The Stop Motion Wizardry of Segundo de Chomón’s The Electric Hotel
Note: This is the forty-ninth in a series of historical/critical essays examining the best in film from each year. Essentially, I am watching films from the beginning of cinematic history that interest me and/or hold some critical or cultural impact. My personal, living list of favorites is being created at Mubi, showcasing five films per year. All this being explained, what follows is an examination of my fourth favorite 1908 film, THE ELECTRIC HOTEL, directed by Segundo de Chomón.
Segundo de Chomón went kind of crazy with stop motion in 1908. He went kind of crazy, period, in 1908. His output reached its peak, in terms of quality and even perhaps quantity, that year, and nearly every film he made had significant stop motion moments. While de Chomón didn’t invent stop motion, he made the strongest case for it, especially in live action, in 1908. THE ELECTRIC HOTEL (1908) was part of that.
Invariably, de Chomón is compared to Georges Méliès, so here we go: stop motion was first notably used by Méliès, often in brief bouts to pull off a quick transformation or incredible motion. Substitution splices, which is often the term referred to some of these tricks, could be seen as a very simplistic form of stop motion, as it cuts a frame to pull something amazing off.
Méliès would use the more familiar form of stop motion as well, but de Chomón, for the second time in the truly technical realm, usurped Méliès’ superiority. Read about the other time and THE HAUNTED HOUSE (1908) here.
That film had some pretty extended, impressive stop motion sequences, but THE ELECTRIC HOTEL is built on them. Indeed, the moments of “normal” action and movement feel like brief interludes to bridge the spectacle of the kooky stop motion close ups. The premise of the film is actually not dissimilar to THE HAUNTED HOUSE, in that things move around on their own in a limited space. The difference is that THE ELECTRIC HOTEL follows a couple enjoying the technological advancements of a novel new hospitality concept that has automated furniture and devices that can move on their own…and THE HAUNTED HOUSE follows a trio terrorized by the magical powers of a witch.
But, again, both films showcase items moving around on their own, and THE ELECTRIC HOTEL doubles down on this idea. The sequences that show the wife and husband being groomed are among the eight-minute long film’s best, but quite honestly, the stop motion moments can go on a little long. They’re just not as visually stimulating to someone in the 21st century.
However, considering de Chomón’s efforts 109 years ago, THE ELECTRIC HOTEL stands as a moderately entertaining novelty. Its trimmings are a little too mundane for my tastes in 1900s films, but it’s really hard for me to deny what it represents.
Make sure to catch up on and keep up with all of my essays on my favorite films here.