Saturday, 14 March 2015

1907: Le Cheval Emballé

Le Cheval Emballé
Many of the Pathé studio's films from this period are fairy-tale or Arabian Nights adaptations - lavishly decorated studio productions, usually hand-coloured. Very pretty to look at but rather dull to watch, to a modern eye. I wanted to include one in this blog just to have the genre represented, and many of the best examples are from 1907, but I'm going to give them a miss again to focus on one that's from the same studio but a lot more fun.
In Le Cheval Emballé - The Runaway Horse - directed by Louis Gasnier but often attributed to Ferdinand Zecca, a delivery man's horse gorges itself on a sack of oats while the owner is distracted.
Energised, he runs off down the street and causes chaos, wrecking carts, market stalls and workmen's scaffolding as he gallops past. At each incident a few more people join the angry crowd chasing the horse, until he returns to his stable and the crowd are seen off with hoses.
Each scene is clearly carefully set up, but with little room for error - there's only so much precision you can bring to charging a horse and cart through a row of market stalls. As a result there's a special joy to watching something like this, where everyone involved is throwing themselves into the job, apparently with little heed for their own safety and clearly no health-and-safety or insurance company placing any limitations on what gets filmed or what risks are taken. It's not even clear whether each scene went quite as planned.  
Especially fun is the mother or nanny - clearly visible on the DVD as a man in drag - who doesn't give a damn about the safety of the baby in the pram.  Sadly like many of these films the low-res versions on YouTube don't quite do them justice, but most of the ones I've covered so far are on the BFI DVD "Early Cinema - Primitives and Pioneers".