The Magical World of Segundo de Chomón

Segundo Víctor Aurelio Chomón y Ruiz, more commonly called Segundo de Chomón, was the Spanish director behind such breakthrough silent films as Gulliver en el país de los gigantes and El hijo del diablo.

Segundo de Chomón
Segundo de Chomón

De Chómon was a contemporary of Georges Méliès (A Trip to the Moon). Though he isn’t as well known as Méliès today, de Chómon was a true innovator who was one of the first directors to produce what was then called a trick film, or a film with real special effects. This film may look a bit amateurish to modern eyes, but Création de la Serpentine was filmed in 1908, only 11 years after the first camera built to capture motion was introduced.

Création de la Serpentine wasn’t just a trick film; it had a plot that featured star dancer Loie Fuller. In the film, Mephistopheles interrupts a small group of dancers and spirits away their teacher. The viewer follows them into a large room, where Mephistopheles brews together a potion in a large cauldron and a beautiful dancer (Fuller) emerges from the mist.

Frederick Glasier's iconic photograph of Loie Fuller
Frederick Glasier’s iconic photograph of Loie Fuller

The same year another silent film called Les Papillons Japonais was released. Like Création de la Serpentine, it featured special effects. However, it is a more creative and beautiful film. Les Papillons Japonais was ahead of its time in every way, beginning with its use of color. (It’s worth noting that half a century after the film’s debut, the majority of movies were still filmed entirely in black and white.)

The first viewers of the film would have thrilled to the impossible scenes that were enacted before them: drawings that came to life, free-floating parasols, and morphing butterflies. The film also played into the popular theme of Orientalism, an art movement that romanticized Eastern subjects. At the turn of the century, the Far East was a strange, exotic world to the audience of Les Papillons Japonais.

Even after establishing himself as a director, de Chomón continued to focus on his partnerships with other directors and providing special effects for their films.

Segundo de Chomón died of a heart attack in Paris in 1929. Today, he is an obscure figure, referred to merely as “the Spanish Méliès”.  Though his contributions to film are all but forgotten, de Chomón is nevertheless a significant figure who deserves his place in film history.

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