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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’

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Directors: Stephen & Timothy Quay
Release Date: 1993
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Stille Nacht IV Can't Go Wrong Without You © Brothers QuayThe fourth and last Stille Nacht film returns to the music of His Name Is Alive, and the rabbit and doll from the second film.

The most disturbing image is that of the girl doll somehow bleeding. In another scene a death-like man tries to steal the rabbit’s egg, using string. The rabbit saves his egg by cutting the string with his teeth, and hides the egg in a glass on the ceiling. This is the most story-like part of the film, which looks beautiful, but is drenched in mystery, just like the other three Stille Nacht films.

Watch ‘Stille Nacht IV: Can’t Go Wrong Without You’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Stille Nacht IV: Can’t Go Wrong Without You’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Brothers Quay – The Short Films 1979-2003’

Directors: Stephen & Timothy Quay
Release Date: 1992
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Stille Nacht III Tales from Vienna Woods © Brothers Quay‘Stille Nacht III: Tales from Vienna Woods’ is the third of the Quay Brothers’ ‘Stille Nacht’ films, and somehow the most incomprehensible of them all.

Star of this film is a loose flying hand, which is saved from a bullet by a hanging table, which produces a long spoon to catch the bullet. The gun shot is the only sound besides the odd Czech soundtrack, featuring some orchestra and a voice reciting over it. The film is very beautifully made, and some forest feeling is created using numerous pine cones, but it’s hard to make head or tale of this highly surreal film.

Watch ‘Stille Nacht III: Tales from Vienna Woods’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Stille Nacht III: Tales from Vienna Woods’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Brothers Quay – The Short Films 1979-2003’

Directors: Stephen & Timothy Quay
Release Date: 1992
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Stille Nacht II Are We Still Married © Brothers Quay‘Stille Nacht II: Are We Still Married?’ is the second of four ‘Stille Nacht’ films the Brothers Quay  made: all four are very short and shot in black and white.

The second, like the fourth, is set to a song by the band His Name Is Alive, in this case their song’Are We Still Married’, and thus essentially is a video clip. The film features a small rabbit trying to catch a ping-pong ball which flutters across the room like a moth. Also featured is a breathing girl doll.

Like the other Stille Nacht films the Brothers Quay manage to evoke a wonderful atmosphere, while using various camera techniques from the silent movie era, sometimes zooming in on a very small detail of the scene. The Jan Švankmajer influence, too, is very present. The film may be very incomprehensible, it makes a very intriguing watch.

Watch ‘Stille Nacht II: Are We Still Married?’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Stille Nacht II: Are We Still Married?’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Brothers Quay – The Short Films 1979-2003’

Directors: Stephen & Timothy Quay
Release Date: 1988
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Stille Nacht I Dramolet © Brothers Quay‘Dramolet’ is the first of four films the Brothers Quay made between 1988 and 1993 bearing the title ‘Stille Nacht’ (silent night).

This first film is by far the shortest of the four, but establishes the overall style of the series: black and white images featuring dolls and lifeless objects interacting, camera techniques from the silent era, moving in on very small details within the scene, a high level of surrealism, Jan Švankmajer-like animation, and no hint of a story.

In ‘Dramolet’ a rather rugged doll looks through a window into another room, where iron screw grows a plenty. Then he returns to his own table, where the same stuff appears in his bowl. When he tries to grab his spoon, the wall behind him sprouts several others.

This  very short film was made for MTV and is a beautiful product of the highly creative atmosphere of the time, when MTV invited artists from the whole world to create short films for them.

Watch ‘Stille Nacht I: Dramolet’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Stille Nacht I: Dramolet’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Brothers Quay – The Short Films 1979-2003’

Director: Faith Hubley
Release Date: 1993
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Cloudland © Faith HubleyIn ‘Tall Time Tales’ Hubley had illustrated ‘dream time’, a concept from aboriginal mythology.

In ‘Cloudland’ she returns to the aboriginal mythology, illustrating three more concepts: 1. a creation myth, in which the sun woman wakes up the earth, 2. the story of hunger at the land of plenty, and 3. Gifts from the ancestors. Like in ‘Upside down‘ and ‘Tall Time Tales‘ the episodes are announced by a voice over (this time her daughter Emily’s) telling their titles.

