Friday, September 23, 2011

Wonders from the Zagreb School of Animation

A still from Tup Tup by Nedeljko Dragić (1972)
I was very pleased to be asked to introduce a programme of short films programmed by Aline Conti from the  Zagreb School of Animation showing today at the 31st Cambridge Film Festival.  At the microphone, I was obliged to confess straight away that I have no expertise in the area of Zagreb Animation, just a sturdy admiration.  I leapt at the chance to have a think about the films, relay my thoughts and the results of my research and sit in the dark and watch them all on the big screen.

The films screened were:

SAMAC (Alone) by Vatroslav Mimica, 13'09", 1958
SUROGAT (Ersatz) by Dušan Vukotić, 9'36", 1961
ZID (The Wall), 3'32", 1965
MUHA (The Fly) by Alexsandar Marks & Vladimir Jutriša, 8'16", 1966
MACKA (The Cat)by Zlatko Bourek, 10'10", 1971
TUP TUP by Nedeljko Dragić, 9'42", 1972
SATIEMANIA by Zdenko Gašparović, 14'15", 1978

A still from Muha (The Fly)
by Alexsandar Marks & Vladimir Jutri
ša (1966)
A still from Satiemania by Zdenko Gašparović (1978)
A still from Surogat (Ersatz) by Dušan Vukotić (1961)
The films were largely united in the use of a 'limited' style of cel animation, simple non-realistic design and movement, absence of  dialogue, brilliant experimental sound design and an anecdotal focus on the small man encountering difficulties in a big world.  My only reservation about the work was that occasionally these unsurmountable 'difficulties' were unresponsive women or fields of bosoms. (The films were all made by male animators.)

I really enjoyed MUHA (The Fly) by Alexsandar Marks & Vladimir Jutriša from 1966, it had a lovely circular narrative, extremely spare animation and some wonderful shots that were both uncanny and full of suspense.  TUP TUP by Nedeljko Dragić was a fantastic film, the way that his frustration was animated with such a light yet vigorous touch was so pleasurable to watch.  SUROGAT (Ersatz) by Dušan Vukotić was the first non US film to win an Oscar in 1962.  The design was splendid and the gags very clever, I especially enjoyed the way that he put his swimming trunks on with his head buried in the sand and his bottom in the air.  There's this brilliant humming tune, that's too catchy.  Watch it on you tube and see if you'll be humming it too. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Animation Pimp

I'm reading Chris Robinson's Animation Pimp all in one go, like the Arnaldur Indriðason's that whizz in and out of Hackney library on my card.  His musings, rants, unvarnished self-revelatory details mostly relating to animation make for a unique experience for the animation community where everyone is generally kind about each other's films.  You spend a year in penury in the dark, it's hard for people to tell you directly that you've wasted your time.  I expect the outspoken nature of his writing gives him a bit of trouble, but whenever I've heard him spoken of, there's a touch of awe there too.  Sometimes I'd love to write gonzo fashion, as he does, but I'm not nearly macho enough to deal with the consequences. You can read the Pimp at AWN with comments and all and the Pimp is returning in the Autumn.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

"Don't worry, it's just animation, it has no real effect on people"

It's  always a treat to finish the summer with a serious blast of animation at LIAF, which gets better and better every year.  It's lovely to catch up with old friends from near and afar and see so much great work.
The best films of the festival are shown on the last night, voted by the judges and audience votes, so it can lack the balance of a curated screening. This year the screening included some extraordinary works, but they were, without exception, expositions of bleak subjects (where were you Jonathan Jones?), they were, with one exception male, and they were all pretty long.  Get Real by Evert de Beijer immersed the viewer in a demented biro scribbled computer game, the characters and design were pretty unique. David O Reilly 's External World (quoted in post title) was perhaps my favourite because it's so nuts, all the characters are completely revolting to each other, greedy, acquisitive or in the grip of a little drama, but it is also clever and thoughtful in it's way, embracing both the past and future of animation without concession. The spectacular new work by Blu, Big Bang, Big Boom is impressive, the film visits the same subject as in Ishu Patel's Bead Game (1977), but the canvas is Berlin, not beads.  The technique has developed since the first film Muto, in that there are some interactions with objects and the environment, and in some cases people too.  The excellent stop motion animation Bobby Yeah! was there too!  Congratulations to Robert Morgan for winning Best British Animation.  I did feel truly sick and wretched by the end, all that corned beef and toenails, and poor old deranged and innocent Bobby, who is egged on to acts of extreme violence by the lure of a red button that he can't seem to resist. YEAH!

