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Director: Gil Alkabetz
Release Date: October 1992
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Swamp © Gil AlkabetzWith ‘Swamp’ Gil Alkabetz showed to be a strong new voice in the animation world.

Made at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste Stuttgart in Germany, Alkabetz uses a deceptively simple setting of only two dimensions, with no background whatsoever. In this world two armies of knights on horses, armed with giant balloons and giant scissors are fighting a senseless war over a swamp.

The film is a strong allegory on the folly of war. The film’s power is greatly enhanced by its simple yet very clear designs (all knights are drawn in black ink, the balloons in bright ecoline reds and blues) and by its great sound design. But most of all, the short shows Alkabetz’s strong sense of comic timing. ‘Swamp’ is one of the best student films of all time, and deserves to be shown over and over again.

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

 

‘Swamp’ is available on the DVD box set ‘The Animation Show of Shows Box Set 2’

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Director: Gil Alkabetz
Release Date: April 29, 2007
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Ein sonniger Tag (A Sunny Day) © Gil Alkabetz

‘Ein sonniger Tag’ is a charming little film with no less than the sun itself as its star.

In Alkabetz’s short the sun tries to impress the people, and one little girl in particular. Unfortunately, he only manages to make them feel hot, and they all try to get away from him. Only when he gives up, and sinks back into the sea, he gets the attention and appreciation he had longed for all day long.

Alkabetz’s style is loose and cartoony, and his film is full of clever sight gags, like the sun using clouds as shaving cream, or the sun blushing red when being photographed at sunset. The result is a film that’s not only charming and funny, but also impresses in how it manages to follow its inner logic from start to end, with surprising results.

Even if ‘Ein sonniger Tag’ is far from an ambitious short, it shows the skill of a true master. The short is a great example of the endless possibilities of animation, in which there’s no limit to the imagination.

Watch ‘Ein sonniger Tag’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Ein sonniger Tag’ is available on the Belgian DVD ‘Kleine helden & rare kwasten – 14 animatiefilms voor kinderen’

Director: Milen Vitanov
Release Date: April, 2007
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

My Happy End © Milen Vitanov‘My Happy End’ is an enjoyable little children’s film about a dog being in love with its own tail, which in Vitanov’s film also has a mouth.

The most remarkable aspect of Vitanov’s film is its technique: Vitanov blends traditional pencil animation with 3D computer effects, making the dog look like a single piece op paper moving around in a paper world. This illusion is enhanced by using only grey-tones, giving ‘My Happy End’ a sketchy look.

Unfortunately, Vitanov’s cartoon style is less original, and his story rather stretches the imagination (I could hardly swallow the concept of both the humanized tail and the regeneration which takes place in the end). The result is an amiable, if unassuming little film.

Watch ‘My Happy End’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘My Happy End’ is available on the Belgian DVD ‘Kleine helden & rare kwasten – 14 animatiefilms voor kinderen’

Director: Oskar Fischinger
Release Date:
 December 1933
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Kreise © Oskar Fischinger‘Kreise’ is most probably the first full color film made in Europe.

Made with ‘Gaspar Color’ it certainly makes clever use of color’s new possibilities. ‘Gaspar Color’ required too much exposure time for live action, but for Fischinger’s animations it was perfect.

Color certainly added a great deal to Fischinger’s films. ‘Kreise’, for example, literally explodes with color. As its title implies, the film is composed of circles, only, which move and grow in various ways on an instrumental excerpt from Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser.

The film ends with a slogan: “Alle Kreise erfasst Tolirag” (Tolirag reaches all circles [of society]), revealing that this totally abstract film is actually a commercial for an advertising agency. This was Fischinger’s trick to get the film past the Nazi censors, who in 1933 had come to power, and who were strongly opposed to abstract art.

Later the film also advertised other companies, like the Dutch Van Houten chocolate company. The film clearly shows that Walt Disney was not the only one who knew how to deal with color, but one wonders whether Tolirag (or Van Houten for that matter) did get a lot of new customers out of it.

Watch an excerpt from ‘Kreise’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Kreise’ is available on the DVD ‘Oskar Fischinger: Ten Films’

Director: Oskar Fischinger
Production Date:
 1930-1931
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Studie Nr. 7 © Oskar FischingerIn Fischinger’s study No. 7 , made in 1930-1931, the shapes of Study No. 6 move to the 5th Hungarian dance by Johannes Brahms.

Like Study No. 6 Fischinger made this film with charcoal on paper. In this short the synchronization of music and movement is even better than in Study No. 6. Fischinger uses less diverse shapes than in No. 6, making the film more consistent. Some of them look like fluttering and folding pieces of paper.

According to William Moritz this particular film prompted four film makers into animation: Norman McLaren, Alexandre Alexeieff, Claire Parker and Len Lye. These four all became major players in avant-garde animation. This fact makes Study No. 7 one of the most important animation films in history.

Watch ‘Studie nr. 7’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Studie nr. 7′ is available on the DVD ‘Oskar Fischinger: Ten Films’

Director: Oskar Fischinger
Production Date:
 1930
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Studie Nr. 6 © Oskar FischingerIn this short study we watch white shapes moving on a black canvas to upbeat dance music (‘Los Verderones’ by Jacinto Guerrero).

Made with charcoal on paper, the result looks like a filmed sketch by Wassily Kandinsky. The only recognizable shape is an eye, which reoccurs a few times.