Hubley’s style is particularly fit for mythology, and this film doesn’t disappoint. Especially, the creation myth is wonderfully done, yet the best part is the story of hunger, with its remarkably straightforward story. This part also features the most elaborate animation, on a bird, a kangaroo and a turtle. Most of the film, however, is filled with Faith Hubley’s characteristic primitive-looking things and beings, which vibrate, move, morph and dance in short and simple animation cycles.

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

 

‘Cloudland’ is available on the DVD ‘The Hubley Collection Volume 1’

Director: Faith Hubley
Release Date: 1992
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Tall Time Tales © Faith Hubley‘Tall Time Tales’ is a meditation on time.

Like ‘Upside Down‘ the film consists of several parts, divided by a voice over. ‘Tall Time Tales’ consists of five parts: 1. Time waits for no one, 2. Tick Tock Clock, in which Hubley illustrates the grind of daily work routines, 3. The twin paradox (a concept from the relativity theory), 4. Dreamtime (a concept from aboriginal mythology) and the vague ‘Arrows or circles’, probably musing whether time is linear or circular. The film ends with a great finale of beautiful, if utterly incomprehensible images moving to Don Christensen’s percussive dance music.

‘Tall Time Tales’ is one of Faith Hubley’s more successful films, blending inspired music with ditto images. Its philosophy me be light, this is still one of those films that make you stop and wonder.

Watch ‘Tall Time Tales’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Tall Time Tales’ is available on the DVD ‘The Hubley Collection Volume 1’

Director: Faith Hubley
Release Date: 1991
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Upside Down © Faith HubleyAccording to the titles this film is inspired by ‘upside down poetry’ by 15th century Indian poet Kabir.

The film shows several ‘upside down’ situations, all introduced by a voice over, like ‘a sheep eats a wolf’, ‘a corpse eats death’, and ‘a fish jumps out of the ocean’. Most interesting is ‘an elephant is tied to an ant’s leg’, which features remarkably classic animation on the elephant, a standout between the circular and flat animation that dominates Hubley’s films.

As always, ‘Upside down’ features Hubley’s gorgeous Miró-like ritualistic designs, but the film is hampered by the trite voice over titles, and Don Christensen’s rather disjointed score. Moreover, the stream-of-consciousness-like scenes are little more than illustrations of the poet’s ideas, and there’s no story whatsoever.

‘Upside Down’ is available on the DVD ‘The Hubley Collection Volume 1’

Director: Faith Hubley
Release Date: 1990
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Amazonia © Faith HubleyWith Amazonia Faith Hubley returns to her favorite subject, mythology, telling three myths from this area.

The first is a creation myth in which the moon goddess creates life, but is envied by two other god-like creatures. Unfortunately, it’s far from clear what’s happening during this part.

Much clearer is the second part, which tells about a clever and hungry tortoise, who defeats a jaguar, a fox and a deer by outsmarting them, and then devouring them… This is a surprisingly funny sequence for a Faith Hubley film, whose style normally is more poetic than anything else.

The last myth is the only one to use a piece of dialogue: we hear Dizzy Gillespie say “One day, when there are no trees left, the heavens will fall and the people will be destroyed.” This part is clearly against deforestation, but also shows that nature will doubtless survive mankind.

Hubley’s magical animation style enhances the mythical atmosphere, as does Don Christensen’s music. The complete film is very beautiful and poetic.

‘Amazonia’ is available on the DVD ‘The Hubley Collection Volume 1’

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’

Director: Gosce Vaskov
Release Date: 1996
Rating:
Review:

Misa u A-Molu (Mass in A Minor) © Zagreb Film‘Mass in A minor’ is the first computer animated film made in Croatia.

This single fact must be the sole reason to watch the film. Otherwise, ‘Mass in A minor’ is utterly forgettable. The short is an unremarkable mood piece with flames as its main theme. The motion is perfectly set to Marijan Brkić’s new age music, but this cannot save the film, which has a cheap, ugly and utterly primitive look.

