Thomas A. Edison
USA 1903, 1 min, b/w, silent
This is one of the earliest junctions between film, animals and electricity. In order to sabotage the development of electro generators for AC, which can transmit higher voltage current over greater distances than his own DC system, Edison began a campaign in which he and his collaborators electrocuted 1887 stray cats and dogs with 1000 Volt AC in order to demonstrate how dangerous it is. The campaign was so successful that the NY State parliament introduced the electric chair in place of hanging as the preferred method of execution. His one minute film, Electrocuting an Elephant
, shows the execution of the elephant Topsy who had previously killed two people at Luna Park, Coney Island. (Note: the link goes to a version in which the film is repeated several times)
UK 1909, 1 min, b/w, silent
With the development of modern biology in the 19th
century, animals become models to which the human, as an inadequate being [Mangelwesen
], has yet to aspire. Smith shows an example of such an animal. It is a well known fact that spiders cannot fly, yet they sometimes float in the sky without visible means of support. The film shoes how they do it. Spiders hang on a very fine silk thread, which they have shot out of their bodies and crawl along through the air. Humans needed some time on order to do be able to do this, shooting cords with arrows from one tree to the next in order to brachiate through the rainforest.
UK 1910, 3 min, b/w, silent
What flies are capable of is invisible to the naked eye. Percy Smith shows a fly juggling on a ball. The fly performed this and other tricks without training and for no reward, but presumably of its own accord. Percy Smith’s acrobatic animal movies were a sensation and a source of controversy when they were made. He was accused both of using film tricks as well as of cruel treatment to the animals. He contested these claims vehemently by disclosing his methods.
USA 1912, 6 min, b/w, silent
Winsor McCay’s 1912 animation film How a Mosquito Operates
represents the mosquito as eternally famished and somewhat malicious, an animal permanently on the lookout with nothing good in mind. McCay is regarded as one the early pioneers of animated film.
Major Film Laboratories, Inc
USA 1920, 1 min, b/w, silent
When training animals for circuses and fairs, the idea was to create living caricatures of human behaviour. This dramatisation continued unbroken into early film. Queerosites – Diving Horses
is an especially absurd document from the era of animal high performance in the service of entertaining humans. Mounted horses dive from a ten meter springboard into a swimming pool.
Germany 1929, 7 min, b/w, silent
In Hans Richter’s silent classic, the horses on the racetrack are not the only attraction; there are also the onlookers. Nevertheless, these short animal portraits number among the most beautiful images of horses in the films from the twenties. In the process, the humans in the audience fall somewhat by the wayside, although they get more camera time.
Herm's Bio-Cinema Sound Products Inc.
USA 1930, 9 min, b/w, silent
This laboratory film shows rabbits being used as a kind of marker to ascertain the origin and status of blood samples. The main aim was to identify antibodies resistant to all sorts of infections. The most striking image shows a rabbit in front of which a sign reads “Anti-Human”.
Pennsylvania State Univ. Psych. Cinema Register
USA 1932, 12 min, b/w, silent
This scientific film documents tests, in which human and chimp infants have to solve the same tasks. It bears witness to the early period of euphoria over the close kindredship between gorillas and humans. Although things seem otherwise, this was no laughing matter for the primates. Pennsylvania State University was famous for these types of test.
The Jam Handy Organization
USA 1935, 2 min, b/w
In the 1930s, the automobile producer made advertising newsreels in which Chevrolets were shown, usually involved in some stunt or other. The Chihuahua, happily riding around on the car like a figurehead, has been drawn into the human world. Before the ride begins, the dog has a pair of sunglasses put on by a human father and his son; at least they show that much consideration.
(Note: The episode Grand Rapids Michigan
starts on the newsreel video at 7:17)
The Jam Handy Organization
USA 1936, 3 min, b/w
The Chevrolet Leader News didn’t care how low it sank when it came to demonstrating how many things can be done with an automobile. In this film they drive a Chevrolet into a lake, wait a while and then drive up out of it again. As they open the doors the inside of the car is full of fish. As James Fennimore Cooper once said: most Americans aren’t satisfied with just catching the fish they need, they have to see the entire contents of a lake in a single pile on land.
