You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Independent film makers’ category.

Director: John Hubley
Release Date: 1959
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Moonbird © John HubleyWith ‘Moonbird’ John and Faith Hubley entered the field of animated documentary.

The film is an illustration of a nightly fantasy adventure by their own two little boys Mark and Humpy (ca. five and three). The main narrative of their fantasy is that they try to catch a large bird, using candy for a bait. But being two little boys, their story meanders a lot, and is interrupted by random singing, and even crying.

John and Faith Hubley illustrated this unedited piece of recorded dialogue as if the boys’ adventure were real. What’s more, they added subtle action that is not in the soundtrack. For example, the Moonbird itself is seen much earlier than heard.

The background art is pretty avant-garde, rendered in bold black, blue and pink brush strokes. These images verge on the abstract, but manage to evoke a nightly garden, nonetheless. Animators Bobe Cannon and Ed Smith, however, animated the two boys in classic Disney style, even though they are rendered in monochromes and with the pencil lines still visible.

‘Moonbird’ is a charming little film, and an ode to children’s fantasy. It was immediately recognized as something new, and it won the Academy Award for best animated short.

Later, the Hubley’s made more films based on unedited dialogue, e.g. ‘The Hole’ (1962), ‘The Hat’ (1964) and ‘Windy Day’ (1968), the last film starring their two daughters. In the late 1970s the fledgling Aardman studio followed suit with their Animated conversations series (e.g. ‘Down & Out‘ and ‘Confessions of a Foyer Girl‘).

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

‘Moonbird’ is released on the DVD’s ‘Selected Films of John and Faith Hubley 1956-1973’ within The Believer Magazine March/April 2014 and ‘The Hubley Collection Volume 2’

Director: John Hubley
Release Date: 1958
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Tender Game © John HubleyBy the end of the 1950s John Hubley had survived the McCarthy era that had hit him hard*, and with his Storyboard studio he could finally make the films he really wanted to.

‘The Tender Game’ is a wonderful example of Hubley’s great and gentle art. The short is a delightful little wordless film about love set to the song ‘Tenderly’, sung by Ella Fitzgerald, and accompanied by the Oscar Peterson trio. The cartoon’s setting is a city, vaguely reminiscent of Paris. Here a flower girl falls in love with a street cleaner.

The designs of this cartoon are very bold: for example, the two main protagonists don’t have solid bodies, but consist of loose parts, and sometimes it seems as if they’ve walked straight from a Pablo Picasso painting. Both their designs and that of the backgrounds have a strong painting quality, being rendered in broad brush strokes, and verging on the abstract.

The poetic artwork contrasts a little with the animation, done e.g. by fellow-UPA alumnus Bobe Cannon, which is still clearly rooted in the comic tradition. Highlight is the interior scene, in which the two lovers reluctantly try to court each other. This is a marvelous little piece of character animation, full of telling expressions and poses.

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

‘The Tender Game’ is released on the DVD’s ‘Selected Films of John and Faith Hubley 1956-1973’ within The Believer Magazine March/April 2014 and ‘Art and Jazz in Animation’

* for a full account on how McCarthyism affected the animation world see Adam Abraham’s excellent book ‘When Magoo Flew – The Rise and Fall of Animation Studio UPA’.

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: Lucjan Dembiński
Release Date: 1959
Rating: ★★
Review:

Pyza © Studio Filmów Lmów Lalkowych‘Pyza’ is based on children’s books by Polish author Hanna Januszewska (1905-1980).

‘Pyza’ starts with a mother making dumplings for her numerous children. One of the dumplings changes into a girl, who soon goes for a walk. Outside she meets a rabbit, and the two become friends and have some little adventures together.

‘Pyza’ features no dialogue and uses the simplest puppet designs. This children’s film looks attractive, but emotion is more suggested than felt, and the animation is rather lifeless and stiff. Moreover, Dembiński’s timing is pretty relaxed, and the film balances on the verge of boring. In the end, the directionless story and the uninspired animation render a film too poor to enjoy.

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

 

‘Pyza’ is available on the DVD set ‘Anthology of Polish Children’s Animation’

Directors: Jerzy Zitman & Lechosław Marszałek
Release Date: 1959
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Bulandra i diabel © Studio Filmów Rysunkowych‘Bulandra i diabel’ retells a story by Polish writer Gustaw Morcinek (1891-1963).

Unfortunately, the story is very hard to follow, not to say incomprehensible. It doesn’t help that there’s no dialogue (when the protagonists talk, you hear some sped up tape sounds). At least the narrative features a miner, a goat, a king and a devil.

Zitman and Marszałek have designed their film like a picture book, and all action takes place in absolute flat space. Neither the background art nor the cut-out figures get any feeling of depth. The background art is neatly designed, combining a naive folk-like quality with a stark cartoon modern design. The cut-out figures however, are animated rather poorly, and hardly display any sense of emotion. The result is rather disappointing.

In fact, ‘Bulandra i diabel’ is most interesting for featuring music by avant-garde composer Krzysztof Penderecki. During this time Penderecki was already experimenting with stochastic techniques and new timbres, but none of that in this film. Here he sticks to a way more accessible rather gritty Béla Bartók-like mid-century modernism.

Watch ‘Bulandra i diabel’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Bulandra i diabel’ is available on the DVD set ‘Anthology of Polish Children’s Animation’

Director: Władysław Nehrebecki
Release Date: 1958
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Myszka i kotek © Studio Filmów Rysunkowych‘Myszka i kotek’ is a very beautiful example of the cartoon modern style of the 1950s.

