The devil and his sexy little women,
from "The Red Specter."
Spanish filmmaker Segundo de Chomon was similar to the innovative French film pioneer Georges Melies. Both used camera trickery, optical illusions and techniques from stage magicians in their films.
"Kiri-Kis", or "Les Kiriki – Acrobates japonais" is his short silent film from 1907. It portrays a troupe of Japanese acrobats performing incredible stunts. The trick photography used is similar to what magicians call "black art", a technique where a stage covered in black fabric allows impossible feats. In this case, the position of the camera also allows the performers to defy gravity.
Les Kiriki – Acrobats Japonais – 1907
These next two films are best viewed fullscreen, at night, in a darkened room. I suppose a glass of fine libations would also add to the ambiance.
Segundo de Chomon’s film Le Sorcier Arabe, from 1906, details the erotic fantasies of an Arab sorcerer, which involves producing four well-clothed women from fiery sand, then causing them to vanish and appear multiple times. A hoop of fire is invoked, and the women dance around only to burn away once again. He conjures up a woman reclining on a couch, who refuses his commands until he proves how powerful a magician he can be. In the end he smokes his hookah while being fanned by women before bidding you goodbye.
The Arabic Sorcerer – 1906
Finally, the 10-minute work called The Red Specter (Spectre Rouge), also from 1907, shows a devil who continues with the theme of conjuring up women. What’s interesting is once again much of the action is similar to what stage magicians were performing at the time, such as the trick of levitating a woman after covering her with a cloth. (For more on the history of magic levitations, watch episode 2 of this BBC documentary on levitations and flying, HERE>>)
Of course, our devil has the advantage of being able to use trick photography. He also uses theatrical devices such as moving scenery, as well as many fire and smoke effects. He is a devil, after all.
I like that he conjures up some primitive television sets, one where he scrolls to change channels and another that’s made up of smaller building blocks.
It turns out that the red specter in the title does not refer to the devil, but to a phantom woman who bedevils him.
And if you’re a horror film buff, you might be familiar with the trick he uses of trapping women inside bottles, since it may have spawned a similar scene years later in 1935’s Bride of Frankenstein, where Dr. Pretorius displays his little people in jars.
Dr. Pretorius and his bottled collection
from "The Bride of Frankenstein."
Le Spectre Rouge – 1907
You can download or stream more of Segundo de Chomon’s work for free from the Internet Archive>>
– Segundo de Chomon, Wikipedia>>