Emile Courtet was born in Paris
in 1857 and adopted the pseudonym Cohl when he was 20 . He only began
to take an interest in the cinema in 1907 - a year that marked a turning
point in what was already a productive life and career.
Between the ages of 18 and 50, Cohl plied a large number of trades. He worked mainly in satiric illustration (he was friend and disciple of André Gill), cartoons, journalism, and also theater and photography. He rubbed shoulders with many painters and writers: Victor Hugo, Courteline, Verlaine, François Coppée, Alphonse Allais, Alphonse Daudet, H. Gauthier-Villars (aka Willy), Caran d'Ache, Willette, Daubigny, and others. He belonged to two artistic movements, the Hydropathes and the Incohérents, and was a regular at the Lapin Agile and Chat Noir cabarets.
Cohl came to the cinema as a fairground entertainer, but having no head for business, he preferred to offer his services as scenario writer and trick film director to Lux, and particularly to Gaumont, which he joined after a year working independently. After a short stint with Pathé (1911), he went independent again and made some films for Eclipse, before being sent by Eclair to work in their American studios in Fort Lee, New Jersey (1912-14) where, shortly after his return to France, the first animation studios would open (Raoul Barré and J.R. Bray).
The hardships of the Great War didn't stop him making films, but when French cinema's domination of world cinema came to an end his own career declined: Cohn withdrew from the cinema in 1923 after making, usually working alone, some 300 shorts (of which 80% are considered lost). He died in a hospital in Villejuif on January 20, 1938, penniless and forgotten.
During his film career, Emile Cohl crossed paths with many film personalities: Louis Feuillade, Alice Guy, Ferdinand Zecca, Lucien Cazalis, Etienne Arnaud, Benjamin Rabier, Georges Méliès, Musidora, Harry Baur, Lucien and Sacha Guitry, Lortac...
What is interesting in Cohl's work is that, in addition to having invented the animated cartoons with his "Fantasmagorie" (a magic lantern term), projected on August 17, 1908 at the Théâtre de Gymnase in Paris, he gave animation a sense of poetry, a plethora of innovations, and made it an art in its own right, dubbed by some as the "eighth art," which combined cinema, drawing and painting. Thanks to the intellectual experiences of his youth, Cohl gave free rein to his imagination and made films in which critics have discerned the influence of cubism, but also the premises of Dadaism and Surrealism.
He innovated with the creation of the first animation hero, Fantoche. He made the first puppet animation film, the first animation films in color, the first animated commercial, the first animation films based on comic strips. He used paper cutouts, and often combined images, animated objects, pixillation, and layering with real-life footagewithin the same film.
This all happened in France, springing from the hands and mind of Emile Cohl. Walt Disney acknowledged as much when he was decorated with the Legion of Honor, and many animation filmmakers, such as Norman McLaren, for instance, were influenced by him, forming what one might call the Cohl School. In every country around the world, Cohl has been recognized as the father of motion picture animation.
That is why, as grandson of
this innovative artist, I feel it is unfair that, especially in France,
his work has never emerged from the ghetto, hence my campaign to promote