Saturday, April 12, 2008

Poor Little Animated Shorts: Claymation Edition

Title: Dimensions of Dialogue (1982)
Director: Jan Svankmajer
Time: 12 minutes
Availability: Available on “The Collected Shorts of Jan Svankmajer” DVD and in two parts on YouTube (low quality).
“Dimensions of Dialogue” is divided into three parts. The first, “Exhaustive Discussion,” features three Giuseppe Arcimboldo-style heads made out of food, kitchenware and office supplies respectively. They take turns eating each other and variously crushing, mashing, chewing, tearing and decimating the contents of one another before vomiting, eventually reducing each other to indistinguishable homogenous profiles. In “Passionate Discourse,” a clay man and woman quite literally become one during sex, spawning an amorphous baby that they scorn. The child causes to fight, returning them to a churning mass of clay once more. In “Factual Conversation,” the least of the three segments, two busts emit complimentary items from their mouths (such as pencil and sharpener, shoe and shoelace, tooth and toothbrush) though they eventually cycle through every possible permutation at the expense of logic.

One of the seminal works of claymation, “Dimensions of Dialogue’s” brilliance hasn’t faded in the previous decades even as claymation and CG have become ever more complicated. Svankmajer’s early work with stop-motion would influence his entire career and find its way into nearly all of his feature films, which include “Alice,” “Conspirators of Pleasure,” “Little Otik” and “Faust.” Though you can find this one on the internet, I encourage anyone who wishes to see it to check their library or use Netflix and enjoy a pristine transfer.

Title: Closed Mondays (1974)
Director: Will Vinton and Bob Gardiner
Time: 8 minutes
Availability: Available on YouTube here.
An elderly drunk wanders into a closed art museum (that advertises the “usual crap”) on a Monday evening. He experiences what might be hallucinations in which the artwork comes to life before his eyes, brought on either by his inebriated state or extreme Stendhal Syndrome. An abstract painting puts on a curious musical show of beating colors while a giant cat-like robot installation, once activated, undergoes a series of independent mutations beyond the understanding of even its “inferior creators.” While initially dismissing the art with phrases like “pshh” and “what the f?” the old man becomes increasingly distressed, eventually trying to escape through a painting of a window. Lunging for the door to escape, he steps onto a pedestal and learns the true cost of entering a museum that is Closed Mondays.

This 1974 academy award winner for best animated short manages to celebrate and mock art at the same time, while telling a brief little story full of character and humor and never resorting to repetition. If you enjoy this one, you might also like “The Critic” (which took the 1963 Oscar) about a cranky Jewish man in the audience of an avant-garde animated short who loudly makes derogatory comments much to the chagrin of the other patrons. It was written by none other than Mel Brooks nearly five years before he went into feature filmmaking.

Title: More (1998)
Director: Mark Osborne
Time: 6 minutes
Availability: Available to watch on Osborne’s website here.
In a grey-scale alternative world of sad-eyed clay figures and urban uniformity a lowly worker toils a factory while dreaming of an invention that will bring back the innocence of his childhood. He eventually succeeds in transferring the glowing energy within himself into a pair of goggles. The new spectacles render the world in pulsating Technicolor hues, becoming an overnight sensation and getting him named “Greatest Inventor Ever.” However, rising to the status of manufacturing mogul only puts him in charge of the pitiable factory grunts he once worked next to and fails to bring him real happiness. Discovering that the light inside him has gone out, he peers out of his skyscraper office at the children whose joy he can never truly recapture.

Mark Osborne claims to have envisioned the entire story in his head whilst listening to New Order’s “Elegia.” It’s certainly understandable that the overpowering musical accompaniment should be so key to “More’s” emotion resonance. A definite labor of love, Osborne’s near-perfect elegiac mediation on the loss of innocence under capitalist society was made for IMAX, but couldn’t find an audience until he uploaded it to iFilms and got it played on MTV2 (where I first saw it). It’s a personal favorite of my own and is often hailed as the greatest stop-motion short of all time by my generation, yet it shockingly failed to clinch the academy award the year it came out.


Mad Dog said...

As I recall, More was used in a video for the band Kenna, correct?

FilmWalrus said...

Could be. I know it was associated with several musical groups during its lifetime as Osborne tried to convince MTV to do something with it.

Patti said...

I remember seeing "More" just right before I got into New Order and once I did get into them I realized what a fantastic use of that song that was. I could imagine anything while listening to that song (and just try listening to the unedited 17+ minute version!). Anyway, great video, and one of the few you've mentioned that I've actually seen. Once I finish this semester maybe I'll have the time to set down and find some of the rest.