Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Reel Dogs in Art Week 1

For the next three Wednesdays, we’re exploring dog movies through art.

In 1895 the first film exhibited to a paying audience featured two dogs: Employees Leaving the Lumière Factory a.k.a. La Sortie des usines Lumière (1895). It wasn’t until ten years later that a dog starred in a his own short. Rescued by Rover (1905) was a sensation in Great Britain and the idea of a dog playing a dramatic role in motion pictures was born.

Years later, movie dogs began appearing regularly in short films from New York, then Hollywood. Throughout the 1910s Hollywood dogs were mostly comedic players, from Keystone Teddy to Luke and Brownie. The legendary Charlie Chaplin was one of many stars to recognize the tremendous comic potential of dogs on screen.

This piece from The Champion (1915), by LaurasMuse, shows Chaplin with Bulldog sidekick in one of his early dog films. The Champion was later overshadowed by A Dog's Life (1918) as a true dog centered comedy, juxtaposing a stray dog’s life with that of a human tramp. The Gold Rush (1925) features more comic canines adding laughs throughout the script.

Strongheart was largely responsible for recasting Reel Dogs as dramatic players in the 1920s: heroes of the silver screen who rescued women and children, drove away bad guys, and were wrongly accused of something or other (often sheep killing) in every single film. This portrait sketch of Strongheart is by amberchrome. You can see Strongheart today in one surviving film from the era: The Return of Boston Blackie (1927).

After Strongheart and Rin-Tin-Tin paved the way for feature films wholly centered around canine characters, dog hero wannabes popped up in nearly every studio. Many did become well known and by the 1930s there were dozens of A- and B-list dog stars and their equally famed trainers.

One of the top Hollywood canines of the 1930s was another comedic actor with an impeccable sense of timing and devilish twinkle in his eye: Skippy, a Wire Fox Terrier, was rechristened Asta after the famous character he played in the Thin Man series. This striking sketch card portrait of Asta is by drewerd.

The artwork above is published here by kind permission of the artists; LaurasMuse, amberchrome, and drewerd of deviantART.

Watch for more Reel Dogs art next week!

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