The twirling shapes are elegantly drawn, their movements match the jolly music perfectly, and there’s a feeling of gaiety that transcends the film’s abstraction.

In 1931 Oskar Fischinger’s friend Paul Hindemith and some of his students made new scores for this film, but unfortunately they were all lost in World War II.

Watch ‘Studie nr. 6’ yourself and tell me what you think:

http://www.tudou.com/listplay/R8qsaMltb9Y.html

‘Studie nr. 6′ is available on the DVD ‘Oskar Fischinger: Ten Films’

Director: Svend Noldan
Release Date:
 1930
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Hein Priembacke in Afrika © Svend NoldanHein Priembacke was a cartoon character conceived and animated by Svend Noldan. Noldan had his origins in the German dadaist avant-garde scene, something that is not visible in this cartoon.

‘Hein Priembacke in Afrika’ is a silent film and uses German title cards in rhyme. Hein Priembacke is a sailor who’s washed ashore an African desert. Being hungry he first tries to retrieve a coconut, which turns out to be a wallaby. Later he goes to a settlement (which was visible in the background all the time), where he pulls two turnips, which turn out to be Negroes (forgive me the word – it’s used as such in the film itself). The angered cannibals soon chase our hero (“Jetzt wird’s bedenklich, lieber Christ. Der Neger ist kein Pazifist” reads the title card, which translates as “Now it becomes questionable, dear Christ, for the negro is no pacifist“), but he manages to escape to his homeland, hanging on the legs of a stork.

The animation is surprisingly well done, although the action is at times ridiculously slow. The film’s highlight are the animation of the waves and of the landscape on Priembacke’s flight back home. Done with cut outs, the landscape moves stunningly realistically under our hero, creating a great sense of depth, predating Disney’s multi-plane camera by seven years.

Indeed, special effects turned out to be Noldan’s expertise. His star rose when the National Socialists came to power in 1933, and many film makers left Germany. He later provided special effects for German propaganda films, like Leni Riefenstahl’s ‘Triumf des Willens’ (1935), and ‘Der ewige Jude’ (1939). During World War II he worked for the German war industry. Although his role in Nazi Germany is dubious to say the least, he survived the war unscathed, and returned to making films, which he kept on doing until the end of the 1960s.

Watch ‘Hein Priembacke in Afrika’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Hein Priembacke in Afrika’ is available on the DVD ‘Uncensored Animation 2: Cannibals!’

Director: Lotte Reiniger
Release Date: 1928
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Der scheintote Chinese © Lotte Reiniger‘Der scheintote Chinese’ is a short film by Lotte Reiniger, made in the same vein as her stunning feature film ‘Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed’ from 1926. Unlike her feature, this isn’t a romantic film, however, but a comical one, exploiting some surprisingly dark humor.

It starts when a couple makes fun with Ping Pong, the emperor’s favorite humpback. Unfortunately he chokes on a fishbone, leaving the couple believe he’s dead. They try to get rid of him, and so does every other citizen who finds the body on his doorstep. Finally a drunk is caught and sentenced to death for the brutal murder on Ping Pong. When the innocent drunk is almost hung at the gallows, the other people get remorse, and each pleads guilty in succession. Luckily, at that moment, Ping Pong awakes.

‘Der scheintote Chinese’ is an entertaining story, and Reiniger’s designs are as delicate as ever. But the animation is crude and stiff, and her timing rather tiresome. Thus the film fails short to become a timeless classic.

Watch ‘Der scheintote Chinese’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Der scheintote Chinese’ is available on the DVD ‘Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Ahmed’

Director: Andreas Hykade
Release Date: September 2006
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Runt © Andreas Hykade‘The Runt’ is Hykade’s fourth independent film. It’s a disturbing short about a little boy who is allowed to keep a pet rabbit, if he’s going to kill it himself the next year.

Hykade’s simple and cute designs, and use of bright colors contrast with the film’s grim story, but they also make it watchable for everybody. There’s practically no reference to any time or place, and its story about death and coming of age has a universal appeal. Its timelessness makes the film an instant classic.

‘The Runt’ may not be as bold as his previous film, ‘Ring of Fire’ (2000), it is a great example of Andreas Hykade’s talent. He has succeeded in creating one of those rare shorts that make you think.

Watch ‘The Runt’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Runt’ is available on the DVD ‘International Animation: Modern Classics’

Director: Gil Alkabetz
Release Date: 2004
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Morir de Amor © Gil AlkabetzTwo parrots in a cage relive the day they were caught, while their owner is asleep. Unknowingly, they betray a secret to their owner, with deadly results.

‘Morir d’Amor’ (the title comes from a Mexican song of the same name) is a funny and sweet film about love. It is told basically through the imitations the parrots make of real sounds, which evoke their memories of that fateful day. The film contrasts the dull present (in black and white) with their colorful memories of the forest.

Alkabetz shows some impressive handling of perspectives that is reminiscent of the work of George Schwizgebel. Despite the fast montage, the film suffers from a slow timing, however, and perhaps it is a bit too long. Nevertheless, its gentle humor makes it one of Alkabetz’s most accessible films, lacking the experimentalism of much of his earlier work.

Watch ‘Morir de Amor’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Morir de Amor’ is available on the DVD ‘International Animation: Modern Classics’

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