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‘The Apostle’ & ‘Without A Trace’ & ‘Peludopolis’

Quirino Cristiani (1896-1984) was an animator, writer, and director who developed a passion for drawing as a teenager in Argentina.  In 1916, he was hired by Frederico Valle, a former cameraman and director in Europe who emigrated to Argentina and produced newsreels there.  Cristiani learned how to animate using cardboard cutouts, and would create a one-minute animated short, Intervention In the Province of Buenos Aires, about the ousting of Buenos Aires Governor Marcelino Ugarte by new Argentine President Hipolito Yrigoyen.  The success of the film led Valle to team up with Cristiani on a new challenge: create the world’s first feature-length animated film.  For this installment of Animation Corner, I’ll be taking a look back at The Apostle, Without A Trace, and Peludopolis (all three of Cristiani’s feature films which are sadly lost to the ages).

Written and directed by Cristiani, 1917’s The Apostle (aka El Apostolo) centers on Argentine President Hipolito Yrigoyen attempting to cleanse Buenos Aires of immorality and corruption by ascending to the heavens to use the god Jupiter’s thunderbolts.  This critically acclaimed cutout animated film was the very first feature-length animated film ever, beating Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs by 20 years.  Caricaturist Diogenes Taborda did the character designs and led a team of five animators who worked to create the 58,000 frames necessary for the satirical film (it ran at 14 frames per second).  Most of the praise for the film went to producer Valle while Cristiani, who did the majority of the work, went largely ignored.  The only known copy of the film was destroyed in a fire in 1926 in the vaults at Valle’s studio, and is now considered a lost film.

Written and directed by Cristiani, 1918’s Without A Trace (aka Sin Dejar Rastros) centers on a real-life incident in which German Commander Baron Von Luxburg had an Argentine ship sunk in order to manipulate Argentina into joining World War I against the Allied Powers.  Cristiani recruited new producers in order to make what became the world’s second animated feature film.  The survivors of the incident had shared their stories and showed everyone the truth about what happened, but President Yrigoyen still went ahead with a cover-up.  On the day after the film premiered, Yrigoyen ordered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to confiscate it; it has never been seen since and is now also considered lost.

Written and directed by Cristiani, 1931’s Peludopolis centers on a fable-ized version of Argentine President Yrigoyen’s corrupt government and its eventual overthrow by a military coup.  Halfway through production, Cristiani changed the script to accommodate the military coup and to make the generals out as the heroes in the film (Cristiani wanted to prevent future persecution of himself).  He also added an everyman character who became the moral center of the film.  Soon after starting production, Cristiani converted the film to sound and it became the first animated film with sound.  With the blessing of provisional ruler General Jose Felix Uriburu, Cristiani premiered the film and saw it go on to success.  However, Yrigoyen died in 1933 and the country was overcome with grief, forcing Cristiani to withdraw the film.  The majority of Cristiani’s work was later destroyed in two fires in 1957 and 1961 (including the only known prints of Peludopolis) and is now also considered a lost film.

(Unfortunately, there were no trailers available for these films, so I’ll post this trailer for Gabriele Zucchelli’s 2007 documentary feature Quirino Cristiani: The Mystery of the First Animated Movies.)

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