Thursday, 9 September 2010

1910 - An Animated Masterpiece - The Hasher's Delirium - Emile Cohl

The most surprising aspect of early animation is how wildly inventive and playful it can be; both qualities can be found in abundance in the pioneering work of Emile Cohl. As with his first film Fantasmagorie, the main image in The Hasher’s Delirium undertakes a series of transformations.

Unlike his first film, however, there is an image onscreen which remains constant for the majority of the film: an inebriated man. The large white bubble in the middle of the screen represents his drunken thought dreams. As the images within the bubble become more disturbing, the bubble disappears and the man’s body takes centre stage as his body bends like Mr. Fantastic and he kicks himself on his own behind.

By focusing on the inebriated man’s ‘delirium’, Cohl is able to focus his transformations on a specific but broad theme. Furthermore, by experimenting with the effects of alcohol (the words ‘wine’ and ‘absinthe’ both appear within the white bubble) and showing the audience several images which are meant to provoke fear within the inebriated man, Cohl is touching on certain elemental fears which will be exploited routinely in the great horror films of the forthcoming decade. And by having an ‘everyman’ onscreen, Cohl is ensuring that this figure serves as a symbol for our own drunken fears.

The Hasher’s Delirium is not the first film to deal with issues of chemical excess; similar issues were dealt with in the 1906 live action film Dream of a Rarebit Fiend. Film’s interest in exploring this subject matter is unsurprising.

The hallucinatory effects of such activities is a strange blend of what we visualise, think and dream. In Dream of a Rarebit Fiend, this allows Edwin S. Porter to apply Méliès- esque visual trickery to a ‘normal’ scenario (i.e. a man walking home after eating and drinking too much). However, even with modern day films, there are limitations to the rapidity of this particular thought process being examined in a live action film.

In an animated film like The Hasher’s Delirium there is no such problem, and the constant shape-shifting of a man’s ‘delirium’ can be explored with more accuracy. And when the bubble disappears and the inebriated man’s body starts to bend, Cohl manages to capture the moment at which the man’s drunken imagination consumes any semblance of his rational mind and takes complete control of his senses.       

The film has a hypnotic effect on its viewer, as each image transforms seamlessly and at breathtaking pace. As with Fantasmagorie, I found myself watching the film several times to fully digest the range of images that the film presents in less than ninety seconds.

The film has also aged remarkably well, it is the perfect film to introduce your friends to this period of film. Its breadth of imagination and dark humour make it a remarkably modern film.


  1. Great and unusual movie. The circle of light is very reminiscent of magic lantern shows which were popular before and during this period. I've certainly seen anti-drinking early films before but never one as playful as this. You wonder where and how this film was shown, and whether it is indeed an anti-drinking message at all or if it's a kind of satirical sketch. The image of the man kicking himself is funny and actually quite powerful.

  2. @Christian Hayes - Great comparison in regards to the circle of light. Is there anywhere here or in States that replicates the Magic Lantern experience? I would really like to experience one of them...

    You raise a great question as to what the purpose behind the film was. As its director and creator was Emile Cohl, I suspect that the film was more satirical than anti-drinking. But given that a decade later prohibition would be passed in America, I can see how this film could have been used as anti-drinking propaganda.