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‘The Bug Trainer’ – Ladislas Starewicz, The Pioneer of Puppet Animation – Nag Vladermersky

The Bug Trainer

Ladislas Starewicz (1882-1965), Europe’s answer to Disney and a pioneer of puppet animation, is one of the most forgotten film geniuses. ‘The Bug Trainer’, an amazing 53-minute feature, directed by Rasa Miskinyte explores Starewicz’s creative ideas and concepts of his work, along with opinions from film critics and other animation directors to help us understand why he is still considered one of the greatest creators of the animation world.

‘The Bug Trainer’ is an international co-production documentary with amazing contemporary puppet sequences produced by Se-ma-For Film production in Poland. The coproduction echoes Starewicz’s life – he was born in Lithuania, got his fame in Russia and flourished in full power in France – everyone seems to want to claim him for their own! The most elusive Starewicz films are those featuring bugs and puppets; Frisky dragonflies, buggin’ beetles, philosophising frogs. Their worlds are brought to life with an immense creativity. He used real insects to feature in his films, in fact, Starewicz found his calling as a filmmaker working in the field of entomology, attempting to film fighting stag beetles. Whenever he turned on the lights to start shooting, the beetles, being nocturnal creatures, would stop their fighting and go to sleep.

Starewicz killed the beetles and prepared them so that he could mimic their moves and shoot his film. He made marionettes out of them, using wax and wire to manipulate their limbs. Starewicz’s mixture of horror and sentimentality is unique, bizarre and strangely attractive and his influence is more than present in the work of Tim Burton and the Brothers Quay. Infact Terry Gilliam picked the Starewicz film ‘The Mascot’ (1934) as one of the ten best animated films ever. Starewicz practically invented the genre of stop-motion and should still, after a century, be regarded as a master, a true pioneer and a visionary in the genre. Two of Starewicz’s most acclaimed short films ‘The Cameraman’s Revenge’ (1912) and ‘The Frogs That Demand a King, aka Frogland’ (1922) made up a LIAF 2009 programme. ‘The Cameraman’s Revenge’ is a story is about infidelity among insects. Mr. Beetle goes to town. At “The Gay Dragonfly,” a burlesque parlour, he meets a dancer who he takes to a hotel room. “His business always took him to “The Gay Dragonfly” nightclub. The dancer there understood him…” But a grasshopper there wanted her too, and he is mad at Mr. Beetle’s rudeness. This grasshopper happens to be a cameraman… ‘The Frogs That Demand a King, aka Frogland’ is one of his first puppet films and probably the closest Starewicz ever came to political commentary. The storyline follows Aesop’s fable of the frogs who demand a king from the god Jupiter and are disappointed by the results.

Nag Vladermersky, 2009