25 for 25 – The Colour and the Shape

This thing is only 8 minutes long and I only realized after writing this that I’m gonna be overhyping the short film if you watch it after reading, so PLEASE watch it before going on:

I don’t have a source on which to plot my intention on reviewing avant-garde films. Especially not avant-garde animated short films. Nothing gives you a quicker shake than an object by which you know you are meant to read or respond to something without any real guide on how to deal with it. I know some viewers find that sort of work frustrating, like the hundreds of people trying to convince me Inland Empire is not the best thing in the world. And then I know there are a significant amount of people like myself who truly find such challenges exciting and exhilarating, the way such an unfathomable element of form and content forces your mind to craft answers and draw from the imagery an emotion at the least, a message at most. I don’t think any response is truly wrong, in the end, when it comes to the subjectivity of film-watching.

To be absolutely honest, I find myself a lot more comfortable to indulge with that in animation (and I do wonder if its easier to indulge in avant-garde work with animation than in live-action with the amount of control the artist has) and so when it comes to my idea of the relaxing kind of avant-garde work that can stimulate you without being aggressive in its challenges, Norman McLaren and Evelyn Lambert’s Begone Dull Care is my immediate go-to. Hell, it’s one of my go-to for animation, given that Canada seems to put out the best kind. They’re the only industry that doesn’t seem to have a truly defined language due to the amount of experimentation they indulge in. French animation is sort of recognizable, American animation absolutely (that’s what happens when CGI rules the industry, although Canada broke through on that animation aspect before America did with Hunger), Japanese is possible the most recognizable national animation of all, but Canada goes from The Bead Game to The Cat Came Back to McLaren’s most popular work Neighbours (which is much less inscrutable than Begone Dull Care) and Canada has never seemed to abandon any true technique, still indulging in sand animation, CGI, stop-motion, pinscreen, and paint-on-glass liberally. This was all thanks to the National Film Board of Canada opening up an animation studio in the 1940s with McLaren and founder John Grierson’s involvement and their desperation to find talented animators who didn’t leave for the War in Europe, amongst them Lambart who would collaborate with McLaren in her early career before moving on to works focusing on ballet and inventing her own style of animation utilizing paper cutouts in lithographic form (my god, the creativity of these artists makes my eyeballs pop out).

McLaren’s specialty was drawing his works on the actual film stock to supply a sort of visual music, something to reflect the tone and mood of the music which would match the rhythm of the music playing. He had started it ’round 1940 with Boogie Doodle and then had some fun incorporating a character within the film stock responding to the scratches with Hen Hop (1942) before making Begone Dull Care at his most carefree (I mean, there is the title expressing it). The drawing-on-film animation style interests me most because of how it brings more awareness to the physical element of film, even when I’m just watching it on a crappy YouTube video and not some 16mm film projection, but the deliberateness behind every line and spot and the color changes makes a case that imperfections can be used as tools for emotional manipulation just as much as any other element of movies. ‘Course nobody these days is going to be buying film stock, especially just to mess around and vandalize the quality of the film, but there it is of a time.

Meanwhile, the ability of McLaren and Lambart to have such awareness of the music they’re working with – supplied by the Oscar Peterson Trio, thus appealing to the jazz lover in me – that they can match their visual representation to the music by understanding the frame rate and controlling it around that just… that astounds somebody like me who would get exhausted trying to calculate how to work that. Because keep in mind and remember that in this film’s case, the visuals work as the music’s accompaniment, not the other way around. It’s not like Begone Dull Care just sticks on one image for a measure before on to the next, it moves! It pops! It feels so alive.

And I know I started this by saying how I find avant-garde movies intellectually stimulating, but that doesn’t mean I can’t just have fun with some occasionally. Begone Dull Care is surrounded wholly by color and sound in a marriage that I don’t have to turn on my brain to really appreciate it. If I shut off the music (and I’d rather not because the Oscar Peterson trio is bouncy and vibrant), I still get a candied melange of shapes and hues that feel just as loud as the soundtrack. If I just listen to the Oscar Peterson trio musical score, I can sure as hell tap my feet and groove with it. But smack them both together and it’s a brilliant sensation that holds me down for just a few minutes so that afterwards I can’t listen to even a pop jingle without thinking about how I’d apply a visual schema to it (it’s probably unfortunate that almost every song I listen to, I start imagining a music video for it).

I don’t know how people can be so antagonistic to abstract art when it can be as exciting and moving as this.

Anyway, I hope you watched it on the link above before reading this because otherwise… overhype’s a bitch.


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