Chapeaux à transformations (1895)
Director: Louis Lumière
Chapeaux à transformations differs from most Lumiere Brothers films from the dawn of the cinema in the way that it demonstrates the possibilities offered to the performer in front of the camera rather than the capabilities of the camera itself. Most of the Lumiere’s films were actualities, short excerpts of everyday scenes which demonstrated the camera’s ability to capture motion, but Chapeaux à transformations (Transformations by Hats) is actually a record of a variety act by Felicien Trewey.
Trewey, who introduced the Lumiere’s cinematographe to Britain, sits on a chair in front of a bare wall and dons a collection of hats, false beards and moustaches, and even some facial prosthetics in quick succession. With each new disguise, Trewey adopts a new pose, thereby transforming not only his appearance but his character. Apparently, in his stage act, Trewey would model each headpiece out of a single piece of felt, but with the constraints of time forced upon him by the length of film the Lumiere’s camera could hold, he clearly felt it would be more effective if he laid out each disguise on the flor before him, out of sight of the camera.
It’s quite a clever act; the transformations are quickly and smoothly achieved and, of course, filmed without any kind of editing.
(Reviewed 24th July 2014)