 

‘Mass in A Minor is available on the DVD ‘The Best of Zagreb Film: Be Careful What You Wish For and The Classic Collection’

Director: Darko Kreč
Release Date: 1995
Rating:
Review:

Posljednji valcer u starom mlinu (Last Waltz in the Old Mill) © Zagreb FilmIn this latter-day Zagreb Film studio short two grains change into a prince and princess who waltz around a remote water mill.

This film combines live action footage of the water mill with cell animation of the prince and princess. Unfortunately, the film is hampered by its poor story, its mediocre designs, and unremarkable music by Ozren Depolo. If anything this film makes clear that in the post-communist era the Zagreb Film studio was severely struggling. With films like these one can feel the Zagreb school dying.

Watch ‘Last Waltz in the Old Mill’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Last Waltz in the Old Mill’ is available on the DVD ‘The Best of Zagreb Film: Be Careful What You Wish For and The Classic Collection’

Director: Goran Sudžuka
Release Date:  1992
Rating: ★★
Review:

Paranoia © Zagreb Film‘Paranoia’ is a short film (lasting only four minutes) about a young man who thinks he’s followed on the street.

The film is set in monochromes, with strong black and white contrasts. Sudžuka indeed includes in his images a reference to Corto Maltese, a comic hero by Hugo Pratt, an artist with a similar palette. Sudžuka’s own style is much more angular than Pratt’s, however, and more confined to the 1980s. The film looks well, but is hampered by its trite ending.

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

 

‘Paranoia’ is available on the DVD ‘The Best of Zagreb Film: Be Careful What You Wish For and The Classic Collection’

Director: Milan Trenc
Release Date:  1990
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Veliki provod (The Big Time) © Zagreb FilmWhen a spoiled, rich brat is about to smash his piggy bank to pieces with a large hammer, the piggy bank flees. While the boy and his family are looking for him, the piggy bank has a good time at the fair.

This is a rather lightweight film, based on a story by Milan Milšić. Trenc uses a lot of different designs in this film, with the piggy bank itself being the most conventional. Like many other Zagreb films from this later period, the film is hampered by limited animation and an ugly electronic score, this time by Davon Rocco.

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

‘The Big Time’ is available on the DVD ‘The Best of Zagreb Film: Be Careful What You Wish For and The Classic Collection’

Director: Krešimir Zimonić
Release Date:  1988
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Leptiri (Butterflies) © Zagreb Film‘Butterflies’ is a film from the Zagreb Film studio, when the once famous studio was already in its decline.

‘Butterflies’ is about a young woman who imagines the different lives she can lead with some very different men. This film uses strong, angular 1980s designs and colors by co-writer Magda Dulčić, and has a rather stream-of-consciousness-like structure, with a lot of metamorphosis and designs that verge on the abstract. The animation ranges from very limited to full, and from serious to cartoony. Unfortunately, Igor Savin’s ugly electronic score and Dulčić designs make the film feel dated, and more a product of its time than a timeless classic.

‘Butterflies’ is available on the DVD ‘The Best of Zagreb Film: Be Careful What You Wish For and The Classic Collection’

Director: Michel Ocelot
Broadcast Date:  1992
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Les Contes de la nuit’ (Tales of the Night) are three fairy tale films French animation master Michel Ocelot made for television, not to be confused with his feature film of the same name from 2011.

The three fairy tales are entirely original and are done in very elegant Lotte Reiniger-like cut-out animation, using black silhouettes only against handsomely colored backgrounds. Both the design and the animation are top notch throughout, making this mini-series a delight to watch.

La belle fille et le sorcier © Michel Ocelot‘La belle fille et le sorcier’ (Beauty and the Sorcerer) is first and shortest fairy tale of ‘ Les Contes de la nuit’ and features a fat ugly girl rescuing a wizard. Soon she’s turned into a handsome young lady… The film is more comical than the other two, and hard to take seriously.

 

 

La bergère qui danse © Michel Ocelot‘La bergère qui danse’ (The Dancing Shepherdess) is the second story of ‘Les Contes de la nuit’. This fairy tale features a powerful fairy queen in love with a young handsome shepherd. He, however, prefers his shepherdess. But then the fairy queen takes the shepherd to ‘the tower of sleep’, to sleep for a hundred years, and it’s up to the shepherdess to rescue him… This is a particularly attractive fairy tale, showing the power of hope and love.

