Loie Fuller is a turn-of-the-century dancer whose name stands apart. She is often coupled with the great Isadora Duncan, who was also an experimental dancer, but Loie Fuller was first. Fuller is most closely associated with Art Nouveau. She first came to prominence in the 1890s and was admired and imitated well into the 1900s. Like many luminaries of her time, Fuller caused a sensation in France; Paris called her La Loïe.

The image at the top is a poster designed by Jules Cheret in 1893 to advertise an upcoming performance at La Folies Bergère cabaret in Paris.

Loie Fuller, Library of Congress

 

She was born Marie Louise Fuller near Chicago, Illinois. Loie was introduced to public life early. She was a professional child actress, who later became interested in dancing and lighting effects. Loie Fuller developed her own free dance techniques. She performed choreography in long silk dresses before multi-colored lights.

Her talent was instantly recognized. The poet William Butler Yeats admired her and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec painted her. Even the legendary Lumière brothers were entranced. Auguste and Louis Lumière were amongst the very first pioneers into filmmaking and they were captivated by Loie’s Serpentine dance.

 

Lumière brothers

Strangely, despite nearly every important pioneer filmmaker working with Loie Fuller at some point, their original films of her were lost. What remains are their contemporaneous movies of other women performing Fuller’s famous serpentine dance.

Color film was many years in the future, so the colors you see here have been hand-colored by the filmmakers on a frame-by-frame basis, to capture the dazzling multi-colored effects of Loie Fuller’s live shows.

 

 

 

Should you want to learn more about Loie Fuller, I recommend this excellent article on the Public Domain Review.

As few interesting photos to peruse and enjoy on a Sunday afternoon (or whenever you should take the notion).

Statue of Liberty under construction in France

Jean Harlow, glamorous early starlet. Born in 1911.
This is one of her baby pictures, taken around 1915

 

Hot air balloon races at the 1900 Paris World Fair. These events took place in Vincennes, in the outskirts of Paris. There was an altitude contest which was won by Mr. Balsan – who reached an altitude of 8,357 meters in his hot air balloon. The same Mr. Balsan became famous for winning a contest involving both distance and duration; it took him 35 hours to reach Russia. Courtesy Library of Congress

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Segundo Víctor Aurelio Chomón y Ruiz, more commonly called Segundo de Chomón, was the Spanish director behind such breakthrough silent films as Gulliver en el país de los gigantes and El hijo del diablo.

Segundo de Chomón
Segundo de Chomón

De Chómon was a contemporary of Georges Méliès (A Trip to the Moon). Though he isn’t as well known as Méliès today, de Chómon was a true innovator who was one of the first directors to produce what was then called a trick film, or a film with real special effects. This film may look a bit amateurish to modern eyes, but Création de la Serpentine was filmed in 1908, only 11 years after the first camera built to capture motion was introduced.

Création de la Serpentine wasn’t just a trick film; it had a plot that featured star dancer Loie Fuller. In the film, Mephistopheles interrupts a small group of dancers and spirits away their teacher. The viewer follows them into a large room, where Mephistopheles brews together a potion in a large cauldron and a beautiful dancer (Fuller) emerges from the mist.

Frederick Glasier's iconic photograph of Loie Fuller
Frederick Glasier’s iconic photograph of Loie Fuller

The same year another silent film called Les Papillons Japonais was released. Like Création de la Serpentine, it featured special effects. However, it is a more creative and beautiful film. Les Papillons Japonais was ahead of its time in every way, beginning with its use of color. (It’s worth noting that half a century after the film’s debut, the majority of movies were still filmed entirely in black and white.)

The first viewers of the film would have thrilled to the impossible scenes that were enacted before them: drawings that came to life, free-floating parasols, and morphing butterflies. The film also played into the popular theme of Orientalism, an art movement that romanticized Eastern subjects. At the turn of the century, the Far East was a strange, exotic world to the audience of Les Papillons Japonais.

Even after establishing himself as a director, de Chomón continued to focus on his partnerships with other directors and providing special effects for their films.

Segundo de Chomón died of a heart attack in Paris in 1929. Today, he is an obscure figure, referred to merely as “the Spanish Méliès”.  Though his contributions to film are all but forgotten, de Chomón is nevertheless a significant figure who deserves his place in film history.