(Note: The Fish Story starts on the newsreel video at 5:51)
The Jam Handy Organization
USA 1937, 2 min, b/w
There is no animal Chevrolet stops short at using. In this film, they begin by catching a sea turtle, hauling it on land, strapping it to the roof of a Chevrolet and driving it somewhere or other, quite possibly to the zoo. It could also be going to a soup kitchen, where the cook of the period needed not to be afraid that animal liberators would burn the joint down. Chevrolet also built cars for horses and they come right behind the turtle, emptying out of their transporter with mounted police. This episode, Doggy Crowd Gets Ringside Seats at Pussyweight Battle
, features a staged boxing match between two cats. To protect the animals, their front paws were wrapped in boxing gloves.
(Note: Doggy Crowd Gets Ringside Seats at Pussyweight Battle
starts on the newsreel video at 6:06)
Handy (Jam) Organization
USA 1939, 9 min, b/w
The film begins with two fishermen in their boat meditating upon the optical apparatus of falcons and fish, while holding a trout in their hands. The film cuts to the lab and shows different animals and the various ways they see. Before the viewers can lose themselves in the diversity of animal optics they are unequivocally instructed of the fact that the whole research has only been conducted strictly for their benefit, since it serves to improve car windscreens. As antique as the sounds and images seem, they are in fact right up to date. The goal of studying animals remains the benefitting of humans.
USSR 1940, 20 min, b/w
This film is a rare document of the intensive cooperation between US and Soviet scientists. In particular, physiologists and geneticists worked together into the 40s. This collaboration was made easier by the fact that many American biologists were socialists or communists. The biologist J.B.S. Haldane, who speaks the introduction to this film, was one of the most prominent left wing biologists in America. The film centres around the survival capabilities of organs removed from living organisms. The fact that animals have to die for this research is not mentioned.
France 1949, 22 min, b/w
This documentary begins with harmless shots, e.g. of children dancing in a circle. Sounds of locomotive train carriages announce the advent of heavier themes. A horse is led into a slaughterhouse and bled to death with a single cut across the throat. The theme of the film is the work of the slaughterhouse. The images showing the labour of industrial slaughtering are as unsentimental as the sound is sorrowful. The work of death is no simple matter. The film is one of the first to deal with the fate of animals in slaughterhouses.
Paul F. Moss
USA 1949, 10 min, b/w
Moss’s film on the social system of ants is one of the first documentaries in which ant communities are constructed as a model for human society. The best thing to do with this film is to see it.
USA 1956, 11 min, col
This colour documentary on the last Bison in the USA makes no mention of the fact that these animals, once the most common, big land mammals, were almost entirely exterminated. It cuts abruptly to something Americans were always good at: telling stories about animals with names and their families. This is somewhat annoying. The film is still interesting though, because it attempts to show how First Nation Americans were dependant on the buffaloes for their subsistence.
Moody Institute of Science
USA 1957, 10 min, b/w
In The Fish Family
, the Cichlids are swimming calmly about their aquarium as the commentator explains how the mother and father work together as a team, dispensing their domestic tasks together; a shining example of American behaviourism in film.
University of Georgia, Agricultural Extension Service
USA 1959, 14 min, b/w
The life cycle and habits of the ant, and how to control and exterminate them with insecticides. Begins with a wonderful sequence in which we hear ants screaming "We're hungry! We're hungry!" (archive.org)
USA 1961, 9 min, b/w
This newsreel records in detail the saga of Ham, a little chimp's 18-minute ride through the heavens as part of the Mercury-Redstone 2 mission of 31 January 1961. The film reminds us that the first earth-dwellers in space were not humans. Laika's space flight not only scientifically demonstrated that mammals can survive in space, but created worldwide empathy with this small animal in the wide expanse of space. When the world realized that the animal was not intended to return, there was a huge wave of indignation. The Soviet Union made up stories about the dog's having peacefully fallen asleep after many days in space. Not until 2002 was it admitted that Laika had died of panic after only a few hours. It is striking that all later newsreels showed the safe return of animal travellers from later missions in detail; the survivors had to face huge press conferences and even received medals.
