HOW A MOSQUITO OPERATES (Winsor McCay, 1912, USA, 6m, BW)
The Story of a Mosquito
HOW A MOSQUITO OPERATES (1912)
The Story of a Mosquito
Directed by Winsor McCay
Release dates January 1912
Running time 6 minutes
Country United States
How a Mosquito Operates (1912) is a silent animated film by American cartoonist Winsor McCay. The six-minute short depicts a giant mosquito tormenting a sleeping man. The film is one of the earliest works of animation, and its technical quality is considered far ahead of its contemporaries. It is also known under the titles The Story of a Mosquito and Winsor McCay and his Jersey Skeeters.
McCay had a reputation for his proficient drawing skills, best remembered in the elaborate cartooning of the children's comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland he began in 1905. He delved into the emerging art of animation with the film Little Nemo (1911), and followed its success by adapting an episode of his comic strip Dream of the Rarebit Fiend into How a Mosquito Operates. McCay gave the film a more coherent story and more developed characterization than in the Nemo film, with naturalistic timing, motion, and weight in the animation.
How a Mosquito Operates had an enthusiastic reception when McCay first showed it as part of his vaudeville act. He further developed the character animation he introduced in Mosquito with his best-known animated work, Gertie the Dinosaur (1914).
A man looks around apprehensively before entering his room.A giant mosquito with a top hat and briefcase flies in after him through a transom. It repeatedly feeds on the sleeping man, who tries in vain to shoo it away. The mosquito eventually drinks itself so full that it explodes.
How a Mosquito Operates is one of the earliest examples of line-drawn animation. McCay used minimal backgrounds and capitalized on strengths of the film medium, then in its infancy, by focusing on the physical, visual action of the characters. No intertitles interrupt the silent visuals.
Rather than merely expanding like a balloon, as the mosquito drinks its abdomen fills consistent with its bodily structure in a naturalistic way. The heavier it becomes, the more difficulty it has keeping its balance. In its excitement as it feeds, it does push-ups on the man's nose and flips its hat in the air. The mosquito has a personality: egotistical, persistent, and calculating (as when it whets its proboscis on a stone wheel). It makes eye contact with the viewers and waves at them. McCay balances horror with humor, as when the mosquito finds itself so engorged with blood that it must lie down.
Winsor McCay (c. 1869–1934) developed prodigiously accurate and detailed drawing skills early in life. As a young man, he earned a living drawing portraits and posters in dime museums, and attracted large crowds with his ability to draw quickly in public. McCay began working as a full-time newspaper illustrator in 1898, and started drawing comic strips in 1903. His greatest comic-strip success was the children's fantasy Little Nemo in Slumberland, which he launched in 1905. McCay began performing on the vaudeville circuit the following year, doing chalk talks—performances in which he drew in front of a live audience.
Inspired by flip books his son Robert brought home, McCay said he "came to see the possibility of making moving pictures" of his cartoons. He declared himself "the first man in the world to make animated cartoons", though the American James Stuart Blackton and the French Émile Cohl were among those who had made earlier ones, and McCay had photographed his first animated short under Blackton's supervision. McCay featured his Little Nemo characters in the film, which debuted in movie theatres in 1911, and he soon incorporated it into his vaudeville act.
The animated sequences in Little Nemo have no plot: much like the early experiments of Émile Cohl, McCay used his first film to demonstrate the medium's capabilities—with fanciful sequences demonstrating motion for its own sake. In Mosquito he wanted greater believability, and balanced outlandish action with naturalistic timing, motion, and weight. Since he had already demonstrated in his first film that pictures could be made to move, in the second he introduced a simple story.
Vaudeville acts and humor magazines commonly joked about large New Jersey mosquitoes they called "Jersey skeeters", and McCay had used mosquitoes in his comic strips—including a Little Nemo episode[c] in which a swarm of mosquitoes attack Nemo after he returns from a trip to Mars. McCay took the idea for the film from a June 5, 1909, episode of his comic strip Dream of the Rarebit Fiend, in which a mosquito (without top hat or briefcase) gorges itself on an alcoholic until it becomes so bloated and drunk that it cannot fly away.
Animation was a relatively new genre in a medium which was itself less than 20 years old when How a Mosquito Operates was made, and Winsor McCay’s simple animation seems more impressed with the fact of its own existence than with any story it might tell. It’s a very simple animation, just a pencil sketch with no background detail and this, combined with the repetitive nature of its story, makes its five minute running time seem a lot longer than it actually is. The plot sees a man followed home by a mosquito who clearly has him marked out as a tasty meal. Although the man repeatedly attempts to brush the mosquito away, its persistence ultimately pays off to such a degree that it eventually explodes after gorging itself. It’s not a bad film, but it should have been only three minutes long at most.
As a followup to “Little Nemo,” Winsor McCay produced this animated short for Vitagraph Studios. Although the version I’ve found lacks color, it still has a number of things the preceding movie lacked, notably a sense of story and character. Where the point of “Little Nemo” seems just to be demonstrating that drawings can move around on film, this movie demonstrates animation’s potential as entertainment. A giant mosquito follows a man into his room and then proceeds to drink while he attempts to sleep, each sting causing the beast’s abdomen to swell with blood. Finally, it is so engorged that it cannot fly or even stand up without losing its balance. Taking a final drink, it suddenly explodes at the end. It’s somewhat disturbing, certainly compared to the innocent subject matter of most live-action films of the time, but obviously whimsical and humorous, and sticks to McCay’s theme of dreams and sleep. The whole thing is based on a comic strip he had written previously, and it is all done in fairly simple line-drawings, but with considerable attention to movement and perspective.
Okay, so it's a comic animated short by the guy who gave us GERTIE THE DINOSAUR. And, with his top hat and little antics (such as sharpening his stinger), there's no doubt that he's played for comedy. But don't let all that fool you - this is a horror movie. For one thing, take a good look at the size of this mosquito. Also take note of the fact that the movie does not flinch from actually showing the creature drinking the blood of its victim. And also check out the bloody conclusion. Even if you try to take it as a comedy, you'll have to admit that this one is creepy. Not suited for the faint of heart.
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