Thursday, December 6, 2007

Quay Brothers

One of my favorite classic stories is the The Epic of Gilgamesh. Even though the story is the oldest known written text it is not very often that it is retold or referenced in modern story telling. But it seems that the Quays once again wanted to stand out of the crowd by creating a short animated film based on this classic story. However, for the life of me I cannot make the connection between the text and the Quay film "This Unnameable Little Broom (Epic of Gilgamesh)".

For those who have not read it the story is about a king, Gilgamesh, who befriends a man who is somewhat like a beast. Both are supposed to have strength beyond normal men. They go on a few fantastical adventures until Gilgamesh's friend is killed in a battle. Gilgamesh is beside himself with grief for he became so close they we as if lovers. But Gilgamesh is also reminded of his own mortality and sets off to find immortality. However, his travel is in vain and is told that the only way for a man to gain immortality is in his actions as they are retold through out history.

The Quay film, on the other hand, is about a character (who seems to represent a boy) who takes joy in torturing helpless and unsuspecting victims. At one point the film cuts away to an other worldly realm (possibly a post-death state) where life continues to decay.

Possibly its the relation to mortality that connects these two pieces, but I recommend watching the film for yourself and making your own judgements.

Florian et Malena

During my travels in Europe a few years back I came a cross a DVD of recent European animated films at a small art gallery in Paris. I was intrigued so I purchased it knowing nothing of the films or filmmakers. All I knew was that I had not seen enough European animated films.

Within it I found many beautiful animated pieces and one in particular was by Anita Killi entitled Florain et Malena. I know very little French and none of the films have English subtitles, but I was able to understand the story with no issues for it is a story we have all heard time and time again and yet it never looses it's original power.

The film is about a boy, Florain, who has a friend who lives a cross a small river named Malena. They go to the river every day to play, but one day they are divided by war and a wall is put on the very river that they play at. Florain's father goes to fight in the war. Florain's mother tries to explain why he can't go to play with Malena, but he is unable to comprehend.

The piece uses cut-outs and is heavily character based with perfect timing and brilliant replacements. It is extremely moving especially the scenes of battle with demons riding horses and the dissolve to a devastated land and Florain looking for a place to play in the unfamiliar landscape.

Watching this film one can't help but think of World War II and Yori Norstein's representation of the effect on people's lives in his films. I find it interesting how those messages and memories are still alive today in Europe (and they can be found in a lot of Japanese art and animation). It makes me wonder about the effect of war into continuing generations when the war occurred upon the homeland. Europe (and Japan) were fairly devastated by the war physically, but the United States was not. It makes me curious about the current situation of war and the difference between the United States and most of Europe.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Alchemist and his animation

Harry Smith has been dubbed by many to be one of the worlds last Alchemists. Sensational in life,
excessive in collection and larger in life in creativity Harry Smith made many films and many works of art in his time on this planet.

Perhaps one of the most famous art work of his (and the one that is almost constantly being showing somewhere in the world with the appropriate Magic Lantern technology he envisioned) is "Heaven and Earth Magic".

This bizarre concoction of cut out animation, for the most part, using replacement rather then traditional inbetween illusion of movement was all made with a theoretical single take. Throught out the different scenes of the film there is always something that is kept from the previous scene to the next. Whether it be the artificial frame, the primary "character", for lack of a better term, or at least one of the magical objects that are presented something always stays from one scene to the next, which creates the illusion of one entire take. However, being from 1966 and shot on film; this was created on at least 3 different reels of film (and probably more). So the piece took a certain amount of perfection to hide each reel cut.

The film itself tells an abstract story of dark magic where skeleton horses dance and enormous static female heads poses small men to work wonders before our very eyes. Nothing about the film makes any sort of exact sense and even from an abstract point of view the images seem like they should be fairly uninteresting. But there is some sort of hypnotism about the film. It runs just over an hour and from the first minute your eyes are afraid to blink out of fear of missing something crucial. It is memorizing in a way that no other film is (except maybe "The Tin Woodman's Dream" another cut out animation by Harry Smith). It is magical within the film's own reality, but somehow, even after 40 years, the film has a certain amount of magic in our reality that keeps us fixed upon the screen.

"What's going on?"
"I don't know, but its fascinating and surprising at the same time!"