 

Le prince des joyaux © Michel Ocelot‘Le prince des joyaux’ (The Jewel Prince) is the third and last tale of ‘Les Contes de la nuit’. This fairy tale again is entirely original, but looks like a story from 1,001 Arabian Nights. The plot is rather Aladdin-like, and features a boy in love with a princess, whom he wins by defeating an evil old man, who cheats on him. Like the other two this is a delightful little film, even if it is a little heavy on dialogue.

 

‘Les Contes de la nuit’ are available on the French DVD ‘Les trésors cachés de Michel Ocelot’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date:  July 27, 1913
Rating:
Review:

He Poses for his Portrait © Éclair New York‘He Poses for his Portrait’ is the second of only two surviving Newlyweds cartoons Émile Cohl made in the United States.

Like ‘Zozor ruine la réputation de sa famille‘ the film is based on the comic strip by George McManus, and the film is essentially an animated comic strip, with text balloons playing the most important part in telling the story.

In ‘He Poses for his Portrait’ a couple wants to have a picture painted of their little baby. Unfortunately, the brat drives the painter mad. As in ‘Zozor ruine la réputation de sa famille’ there’s hardly any animation, resulting in a pretty static and remarkably boring film. By all means, Cohl’s animated comic strips should be regarded as a failure, and belong to the weakest films in his enormous output, despite their success at the time. If anything, the series demonstrated that one needed little animation to please an audience, a message which several studios would take at heart in the decades afterwards.

Watch ‘He Poses for his Portrait’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘He Poses for his Portrait’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date:  1912
Rating:
Review:

Zozor ruine la réputation de sa famille © Éclair New YorkAfter his move to the United States in 1912 Émile Cohl starting experimenting with putting the idiom of comic strips to the animated screen, being the first person to do so.

Cohl used ‘The Newlyweds’ my comic artist George McManus as the source for his new series, and the resulting films form not only the first animated series, but also the first pictures that could be titled animated cartoons.

This could have been a milestone in animated cinema, but unfortunately, the result is appalling: apart from the metamorphosis with which Cohl bridges scenes, there’s no animation at all, resulting in extremely static images. The text balloons fill the whole screen, more often than not obscuring complete personages.

Without the text balloons, there’s no story to follow. The result is that this is probably the first film suffering from too much dialogue, despite being silent!

Despite all its flaws, the Newlyweds films were a success, and Cohl made several of these pictures, of which only two survive: this one, ‘Zozor ruine la réputation de sa famille’, and ‘He Poses for his Portrait‘ (also known as ‘Le Portrait de Zozor’).

Watch ‘Zozor ruine la réputation de sa famille’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Zozor ruine la réputation de sa famille’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date:  May 4, 1913
Rating: ★★
Review:

Bewitched Matches © Éclair New YorkAfter short stints at Pathé and Eclipse Cohl sailed to the United States to join Éclair New York.

‘Bewitched Matches’ is one of the few films Cohl made in the United States before sailing back again to France in 1914.

‘Bewitched Matches’ has a rather zany fairy tale plot of a witch visiting three daughters. When their father chases the witch out of his house, the witch bewitches the matches. This leads to a long animation sequence in which the matches form images of a horse, crosses, a windmill, the American flag, a pipe smoking man, a radiant sun, an acrobat on the tightrope and a skeleton.

Neither the framing story nor the animated part is too interesting, and ‘Bewitched Matches’ should be regarded as one of Cohl’s lesser inspired films.

‘Bewitched Matches’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

 

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date:  1912
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

es métamorphoses comiques © Émile CohlMany of Émile Cohl’s films contain metamorphosis, but this is Cohl’s only film with the word ‘metamorphosis’ in its title.

‘Les métamorphoses comiques’ is arguably Cohl’s most avant-garde film. the short features live action images changing into animation and back again. Metamorphosis indeed runs galore, with Cohl’s typical stream-of-consciousness-like flow. Many of the images are pretty abstract, anticipating the work of Norman McLaren. Nevertheless, despite all the avant-garde frenzy, the most disturbing picture is a live action shot of a young boy smoking…

Watch ‘Les métamorphoses comiques’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Les métamorphoses comiques’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

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