U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Motion Picture Service
USA 1964, 19 min, col
This film is part of an advertising campaign by the Ministry of Agriculture about the consumption of meat products. The chain of production is followed from the slaughterhouse to the finished product on the plate. The film constantly emphasises that the hot dog is made of real meat. In addition to the curious palette of meat products the film is also interesting as an excellent example of the way the Americans’ high meat consumption, which continues today, first had to be forced upon them by means of advertising.
USA 1973, 1 min, b/w
The artist William Wegman has been producing a series of short videos with his Weimaraner dogs since the seventies. He is exceptional among animal filmmakers in his capacity to develop a genuine relationship of mutual trust, which could even be described as friendship. In Spelling Lesson
, he goes through the homework with his dog, Man Ray. The dog manages to use some words correctly, with some he makes mistakes. (William Wegman‘s video work is also available on DVD: William Wegman: Video Works 1970-1999
USA 1975, 3 min, b/w
Two dogs, looking into the camera, survey their surrounds together with head movements that run almost in sync. At the same time, those differences become apparent that subsist between two dogs of the same race.
UK 1989, 5 min, col
The will to appropriate and dominate nature led to the urban zoos of colonial powers, where the wild and exotic was paraded behind bars. However, by bringing the wild animals closer to the public, their needs also became apparent. From their beginnings then, zoos thus generated their own critique. Creature Comforts
, an Oskar winning animation film from Nick Park, is the best example of this. Park has animals in an English zoo, e.g. a lion, a gorilla, a turtle, describe their situation. Their answers inevitably involve a comparison between life in the zoo and life in the wild. Some things are better in the zoo than back home, some things are worse, such as the English weather. The main point, however, is having enough room. “We need space” states the lion concisely and repeatedly.
Russia 1996, 5 min, col
The artist Oleg Kulik imitates a dog naked. He is surrounded by a troop of Berlin police dogs. The title contains a reference to Joseph Beuys’ famous performance “I like America and America likes me”, in which Beuys spend a week living together with a wild coyote in a New York gallery. The allusion also applies to the physical interaction with the ‘real’ dogs. Kulik goes so far as to include real bites. In this case, it is Kulik himself who introduces aggression into the game, whereas in Beuys case it was the coyote.
Tiago Carneiro da Cunha
Brazil/UK 2000, 9 min, col
The actor Peter Elliott is a specialist at imitating the movements of gorillas. Here he plays a gorilla in a cage at a zoo. The tension between boredom and the sudden urge to movement that leads to aggression becomes in Elliot’s performance a paradigm for behavioural rhythms in general, which run along the vectors calmness, movement, attention and boredom.
Sweden 2002, 3 min, col
The artist Joanna Rytel represents diverse animals in a series of performances. The majority were domestic animals like cows, sheep, geese and horses. The interesting thing about these animals is their largely indifferent reaction. It seems as though they have seen almost everything in the course of their dealings with humans, almost but not quite everything.
is different. Here the artist strips behind glass in front of a group of monkeys. She is received rather as a welcome distraction than as an annoyance or as something boringly familiar.
Sweden 2002, 3 min, col
Sweden 2002, 3 min, col
Sweden 2002, 3 min, col
Sweden 2002, 3 min, col
Hungary 2003, 3 min, col
In this film, birds continually fly against the picture frame to return at another point. Within the rectangle of the film image they look like billiard balls.
Ireland 2004, 5 min, col
An Irish farmer has a dog that is just no use at anything anymore. He is completely inactive and has even stopped working. The farmer finds this state of affairs regrettable, but he likes the dog all the same.
UK 2004, 5 min, col
The Film While Darwin Sleeps
shows more than 3000 Insects, each one of which is ‘captured’ in a single frame, in a tiny excerpt from the huge collections of different natural history museums. The director Paul Bush edits the image into a psychedelic dream panorama. The film is a wonderful reminder of the fact that posing the question of how real and authentic a narrative can be leads often to the unserious.
