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Directors: Norman McLaren & Evelyn Lambart
Release Date: 1960
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Lines Vertical © Norman McLaren & Evelyn Lambart

‘Lines Vertical’ is one of the most extreme films Norman McLaren ever made.

Together with collaborator Evelyn Lambart he manages to make a film consisting of vertical lines only, made directly on film. The whole film consists of white vertical lines moving across the screen against monochrome backgrounds. The film starts with one line, then two, then three, and so on, until ca. twenty lines fill the screen in a constant ballet.

At one point the lines get a three-dimensional quality, resembling rotating columns. The movements of the lines follow Maurice Blackburn’s serene score, which is clearly inspired by Chinese classical music. It’s a testimony of the genius of both McLaren & Lambart that they can even pull off such a boring concept, and turn it into a successful film, even if it’s not the most engaging one.

Watch ‘Lines Vertical’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Lines Vertical’ is released on the DVD-box set ‘Norman McLaren – The Master’s Edition’

Director: Norman McLaren
Release Date: 1959
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Short and Suite © Norman McLarenIn ‘Short and Suite’ a jazzy score for clarinet, piano and double bass by E. Rathburn is interpreted by dots, shapes and lines, scratched directly on film.

The film knows no narrative, and is highly abstract, but at one point one can clearly see flowers and even human shapes. The film consists of several episodes, following more or less frantic parts within the score. McLaren’s images are very well-timed to the music, and the shapes get extra dimensions by the shadows they cast on the black and monochrome backgrounds.

‘Short and Suite’ may not be among McLaren’s best, it’s still a nice example of his great art.

Watch ‘Short and Suite’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Short and Suite’ is released on the DVD-box set ‘Norman McLaren – The Master’s Edition’

Director: Norman McLaren
Release Date: 1959
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Serenal © Norman McLaren‘Serenal’ is a film made directly on film and set to a Caribean score by the Grand Cunucaya String Orchestra Trinidad.

The images consist mostly of purely abstract shapes flashing on a black screen. The shapes are very rough, but surely colorful (the film was hand-colored), and the end result is a nice piece of abstract expressionism, if still one of McLaren’s less engaging films.

Watch ‘Serenal’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Serenal’ is released on the DVD-box set ‘Norman McLaren – The Master’s Edition’

Director: Norman McLaren
Release Date: 1959
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Mail Early for Christmas © Norman McLaren‘Mail Early for Christmas’ is a short commercial, the message of which is in the title.

Set to a rather loud dixieland score McLaren has put his expressionistic and frantic direct-on-film style into action to make this message come across. The film lasts only 39 seconds and was made in chronological order, without any cuts. The film thus has a very spontaneous feel and features all kinds of abstract shapes splashing from the screen. In between we can see the words ‘Mail early for Xmas’ appearing and disappearing again.

It’s a wonder that such avant-garde film making was used for a message directed at such a general public.

Watch ‘Mail Early for Christmas’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Mail Early for Christmas’ is released on the DVD-box set ‘Norman McLaren – The Master’s Edition’

Director: Norman McLaren
Release Date: 1958
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Le merle © Norman McLaren‘Le Merle’ is based on a French-Canadian addition song, in which a blackbird loses body parts, but regains them manyfold.

Sung by le trio lyrique, this spirited song is illustrated by cut-out animation of the simplest shapes, which together form the bird, which hops and flies around. However, during the film the bird undergoes constant metamorphosis, forever changing into pure abstract patterns and back again, and losing and gaining body parts, following the song closely. All the action takes place against a simple surreal, but long vertical background, which suggests that during the song the bird moves skyward, past the clouds and into a starry night. There’s also a mind-blowing scene in which the bird travels through the starry space.

‘Le Merle’ is as mesmerizing as it is pure fun. The film takes the cartoon modern style to the max in its elementary designs, and must be counted among McLaren’s masterpieces.

