You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘documentary’ tag.

Director: Keith Griffiths, Quay Brothers
Airing Date: 1984
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer © Quay Brothers‘The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer’ is a documentary about the Czech master of surrealism.

It was made by the Quay Brothers with the sole purpose of being able to watch Švankmajer’s films themselves. Advertised to the BBC as a documentary on French and Czech surrealism, the film is rather highbrow, featuring artists and art historians, whose remarks are sometimes very difficult to grasp, indeed.

Unfortunately, the master himself refused to be interviewed and he is not shown at all. Luckily, Švankmajer’s strong images speak for themselves, and the documentary undoubtedly helped to raise interest in Švankmajer’s films in the West.

The documentary shows excerpts from Švankmajer’s films ‘Dimensions of a Dialogue‘ (which de facto is shown in its entirety), ‘The Last Trick‘, ‘The Flat’, ‘Et Cetera‘, ‘Jabberwocky‘, ‘Historia Naturae, Suita‘, ‘The Ossuary‘, ‘Games with Stones‘, ‘Punch and Judy’, ‘Don Juan‘ and ‘The Fall of the House of Usher‘.

However, ‘The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer’ is also interesting for animation buffs, even for the one who have seen all Jan Švankmajer’s films, for its original interludes, which are animated by the Quay brothers. These interludes have a truly Švankmajer-like atmosphere, highlighted by the reuse of music from Švankmajer’s films. They feature a Švankmajer-like teacher, made of household objects, and his apprentice, a doll, whose head is emptied in order to let him experience the world anew.

These interludes are no less than wonderful and form an animation short in itself, which is both a great homage to the Czech master and a showcase of the Quay brothers’ own art. In fact, the Quay Brothers compiled the interludes and these are available and widely known under the same name as the complete documentary, which is, in fact, eclipsed by the animated short version.

Watch the animated interludes from ‘The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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

Director: Jan Švankmajer
Release Date: 1970
Rating: ★★★
Review:

The Ossuary © Jan Svankmajer‘The Ossuary’ is a commissioned documentary film about a Czech chapel in Sedlec, which is decorated with thousands of bones and skulls of victims of the 1318 plague and of the Hussite wars of 1421.

Two versions of this film exists: one with a soundtrack of a rather mundane guide guiding a group of children, in which she repeatedly warns not to touch the bones on a penalty of fifty crowns. Her tour is mixed with the uncanny sound of a rattling bicycle. For unclear reasons this soundtrack was considered subversive and forbidden by the Czechoslowakian regime. Therefore a second version was made using a jazz soundtrack.

In both versions the soundtrack conflicts with the morbid images, which are composed in a rhythmical way that even appeals when watched silently. The film contains no animation, but is full of Švankmajer’s idiosyncratic cinematography.

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

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

Director: Peter Lord & David Sproxton
Release Date: 1978
Rating: ★★
Review:

Confessions of a Foyer Girl © Aardman‘Confessions of a Foyer Girl’ is the second film in Aardman’s revolutionary ‘Animated Conversations’ series.

Like its predecessor, ‘Down & Out‘, the film uses recorded dialogue. This time we hear two foyer girls chatting in a cinema. The dialogue is hard to understand and the lip-synch is not as good as in ‘Down & out’. Moreover, the animation is associated with seemingly unrelated stock live action footage, which leads to a film, which is both experimental and vague. The result never quite works and the result must be called a failure.

‘Confessions of a Foyer Girl’ is available on the DVD ‘Aardman Classics’

Director: Peter Lord & David Sproxton
Release Date: 1978
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Down & Out © Aardman‘Down & out’ is the first film in Aardman’s ‘animated conversations’ series and the British studio’s first masterpiece.

The very idea of using dialogue from real life is revolutionary enough, but to use it for clay animation with lip-synch is a masterstroke. Moreover, the animation of the plasticine figures is startling: it lacks the exaggerations of normal animation, but uses small gestures and real movements, like scratching one’s nose or belly, instead. The animation continues realistically even when not supported by the soundtrack. The result is uncannily realistic, making the drama of an old, confused man asking for food and shelter, but being turned down at an Salvation army office, extra tragic.

With this film Aardman single-handedly invented the ‘animated documentary’, a genre which would lead to fantastic films like ‘Ryan’ and ‘Waltz with Bashir’ in the 2000s.

‘Down & Out’ is available on the DVD ‘Aardman Classics’

Director: Winsor McCay
Release Date: July 1918
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Still from 'The Sinking of the Lusitania' featuring people abandoning the capsizing steamerMcCay’s fourth venture into animation is even more curious than the preceding three (‘Little Nemo‘, ‘How A Mosquito Operates‘ and ‘Gertie the Dinosaur‘). It’s an almost real time report of the sinking of the passenger steamer ‘The Lusitania’ by a German submarine in May 1915.

Like McCay’s earlier films, ‘The Sinking of the “Lusitania”‘ starts with some live action footage of the artist at work, helped by one Mr. Beach who provides McCay with the details on the sinking. Yet, this live action introduction is brief, and soon we cut to the real event.

The action depicted is explained by the title cards, who tell us when and how the ship was hit by two torpedoes fired from a German U-boat. The film also tells us about the number of passengers who perished, and singles out four of them. The tone of the title cards is agitated, and angry, pointing to Germany as a cruel and merciless enemy, and ending ending with the bold sentence “And they tell us not to hate the Hun!“. This message no doubt was rather welcome in a time in which the United States joined the war effort.

McCay’s animation is of a startling realism: the rolling waves, the steamer and U-boat moving in perspective, the explosions and smoke are totally convincing, and at the same time retain their graphic quality. The impact of the images is greatly enhanced by the use of cels (‘The Sinking of the “Lusitania” is the first McCay film to do so), and lovely background art of ocean skies. Despite the fine animation, the action is on the slow side, with people sometimes falling in slow motion into the sea. Yet, the slowness adds to the terrifying experience of the cruelty depicted.

The staging is superb: McCay uses only a few ‘camera angles’, most of them possible in real life, enhancing the idea of an objective record of events. Only two shots escape the documentary style: one shot of two fish fleeing from an approaching torpedo, and a final shot of a mother with child sinking into the sea. Clearly, McCay wanted the viewer to have the feeling he was witnessing the event in real time, as if he was there. Of course, the documentary style only enhances the clear propagandistic message against Germany. The bold propaganda may not have aged very well, McCay’s images certainly have: such command of perspective, such elegance of drawing and such dramatic yet convincingly ‘realistic’ staging is still impressive, one hundred years later. ‘The Sinking of the “Lusitania”‘ thus is a great example of how animation can be used in documentaries to show events that could not or have not been put on film. Strangely, this use of animation was not seen again, until the 21st century, when ‘Waltz with Bashir’ (2008) entered the cinemas.

In all, ‘The Sinking of the “Lusitania”‘ is an astonishing film, which may be both the first animated propaganda film and the first animated documentary. It’s totally unique in its drama, and, despite the propaganda, an all time masterpiece of animation.

Watch ‘The Sinking of the “Lusitania”‘ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Winsor McCay’s fourth film
To Winsor McCay’s third film: Gertie The Dinosaur
To Winsor McCay’s fifth, unfinished film: The Centaurs

‘The Sinking of the “Lusitania”‘ is available on the DVD ‘Winsor McCay the Master Edition’

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

Join 942 other followers

Bookmark and Share

Follow TheGrob on Twitter

Categories