Laughter in the Dark
ONCE upon a time there lived in Berlin, Germany, a man called Albinus. He was rich, respectable, happy; one day he abandoned his wife for the sake of a youthful mistress; he loved; was not loved; and his life ended in disaster.
This is the whole of the story and we might have left it at that had there not been profit and pleasure in the telling; and although there is plenty of space on a gravestone to contain, bound in moss, the abridged version of a man’s life, detail is always welcome.
It so happened that one night Albinus had a beautiful idea. True, it was not quite his own, as it had been suggested by a phrase in Conrad (not the famous Pole, but Udo Conrad who wrote the Memoirs of a Forgetful Man and that other thing about the old conjuror who spirited himself away at his farewell performance). In any case, he made it his own by liking it, playing with it, letting it grow upon him, and that goes to make lawful property in the free city of the mind. As an art critic and picture expert he had often amused himself by having this or that Old Master sign landscapes and faces which he, Albinus, came across in real life: it turned his existence into a fine picture gallery – delightful fakes, all of them. Then, one night, as he was giving his learned mind a holiday and writing a little essay (nothing very brilliant, he was not a particularly gifted man) upon the art of the cinema, the beautiful idea came to him.
It had to do with colored animated drawings – which had just begun to appear at the time. How fascinating it would be, he thought, if one could use this method for having some well-known picture, preferably of the Dutch School, perfectly reproduced on the screen in vivid colors and then brought to life – movement and gesture graphically developed in complete harmony with their static state in the picture; say, a pot-house with little
people drinking lustily at wooden tables and a sunny glimpse of a courtyard with saddled horses – all suddenly coming to life with that little man in red putting down his tankard, this girl with the tray wrenching herself free, and a hen beginning to peck on the threshold. It could be continued by having the little figures come out and then pass through the landscape of the same painter, with, perhaps, a brown sky and a frozen canal, and people on the quaint skates they used then, sliding about in the oldfashioned curves suggested by the picture; or a wet road in the mist and a couple of riders – finally, returning to the same tavern, little by little bringing the figures and light into the selfsame order, settling them down, so to speak, and ending it all with the first picture. Then, too, you could try the Italians: the blue cone of a hill in the distance, a white looping path, little pilgrims winding their way upward. And even religious subjects perhaps, but only those with small figures. And the designer would not only have to possess a thorough knowledge of the given painter and his period, but be blessed with talent enough to avoid any clash between the movements produced and those fixed by the old master: he would have to work them out from the picture – oh, it could be done. And the colors… they would be sure to be far more sophisticated than those of animated cartoons. What a tale might be told, the tale of an artist’s vision, the happy journey of eye and brush, and a world in that artist’s manner suffused with the tints he himself had found!