Watch ‘Le Merle’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Le Merle’ is released on the DVD-box set ‘Norman McLaren – The Master’s Edition’

Director: Norman McLaren
Release Date: 1956
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Rythmetic © Norman McLarenWith ‘Rythmetic’ McLaren attempted to make arithmetic more fun for children.

Indeed, the complete film consists of additions and subtractions of numbers up to 8. The white numbers slowly fill the blue screen, accompanied by McLaren’s trademark rhythmical electronic sounds, which he made by scratching directly on film.

The complete film may be a little dry, it is nevertheless surprisingly playful, especially given the fact one watches only one blue screen filling with numbers and equations. McLaren manages to evoke something human in those numbers, through subtle animation. For example, in the end some zeros start fooling around, disrupting the equations, much to the distress of some equation marks who repeatedly try to get the zeros back in line. This finale in itself is so much fun to watch, it alone makes watching the film worthwhile.

Watch ‘Rythmetic’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Rythmetic’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Norman McLaren – The Master’s Edition’

Director: Frédéric Back
Release Date: June 1993
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Le fleuve aux grandes eaux © Frédéric BackFollowing the extraordinary success of ‘The Man Who Planted Trees’, which inspired several tree planting projects, Frédéric Back turned his attention to Canada’s majestic St. Lawrence river in ‘The Mighty River’.

Clocking almost half an hour, this is Back’s last and most impressive film. Told by Donald Sutherland, the film is both an ode to this impressive river, showing nature’s grandeur and spectacular sights, and a tale of the river’s sad history, which with the arriving of the Europeans turns a dark page. Soon, the story is one of slaughter, exploitation, destruction, pollution, and greed.

The film’s pessimistic and environmentalist message at times contrasts greatly with the extraordinarily beautiful and highly virtuoso images, not only of the river itself, or of the abundance of creatures the river inhabits, but also of mankind living around the stream.

Back’s style ranges from highly naturalistic to impressionistic, pointillistic, and even Van Gogh-like. His animation style is in constant motion, taking the spectator from one image to another in an organic string of continuity, as if the film itself flows like a river. Metamorphosis and swooping camera movements add to the flowing nature of the film.

Despite the extraordinary beauty of the more peaceful images, Back shows us many pictures of death and destruction: images of the slaughtering of once abundant species, of decimation of the surrounding forests and of the emptying of life in the nearby Ocean bay. These images give the film a sad and disturbing outlook, and there’s makes no mistake that Black blames sheer greed for these atrocities.

Yet, by altering the images of woe with images of wonder, Back keeps his film from becoming a depressing work of agitprop. Still, his message is crystal clear: man has exploited this mighty river long enough, and now it’s time to give its nature rest and time to heal. And even then the once countless flocks of great auk and passenger pigeons will never return, as man has driven them to extinction.

In all, ‘The Mighty River’ is an impressive piece of work, a film that will leave no viewer unmoved, and a crowning achievement on Back’s already impressive oeuvre.

Watch ‘Le fleuve aux grandes eaux’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Le fleuve aux grandes eaux’ is available on the DVD-box ‘L’intégrale de Frédéric Back’

Compiler: Marv Newland
Release Date: 1985
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Anijam © Marv NewlandAnijam is a compilation cartoon, organized by Marv Newland, and animated by 22 different animators.

The short features a strange yellow fellow on high heels called Foska. All scenes start and end with this character, and most of the animators feature him in their own scenes. The result is a dazzling string of totally unrelated scenes, some funny, some weird and some totally abstract.

A few animators bring their own typical style strongly into their scenes, like Zdenko Gašparović, Sally Cruikshank and Paul Driessen, others turn to abstract patterns, like Kathy Rose, Kazurai Furuya, and Per Lygum. The latter’s contribution is an early computer animation, featuring geometrical forms only. Highlight, however, is Frank Nissen’s contribution, in which a swimming octopus transforms into a naked woman.

The complete film is an ode to the imagination of the animators and the endless possibilities of the medium.

Watch ‘Anijam’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Anijam’ is available on the DVD inside the book ‘Animation Now!’

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