The film is a very playful tale of a real mouse chased by a line drawing kitten, which has jumped from a postcard. During the chase the cat repeatedly dissolves into a line only, and the animators play with the fact that the animal is outline only.

Both cat and mouse are pleasantly designed and very well animated, but it’s the gorgeous background art that draws the main attention. Every single panel is a beauty, depicting a nightly room in bold designs, verging on the abstract. The main background color is black, and the light blue outline of the kitten reads very well against the background art.

In short, ‘Myszka i kotek’ is a Polish little gem that deserves to be better known.

Watch ‘Myszka i kotek’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Myszka i kotek’ is available on the DVD set ‘Anthology of Polish Children’s Animation’

Director: Władysław Starewicz
Release Date: 1958
Stars: Patapouf
Rating: ★★
Review:

Winter Carousel © Ladislaw StarewiczWładysław Starewicz was a stop motion pioneer, who had made some very important films in the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s. ‘Winter Carousel’ was the last film he completed, and the short’s style is practically the same as that of his films of forty years earlier: the film is essentially silent, and populated by various animals, whose rather gritty look is typical for the Polish-Russian filmmaker.

‘Winter Carousel’ stars brown bear Patapouf and his rather mischievous friend Rabbit, who had been introduced in Starewicz previous film, ‘Nez au Vent’ (Nose in the Wind, 1956). In ‘Winter Carousel’ the duo encounters a jolly snowman, who apparently is father Winter, and a female polar bear. Both Patapouf and Rabbit are clearly interested in the female creature, and the three go skating together, playing blind man’s buff, and riding a Christmas tree carousel. This part of the film is a delightful sequence: Starewicz’s arctic backgrounds are pretty evoking, there’s a unique sense of poetry in the images, and his suggestion of speed during the skating and carousel scenes is impressive.

But then suddenly Father Winter starts to melt and reveals a female wooden creature (clearly a goddess of spring) underneath. Thus, strangely, the last five minutes of the film take place in spring. Unfortunately, from that moment all suggestions of narrative are thrown out of the window, and things just happen on the screen. We watch Patapouf en Rabbit gamble with some dice, watching a performance by a grasshopper and drinking in a long, plotless and completely superfluous kind of epilogue. None of theses spring images matches the winter scenes, and in the end the film is too uneven and too rambling to be a lasting work.

The animation is at times quite good, especially in Rabbit’s and Patapouf’s little gestures, but the complete result is unfortunately rather boring. In fact, this product, already old-fashioned and hopelessly dated by its release, is a rather sad ending to Starewicz’s great career. With this film he only managed to proof that he was a relic from another era.

Watch ‘Winter Carousel’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Winter Carousel’ is available on the DVD ‘The Cameraman’s Revenge & other Fantastic Tales’

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’

Directors: Włodzimierz Haupe & Halina Bielińska
Release Date: 1958
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Zmiana warty (The Changing of the Guard) © Włodzimierz Haupe & Halina Bielińska

‘The Changing of the Guard’ is a stop motion film that tells a story with the simplest of means.

The background consists of highly graphical wiry outlines of buildings set in an empty stage. The ‘actors’ are matchboxes. We watch them marching, while one of them, a night guard, falls in love with a female matchbox in a window (the matchbox is recognizable as a woman, because of the three lips painted on its front). When the two meet at night, they catch flame, which devours the complete regiment. So, the next day the civilians put up a ‘no smoking’ sign.

Haupe’s and Bielińska’s stop motion is very primitive, yet effective, and their minimalist approach shows how little one needs to tell a communicating and resonating story. Admittedly, their story is not too interesting, verging on the brink of a farce, but the elegant designs and effective animation make it a short fun to watch.

Watch ‘Zmiana warty’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Zmiana warty’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Anthology of Polish Animated Film’

Director: Walerian Borowczyk
Release Date: 1958
Stars: Borisław Stefanik
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Szkola (The School) © Walerian Borowcyk‘The School’ is a pixillation film starring Borisław Stefanik as a soldier in training.

We watch the private practicing, being tantalized by a fly, trying to hoot, and going to sleep, where he dreams he’s a general commanding marching women’s legs. Apart from the dream scene, the film is shot in sepia tones, giving it a timeless feel. The story never gets too serious, and the absurd atmosphere is enhanced by Andrzej Makowski’s overtly enthusiastic military music, completed with whistles and duck calls.

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

 

‘Szkoła’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Anthology of Polish Animated Film’

Directors: Walerian Borowczyk & Jan Lenica
Release Date: 1958
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Dom (The House) © Walerian Borowcyk & Jan Lenica‘Dom’ is an avant-garde film with strong surrealistic images. The film consists of six unrelated ‘scenes’ connected by the image of a woman looking into the camera.

It’s as if Borowczyk and Lenica explored the possibilities of experimental cinema, trying out several techniques in a row. Thus we watch cut-out images of a strange contraption, a pixillated scene of two men fighting, an octopus-like wig destroying a still life setting, a man repeatedly hanging his hat on a coat rack, a sequence of old family pictures and postcards, and a live action scene in which a woman caresses a plaster male head.The film’s weird atmosphere is greatly enhanced by Włodzimierz Kotoński’s modern music, which uses electronics and percussion only.

It’s hard to make sense of it all, but it’s clear that with this film Borowczyk and Lenica proved to be strong new voices in avant-garde cinema.

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

 

‘Dom’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Anthology of Polish Animated Film’

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’

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’

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 959 other followers

Bookmark and Share

Follow TheGrob on Twitter

Categories