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Director: Jan Švankmajer
Release Date: 1989
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Flora © Jan Svankmajer‘Flora’ is an ultra-short film made for MTV. It only lasts 30 seconds.

In it we watch a woman who’s tied down to a hospital bed. She apparently consists partly of vegetables, which are quickly rotting away, as if life is leaving her by the seconds. There’s a relieving glass of water nearby, but out of her reach. This is a puzzling and rather unsettling image, which knows no release.

Flora was the Roman goddess of flowers, and her features resemble that of a Giuseppe Arcimboldo-character, another homage by Švankmajer to the Renaissance-master, after ‘Dimensions of Dialogue‘ (1982). But how did the goddess come into this setting of utter distress? Watching her decaying alive is painful, even within this short time-frame.

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

‘Flora’ is available on the DVD ‘Jan Svankmajer – The Complete Short Films’

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Director: Jan Švankmajer
Release Date: 1989
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Darkness Light Darkness © Jan SvankmajerIn ‘Darkness Light Darkness’ we watch several body parts entering a small room in order to assemble a complete man.

Together with ‘The Death of Stalinism in Bohemia’ (1990), ‘Darkness Light Darkness’ is Švankmajer’s last classic animated short film before he embarked on a career of directing features, which featured less and less animation.

‘Darkness Light Darkness’ is on the same level of virtuosity as ‘Dimensions of Dialogue‘ (1982): its stop motion animation, by star animator Bedřich Glaser, and its sound design, by Ivo Špalj, are both no less than perfect. However, it’s much lighter of tone than the earlier film. In this short film Švankmajer and Bedřich Glaser use a particularly cartoony type of animation. For example, the entry of the genitalia is a hilarious highlight.

Nevertheless, even this film has a darker side: when the man is complete, he completely fills the room, which is way too small for him. We hear him breathing heavily, and can assume he his in great pain in his cramped position. The cartoon ends with this claustrophobic image before darkness enters again. So, somehow, even this enjoyable film tells something about the human condition, how during our lifetimes we can develop ourselves only to end in the eternal dark again…

Because of its unity of space and time, and because of its unique inner logic, ‘Darkness Light Darkness’ is one of the best told animated shorts ever. It shows Švankmajer’s mastery. In that respect it’s unfortunate that in the 1990s he moved on to live action films.

Watch ‘Darkness Light Darkness’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Darkness Light Darkness’ is available on the DVD ‘Jan Svankmajer – The Complete Short Films’ and on the DVD ‘Alice’

Director: John Lasseter
Release Date: March 17, 1989
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Knick Knack © PixarAfter three impressive short films, the fledgling Pixar company decided to relax a little bit.

The result is ‘Knick Knack’, in which boundaries are pushed much less clearly, but which demonstrates like no other short that Pixar animation is rooted deeply in an animation tradition.

‘Knick Knack’ features toy souvenirs, focusing on a snowman trying to escape the prison of his snow globe to join some sunny souvenirs. Harking back to the Warner Bros. cartoons of the 1940s and 1950s, ‘Knick Knack’ is self-consciously cartoony. For example, the snowman is able to produce various tools out of nowhere. Moreover, his actions are driven by a sexual desire, induced by the rather grotesque female souvenir from Miami*. These traits are typical of classic cartoon characters, like Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny.

Unlike these, however, the snowman is a silent character, and his fanatism is more reminiscent of the equally silent Coyote in Chuck Jones’s Roadrunner cartoons. Like the Coyote, the snowman is conscious of the camera, and shares his emotions directly with us, the audience.

‘Knick Knack’ only clocks 3 minutes, but its gag story is perfectly executed in this short time to a wonderful finale. The result is a very entertaining and funny cartoon, with an excellently matching soundtrack by Bobby McFerrin.

However, it was to be the last short Pixar would make in eight years. After its release, the company suffered some changes: it ditched its hardware department, making the studio department suddenly the core of the business. Now the studio could focus on its first feature length film, ‘Toy Story’…

Watch ‘Knick Knack’ yourself and tell me what you think:

* Upon the film’s rerelease as a short for ‘Finding Nemo’ (2003) the Miami souvenir and the mermaid were redesigned, losing their bulbous boobs. With this step they became less obviously stereotyped objects of male desire, making the snowman’s actions less overtly sex-driven. Unfortunately, with this removal the film lost a little of its bite.

Director: Peter Lord
Release Date: 1989
Rating: ★★½
Review:

War Story © AardmanWith ‘War Story’ the Aardman studio returned to their original lip-synch experiments with real dialogue.

This time they use an interview with one Bill Perry, an old man who tells his memories of his life in Bristol during World War II. Unlike the ‘Animated conversations’ series, however, there is room for goofy images exaggerating the tall tales of the voice over, which involve a slant house and lots of coal. The film’s images are very tongue-in-cheek, yet this film once again suffers from a bad soundtrack, and the old man’s mumblings are at times very difficult to follow, indeed.

The blending of real interviews with original and humorous images would be perfected in ‘Creature Comforts’ by Nick Park, who also animated on this film. In this sense ‘War Story’ is an important step towards Aardman’s mature style, which was to become less serious, and more cartoony, and consequently, more commercially successful.

Watch ‘War Story’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘War Story’ is available on the DVD ‘Aardman Classics’

Director: Richard Goleszowski
Release Date: 1989
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Ident © Aardman‘Ident’ is a surrealistic film about how we change our identity over the course of a day according to the people we meet.

The film uses highly original and very stylized designs, and jabbering dialogue to an alienating effect. Its claustrophobic labyrinth setting alone is unsettling. The film is not heavy-weighted, however, but keeps a light sense of humor. It also features a flat dog that was to become the direct ancestor of Rex the Runt.

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

‘Ident’ is available on the DVD ‘Aardman Classics’

Director: Erica Russell
Release Date: 1989
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Feet of Song © Erica Russell‘Feet of song’ is a non-narrative film about dance and Russell’s solo debut film.

It uses semi-abstract human forms, akin to those by painter Kazimir Malevich. The human forms feel both futuristic and African at the same time, and have a timeless appeal. The images get more and more abstract as the film progresses, but the sense of dance is never lost.

‘Feet of Song’ features African-sounding world music by Charlie Hart, but the music is in service to the beautiful images, not the other way round. Made for Channel 4, ‘Feet of Song’ is a prime testimony of Erica Russel’s unique style, clearly influenced by Oskar Fischinger, but firmly rooted in her South African and dancer background.

Unfortunately, Russell made only two other independent films, ‘Triangle’ in 1994, and ‘Soma’ in 2001, devoting most of her time to commissioned work (her images for example appear in the Madonna video-clip ‘Dear Jessie’ from 1989).

Watch ‘Feet of Song’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Feet of Song’ is available on the DVD inside the book ‘Animation Now!’

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