Toni Serra (aka Abu Ali)
Morocco 2004, 6 min, col
Serra‘s Film shows the ritual slaughtering of a cow in an extended Moroccan family. The death of the animal, from which the whole family will sustain itself, is visible to all. Serra’s work can be read as a meditation on the varying degrees of the presence and absence of death in different cultures.
Have a break, have a Kitkat
2005, 1 min, col
, as the famous chocolate advertisement goes. In a series of ads, Greenpeace developed the proverb further to show up the chain of exploitation underlying the product. From the tropical rainforests to the orang-utans there are many resources to whom Kitkat does not provide a refreshing break.
2005, 1 min, col
Germany 2007, 5 min, col
Daniel Salomon gives a lecture in Schloss Solitude on the sex life of snails in Esperanto. The film draws it charm from the juxtaposition of a sterile language with the universal principal of sexuality as exhibited among snails.
Ecuador 2007, 10 min, col
A lama stands in a supermarket in Ecuador and looks about. The animal moves its ears, takes a few steps and removes something from the shelf without putting it back.
UK 2008, 13 min, silent
Manuel Saiz presents two monitors, on the one an actor, on the other an animal. Different actors were commissioned to closely observe and imitate the movements of various zoo animals. The results of this observation and subsequent imitation are a study of the differences between humans and animals. This is the artistic rediscovery of an old method of ethology, the study of (animal) behaviour. Konrad Lorenz was among the first researchers to be able to submerse themselves into the animals’ movements. Saiz belongs to those artists like Joseph Beuys to reanimate repressed scientific methods in art.
Germany/France 2009, 1 min, col
In Paris, in front of a wall, a dog barks at an assembly of stuffed dear. The dog doesn’t hold out long against the dead imitations. It would much prefer to be hunting real dear.
Spain 2009, 11 min, col
A wake of vultures attacks a table covered with food in a southern landscape. Above and beyond its metaphoric, this is a successful study of the collective organisation of vultures. The constant hissing is at once the birds’ means of communication and the film soundtrack.
Germany 2009, 29 min, col, silent
The documentary from Lutz Dammbeck shows the operation of taxidermy as performed on a small rodent. From the careful removal of the insides to the drying of the disinfected fur with a vacuum cleaner, the focus is kept on the hands of the taxidermist. If you had previously thought that a skeleton was preserved within stuffed animals you can see here that it is not the case. The whole animal is rebuilt from the hide.
Germany 2010, 3 min, col
The average sojourn of a zoo visitor before a given animal is between one and two minutes, and over 90 percent of them barely gets to the end of the first sentence from the often very well informed texts panels. With their project, the non-toed fur-coatie
, the artist group Neozoon Collective has amassed impressive footage in this connection by exhibiting mechanically animated fur coats in an enclosure in Münster Zoo. The contradiction inherent to the zoo is its balancing act between providing paying visitors with a spectacle, to whom the institution thus owes its loyalty, and on the other hand working with and for the animals.
Germany 2010, 4 min, col
A still life from Lower Bavaria. It is snowing. We see the donkeys Bianca and Ugo and Ole the sheep, named after a Norwegian cross-country skier. Their barn belongs to an auto-repair-shop. The shop's owner Wolfgang Wiesner acquired his first donkey when a customer wasn't able to pay his repair costs. (Pantera Film GmbH)
Germany 2010, 16 min, col
A young woman places quail eggs into an incubator in her apartment. After they hatch, the apartment becomes a breeding operation for chicks. Once fully grown, the quails wind up in the saucepan. Throughout the whole process, they were never able to see ‘their’ world. In their way, they have become modern; living beings without a world.
Internationale Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen
Germany 2011, 122 min, col (German only)
Real-life wild animals remain menacing and so turning them into metaphors is one way of recapturing them. What are the techniques employed by documentary and artistic film to rob the animal of its realness? With Vinzenz Hediger
, Institut für Theater-, Film- und Medienwissenschaft, Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main, Hannes Rickli, Künstler (Zürich), Margarete Vöhringer, Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung (Berlin). Moderation: Cord Riechelmann und Marcel Schwierin, curators of "Animal Cinema".
Live recording of the discussion from May, 10th in Oberhausen. (German only).