Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend: The Flying House (1921, Winsor McCay)

The Flying House does a lot in its eleven minute runtime. First and maybe foremost–it’s questionable given where the film ends up–it’s a successful, ambitious format change for the Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend comic strip. Adapted by its creator, McCay–who’s got his twenty-five year-old son, Robert, animating–Flying House is a cartoon version of the strip. It’s a complete success in that regard.

But it’s also how McCay tells a story in a silent cartoon. The characters, a husband and wife who have to convert the house to a flying version to escape a greedy landlord, talk to one another in word balloons. The husband doesn’t say much. The wife has these hilarious one-liners. She’s nagging, but passive aggressively and condescendingly. And the husband deserves it to some degree. He doesn’t have the best plan.

The word balloon thing? It’s phenomenal. It’s jaw-droppingly effective. There’s the expectation of intertitles in a silent film so having those intertitles on screen with the action (or at least the illusion of action)… it starts Flying House out on a serious level. It’s an ambitious film. McCay (and McCay) always excel. Even before the big, “here, look at this scientifically accurate” space thing to show off the potential for animation in education.

The way the figures move–whether people or flying houses or planets–is another of the film’s magical parts. Between movements, objects are completely still. But while moving, they’re graceful, with an enthusiastic pace. Culminating in the space sequence, which is ballet.

Fantastic direction, fantastic animation. The Flying House is perfect.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Written, produced, and directed by Winsor McCay; animated by Robert Winsor McCay.


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