1910) - The Beautiful Lukanida (the first puppet animation film)

Films directed in Russia 1911-1918, (with their original titles in Russian):

  • ROZHDYESTVO OBITATELEI LYESA (1911) - The Insects' Christmas
  • STREKOZA I MURAVEI (1911) - The Ant and the Grasshopper
  • AVIACIONNAYA NEDELYA NASEKOMYKH (1912) - Insects' Aviation Week
  • STRASHNAIA MYEST (1912) - The Terrible Vengeance
  • NOCH' PERED ROZHDESTVOM (1912) - The Night before Christmas
  • VESELYE SCENKI IZ ZHIZNI ZHIVOTNYKH (1912) - Amusing Scenes from the Life of Insects
  • PUTESHESTVIE NA LUNU (1912) - A Journey to the Moon
  • RUSLAN I LUDMILLA. (1913) - Ruslan and Ludmilla
  • SNEGUROCHKA. (1914) - The Snow Maiden
  • PASYNOK MARSA (1914) - Mars’s Stepson
  • KAYSER-GOGIEL-MOGIEL (1914) - Gogel-Mogel General
  • TROIKA (1914) - Troika
  • FLEURS FANEES 1914 - Faded Flowers
  • LE CHANT DU BAGNARD (1915) - The Convict's Song
  • PORTRET (1915) - (may be produced by the Skobeliew committee) - The Portrait
  • LILIYA BEL'GII (1915) - The Lily of Belgium
  • ETO TYEBYE PRINADLEZHIT (1915) - It’s Fine for You
  • EROS I PSYCHE (1915) - Eros and Psyche
  • DVYE VSTRYECHI (1916) - Two Meetings
  • LE FAUNE EN LAISSE (1916) - The Chained Faun
  • O CHOM SHUMIELO MORIE (1916) - The Murmuring Sea
  • TAMAN (1916) - Taman
  • NA VARSHAVSKOM TRAKTE (1916) - On The Warsaw Highway
  • PAN TWARDOWSKI (1917) - Mister Twardowski
  • SASHKA-NAEZDNIK (1917) - Sashka the Horseman
  • K NARODNOI VLASTI (1917) - Towards People’s Power
  • KALIOSTRO (1918) - Cagliostro
  • YOLA (1918) - Iola
  • WIJ (1918) - Vij
  • SOROTCHINSKAIA YARMAKA (1918) - The Sorotchninsk Fair
  • MAISKAYA NOCH (1918) - May Night
  • STELLA MARIS (1918) - Starfish

Films directed in France, 1920-1965, (with their original titles in French):

  • DANS LES GRIFFES DE L'ARAIGNEE (1920) - In the Claws of the Spider
  • LE MARIAGE DE BABYLAS (1921) - Babylas’s Marriage
  • L'EPOUVANTAIL (1921) - The Scarecrow
  • LA VOIX DU ROSSIGNOL (1923) - The Voice of the Nightingale
  • AMOUR NOIR ET BLANC (1923) - Love in Black and White
  • LA PETITE CHANTEUSE DES RUES (1924) - The Little Street Singer
  • LES YEUX DU DRAGON (1925) - The Eyes of the Dragon
  • LE RAT DE VILLE ET LE RAT DES CHAMPS - (1926) The Town Rat and the Country Rat
  • LA CIGALE ET LA FOURMI (1927) - The Ant and the Grasshopper
  • LA REINE DES PAPILLONS (1927) - The Queen of the Butterflies
  • L'HORLOGE MAGIQUE (1928) - The Magic Clock
  • LA PETITE PARADE (1928) - The Little Parade
  • LE LION ET LE MOUCHERON (1932) - The Lion and the Fly
  • LE LION DEVENU VIEUX (1932) - The Old Lion
  • FETICHE MASCOTTE (1933) - The Mascot
  • FETICHE PRESTIDIGITATEUR (1934) - The Ringmaster
  • FETICHE SE MARIE (1935) - The Mascot’s Marriage
  • FETICHE EN VOYAGE DE NOCES (1936) - The Navigator
  • FETICHE CHEZ LES SIRENES (1937) - The Mascot and the Mermaids
  • LE ROMAN DE RENARD. (1930-1939) - The Tale of the Fox
  • ZANZABELLE A PARIS (1947) - Zanzabelle in Paris
  • FLEUR DE FOUGERE (1949) - Fern Flowers
  • GAZOUILLY PETIT OISEAU. (1953) - Little Bird Gazouilly
  • GUEULE DE BOIS (1954) - Hangover
  • UN DIMANCHE DE GAZOUILLY (1955) - Gazouilly’s Sunday Picnic
  • NEZ AU VENT (1956) - Nose to the Wind
  • CARROUSEL BOREAL (1958) - Winter Carousel
  • COMME CHIEN ET CHAT (1965) - Like Dog and Cat

A documentary about Starevich was made in 2008.


  1. ^ Gilliam, Terry (April 27, 2001). "Terry Gilliam Picks the Ten Best Animated Films of All Time". The Guardian.,,479022,00.html.  
  • Donald Crafton; Before Mickey: The Animated Film, 1898-1928; University of Chicago Press; ISBN 0-226-11667-0 (2nd edition, paperback, 1993)
  • Giannalberto Bendazzi (Anna Taraboletti-Segre, translator); Cartoons: One Hundred Years of Cinema Animation; Indiana University Press; ISBN 0-253-20937-4 (reprint, paperback, 2001)
  • Liner notes to the DVD The Cameraman's Revenge and Other Fantastic Tales

External links

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