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Bravo! Very Nice, Very Nice

In many ways Theodore Ushev and Arthur Lipsett are a perfect pair, but funnily enough Ushev's new film Lipsett Diaries isn't the most revealing part of their union.  Last week at LIAF, Ushev showed nearly all of his films, which were The Man who Waited (2006), Tower Bawher (2005), Drux Flux (2008), Tzaritza (2006), Yannick-Nezet- Seguin: No Intermission (2010) & Lipsett Diaries (2011).  What a daring and dynamic body of work and whilst he appropriates different styles and mediums, there's a strong graphic sensibility that is evident throughout.  As if watching most of Ushev's films wasn't exciting enough, he then presented the films of Arthur Lipsett.  Very Nice, Very Nice was made in 1961 when Lipsett was in his early 20's.  It's so beautifully and confidently assembled.  He used film scooped from the floor of the NFB and he cut together a collage of still images, the sound is key in creating the humour, although the films are very much political works, and evidently made by a melancholic.  Lipsett's films 21-87 (1964) Free Fall (1964) and A Trip Down Memory Lane (1965) followed. They are all worth watching on the NFB's digital archive, which is where I first came upon the films of Arthur Lipsett last year.

Theodore Ushev was brought to Lipsett by a series of coincidences, and Chris Robinson (Director of the Ottawa Animation Festival) joined him by writing a script that sprang from Lipsett's films.  There are no diaries.  Ushev has created the film using thousands of beautiful paintings, the impression is of great restlessness, which clearly chimes with the subject.  The film is very masterful and engaging, but I would tentatively suggest that seeing the work of Ushev and Lipsett together was thrilling enough, and I'm not sure what more Lipsett's Diaries was able to add.  Ushev hopes that a curiosity can be created about the overlooked Lipsett, and I'm sure that he will succeed. This film is sure to arouse that curiosity and also sure to enjoy as much success as his other works.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Marina Warner

photo by Kim Noce

Marina Warner gave a wonderful talk in the Barbican Art Gallery last week, in relation to the Watch me Move Show, specifically she was talking about the history of shadow play in relation to Lotte Reiniger, Kara Walker and William Kentridge.  Just as she does in her brilliant books, Marina Warner managed to both ground the subject of shadow in history and set it free to enjoy quite new associations, it was all in all, a very envigorating experience for the brain.

The Corinthian Maid or The Origin of Painting by Joseph Wright of Derby 1782
(NGA, Washington)
I'm still trying to put the pieces together myself, and this is a very limited account to help my memory and further thoughts.  She started with Joseph Wright of Derby's painting of Dibutades recording the sleeping silhouette of her lover, just before he departs on a perilous journey, with only a spear and a dog to protect him.
Philip James de Loutherberg was the creator of the Eidophusikon presented in Leicester square in 1781. This was a 6ft by 8ft miniature mechanical theatre in which lamps, pulleys and stained glass slides were used to recreate dramatic scenes from nature.  It must have been very exciting but certainly eclipsed by the "fantasmagorie" of Etienne Gaspard "Robertson" Robert which took place in the Capuchin Convent near the Place Vendome.  The residents and visitors to post-revolutionary Paris were delighted to be frightened out of their wits with his show which depicted ghosts and skeletons emerging from a lightening-filled sky.  He created these effects by using multiple projectors, a magic lantern on wheels, a waxed screen and eerie sound effects.
The shadow moved from mass entertainment to the home in the Victorian era, when there was a need to be seen to contain the fear and control the phantoms but also entertain all those children tumbling around the parlour.   It looked as if Dad got his scissors out and made shadows on the wall with the help of a candle.  This was also the time of Arthur Rackham, who used his scissors to make silhouettes as well as the wonderful drawings, this one below is from Cinderella.

Marina Warner showed a lovely image of Lotte Reiniger's magical trick table, which she thought of as a magic horse or flying machine in which was able to take flight as an artist and filmmaker.  She told us that through listening to other writers on film (one of whom I remember was Ian Christie) she had been interested in the idea that the characters depicted in Reiniger's work are not shadows that materialise on the screen, but entities in their own right.

As well as outlining the historical background she also touched upon the concept of shadow and the material of shadow and it's metaphorical association with shade and darkness.  In this context she showed the works of William Kentridge and Kara Walker, both of whom embrace the political aspects of the material that they work with.  They both deserve more than a few sentences at the end here so I shall endeavour to write about them again.  In brief, Kara Walker revisits sites of 'darkness' in the American consciousness by satirising the literature of abolition, slavery and the civil war using enormous silhouettes, which are beautiful and very difficult to look at.  William Kentridge uses a direct animation method (as I often do).  He draws on an enormous piece of paper with charcoal and erases each frame before recording a new one, he refers to his method as 'stone age' animation, and Marina Warner suggested that he does this to 'thicken time and add memory'.  I think I can see what he means.