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de Chomón, Segundo

Entry updated 13 May 2024. Tagged: Film, People.

(1871-1929) Spanish/Catalan (see Catalan SF) silent film director, cinematographer and writer who worked on many films (see Cinema) for the French film company Pathé Frères. Whilst in Spain he made Gulliver en el país de los gigantes (1903; vt Gulliver in the Land of Giants) – not to be confused with Georges Méliès's Le Voyage de Gulliver à Lilliput et chez les Géants (1902; vt Gulliver's Travels) (see Gulliver). Chomón moved to France in 1905, briefly returned to Spain in 1910 and often worked in Italy from 1912. He directed over 300 short films, virtually all between 1901-1913; after 1913 he worked as a cinematographer or on special effects for several films until 1927, including the special effects for the non-genre classic, Abel Gance's Napoleon (1927; original title Napoléon vu par Abel Gance).

He is remembered for his mastery of special effects – including double exposure, wires, cutting and stop motion – which were not only used in his genre films, but also in some of his many documentary and mainstream works. Though clearly heavily influenced by Georges Méliès – his Excursion dans la lune (1908; vt Excursion to the Moon) closely resembles the Frenchman's Le Voyage dans la Lune (1902; vt A Trip to the Moon) (though here the rocket goes into the Moon's mouth, not his eye) – he nevertheless refined the techniques originated by Méliès and devised some of his own.

Films of note directed by de Chomón include La Fée Printemps (1902; vt The Spring Fairy): in winter a couple shelter a passing old lady, who transforms herself into a young woman: the Spring Fairy (see Supernatural Creatures), who goes outside – whereupon the flowers bloom and the snow stops falling. Collecting the flowers and taking them indoors, the couple find two babies among them. La Maison Ensorcelée (1906; vt The House of Ghosts; vt The Witch House; vt The Haunted House) has three people sheltering in a haunted house, to be tormented by ghosts, disappearing chairs, sloping floors and paintings coming to life; the house itself briefly displays a face. The three cower in a bed, but the far wall disappears and a giant figure fills the space, grabs the bed and shakes the occupants out onto the land outside. El Hotel Eléctrico (1908; vt The Electric Hotel) has a couple (played by Chomón and his wife, the French actress Julienne Mathieu) visiting a hotel which uses advanced Technology: through the use of a table covered in operating devices, their luggage makes its own way to their room and even unpacks itself; their shoes are cleaned; the woman's hair is arranged; the man is shaved; a pen writes a letter to their parents saying they have arrived safely. We see the room housing the Machines that makes this happen; unfortunately a drunk engineer causes the furniture in the couple's hotel room go haywire. The table, brushes, pen etc. do not appear to be connected to anything: it might be argued the table is effectively a Computer console.

Le Voleur Invisible (1909; vt The Invisible Thief), co-directed with Ferdinand Zecca, is based on The Invisible Man (1897) by H G Wells. A man buys a copy of G H Well's [sic] L'Homme Invisible; reading it in his hotel room he discovers it contains the "Formule Pour L'Invisibilite des Corps" ["Formula For The Invisibility Of Bodies"]. Having the ingredients to hand, he mixes the formula and drinks it – sure enough his body vanishes; discarding his still visible clothes (a memorably loud suit) he steals from the hotel. Later he dons a mask, wig, gloves and his suit to pickpocket a couple; pursued by the police to his room, they grab him but he slips his disguise (it is not clear why he wore it in the first place) and whacks them with a chair – terrified, they flee down the stairs as more chairs and other objects rain down upon them. The film then ends. This was the first adaption of Wells's novel, albeit loosely and in part only. There had been earlier films using invisibility, such as Gaston Velle's Les Invisibles (1906; vt Invisible Thief) (also a Pathé Frères film and sometimes confused with this work), which is closer to fantasy.

In Le Voyage sur Jupiter (1909; vt A Trip to Jupiter) a medieval astronomer (see Astronomy) – dressed as a wizard, but using a telescope – shows a king and his fool the planets, each inhabited by their deity (see Gods and Demons, Mythology). This excites the king, and when he sleeps that night he dreams of climbing a rope ladder into the sky (see Fantastic Voyages). After passing the Moon, with a young lady perched in its crescent, and Saturn (see Outer Planets), whose god holds a large pair of scissors, he reaches Jupiter, leaping from the ladder and landing on its surface. He is taken by guards to its ruler – presumably Jupiter himself – who holds out his hand, but when the king shakes it he suffers a shock. Jupiter seems to lose any respect for the king and playfully sends him rolling about the floor with his powers, then throws him off the planet. The king flees down the ladder – which Saturn then cuts with his scissors, sending the king falling to Earth, waking up in bed. When the astronomer arrives the king kicks him out of his bedroom.

Une Excursion Incohérente (1909; vt Traveller's Nightmare) is Horror, with a wealthy couple and their servants going for a picnic: but insects crawl from the sausages and Mice hatch from the eggs. So they flee to their country cottage – but things go astray here too, including one of their pots growing a face; however the most interesting scene is of silhouette animation, depicting the man's engineering-based nightmares, after which he flees the cottage to find a dragon on the roof and the well turning into a giant head. Voyage au Centre de la Terre (1910; vt Inside the Earth) is the first film version of Jules Verne's Journey to the Centre of the Earth (original title Voyage au Centre de la Terre [1864; exp 1867]); at eight minutes, it is inevitably – like Le Voleur Invisible – based only on part of the source novel. Chomón also directed Mars (1909), which might be sf, but is lost.

Chomón's genre works tend to be farces, with slapstick, pranks and dancing girls; others are sedate tableaux, chinoiserie and/or magic acts. Most are Fantasy and/or horror. Mainly of historical interest, the best films are those with imagery that might be said to anticipate surrealism (see Absurdist SF). [SP]

Segundo Víctor Aurelio Chomón y Ruiz

born Aragon, Spain: 17 October 1871

died Paris: 2 May 1929


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