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Watch Faux Japanese Acrobats Perform Death-Defying Stunts

Can you figure out this trick of early cinema?

 

In Spanish director Segundo de Chomón’s Les Kiriki, acrobates japonais (“The Kiriki, Japanese Acrobats”), French performers made up to appear Japanese nod their heads and wriggle into balanced contortions. But the orientalist costumes weren’t the only trick in this 1907 film.

In fact, just about everything in Les Kiriki is faked. In addition to the actors’ costumes, if the acrobatic feats seem impossible (like the little boy holding four grown men balanced on a beam over his shoulder), it’s because they are. These stunts were the result of early special effects experimentation.

Chomón had the actors lie against a black background, making it appear as though they were standing up when they were actually horizontal on the ground. As they “climb” and stack themselves atop one another, they are really crawling across the floor while the camera shoots them from above. 

This was Chomón’s answer to the work of Georges Méliès, best known for his 1902 film Le Voyage dans la Lune (“A Trip to the Moon”). These early filmmakers pioneered low-tech special effects that continue to wow viewers, if only for their ingenuity.

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