Pivotal Film: New Animation Shorts ReviewedAuthor: Timothy David Orme | Date: 1/2/19, 5:19 AM
Fall, 2016, Ollie Magee.
If you haven’t seen Ollie Magee’s Fall and want to imagine it, try this: imagine a film that spatially lives where Norman Maclaren’s Le Merle (1959) meets Disney’s Paperman (2012), is drawn in the style of Art Brut (or maybe digital cave paintings), and edited in an intuitive fashion sometimes reminiscent of Kangmin Kim’s 38-39° (2012), or Shen Jie’s Horse (2013). Got it? Then you can already imagine the baffling audio/visual beauty of Fall, a film that dares to walk across the street under an umbrella, to uncover the unraveling moment of a mind on a busy city street.
Although Fall is only three minutes long, it feels as though it exists over an eternity, and may be on a loop in a city at any moment. Setting the scene, processing the scenes, moving forward down the street, and listening to the rain change pitch under the umbrella while the birds fly overhead all seem to happen simultaneously, and yet the film knows that the best way to experience this simultaneous awareness is through the repetitive and slightly shifting expanses of time. Language itself does feel stressed here, as it should. The point is not to watch this film and have a clear two sentence summary to take to a friend. The point is to watch the film so that one might experience the film as it happens: in time.
If there is some eureka moment to be found in the film, it’s through the film’s use of repetition and overall timing. The entire piece feels like a kind of filmic orchestra, balancing audio and visual speeds and volumes and tempos throughout. Both a reflection on the mundanity of the present, repetitive city moment, and also an astonishment with it, Fall is an experiential must.
“More Dangerous than a Thousand Rioters” 2016, Kelly Gallagher.
Amid the rings of wind chimes and blurred sparkly paper reflections lies the history of a revolutionary, Lucy Parsons. But don’t let the flowers and the birds fool you. There’s work to be done. There’s a fight for workers’ rights. There’s a riot. There’s a clock with hands that multiply every revolution. There’s bomb held close to the chest, close to the heart that beats and floats and repeats both its past and the film’s shiny archive. And there’s a voiceover too—the kind that must be heard to be experienced, one that’s paradoxically tender and radical, that compels as it marches. And one must not, one cannot forget the knives spinning in a circle in the center of the screen, knives multiplying with each revolution.
Kelly Gallagher’s “More Dangerous than a Thousand Rioters” is the type of animated film that doesn’t come around often enough. It’s a film that must be reckoned with. Told in a simplistic animation style that gives the audience at times beautiful images and at times abstractions that allow them to absorb the magnitude of Parsons’ struggle. “More Dangerous than a Thousand Rioters” presents moments from Lucy Parson’s life as pivotal, laudatory, and exemplary, yet in ways that never turn the piece into trite hagiography. Instead, the film is instructional, timely, and motivating. It’s a revolutionary film that cleverly meets its audience with a sense of common ground and human decency that may have even the most conservative mind questioning workers’ rights, protest, and how one achieves change. The film urges the viewer to consider why, in 1886, the request for an eight-hour work day is met with seven deaths. Even more, the film urges us all to consider what that means for us now. How are we fighting for the workers’ rights? How are we fighting for the basic human values corporations can so easily commandeer? How can we be, like Parsons, resistant, persistent, unyielding, “more dangerous than a thousand rioters?”
Perhaps one way to start is to watch Gallagher’s films—films that themselves function in ways both tender and radical, sharp as the knives that multiply with each revolution.
The Future, 2017, Greg Sharp.
In a windy landscape so dry it first appears dermal, a man searches. He is so parched he can tear away layers of his own skin as if they were paper, and he does. But his journey is not one of the epic quest we know so well: a search for love or home, or self. As we will discover in just a few seconds, he just wants some water.
Greg Sharp’s cutout animation The Future is described as “a comically cynical vision of a future where the water is gone,” a description that’s accurate enough, but that misses so much of the nuance and cunning of this short short (just barely over two minutes). For example, although the film uses a digital pipepline, the watercolor application of colors and backgrounds is apparent and impactful. It’s as if in this world the characters themselves might be made of the stuff they search for, and not even know it. The coloring of the film is itself a microcosm of the entire film: simultaneously humorous and horrifying.
While the motion in the film embraces the raw, imperfect nature of cut out animation, the motion of the film as a whole is one of striking shifts: from apocalyptic journey to Hitchcockian horror to Cronenberg-esque horror to absurdist comedy and then back and forth amongst them. Pits in the earth spew gases in the same manner blood spews from a head. First-seeming men appear from orifice-like openings in the meaty landscape and then morph into ghastly creatures. Things are foreign to us, but just so.
Perhaps the most important aspect of this film is the fact that the fleshy, visceral landscape of the film is white, the characters are all men—well, until they become some other creature that is half man half-insect. While the title itself is enough to push the film into a realm of larger environmental implications, the homogeneity of the film urges a more pointed look at white male power politics. The film’s argument isn’t new, but is presented in a new way—one that retains the humor of short animation while also the horror of the current environment.
Railment, 2017, Shunsaku Hayashi.
There are some films a viewer cannot pin down with literal words, plot synopses, character evaluations. Shunsaku Hayashi’s Railment is one of those films: a film that leaves the audience feeling as though they have experienced something profound and otherworldly, but that they cannot pin down directly. I myself have no interest in pinning this project down, but instead in understanding how the un-pinability of the project is working.
A hybrid animation made of paint and ink and loops, Railment takes the viewer through the spatial tissues of the subway system, of a body that can stand still and still move rapidly through space, of the darkened neural corridors of that moving and not moving mind. We have here a slouching, unassuming character alone on the subway, watching himself scatter and re-form in his reflection. And here, in one of the preliminary images, we have the film’s largest conflation: time and space and self become clearer, murkier, displaced. From the characters to the line work to the plot, representation in Railment is always on the verge of abstraction. Abstraction is always leaning towards representation. It is this ever-shifting sense of being grounded while simultaneously being weightless that both makes the film beautiful and difficult to define.
The film has its share of moments that are unfathomable in a literal manner (a hand reaches through the subway floor and picks up a subway car, a subway fills almost infinitely with people growing from the crowd), but perhaps the most beautiful moment in the film is the simplest: the moment we watch the subway cars ahead of our main character shift left and right, while his car remains stable. This moment is, from what the viewer can tell, as close to the film gets to realism, and yet it is so real it feels foreign and wondrous.
One might say the height of animation is to function in and thereby demonstrate subjective reality. Hayashi shows us the height of animation might do that, but also more: it might conflate the subjective and objective world in a project that claims to be neither yet dwells in both.
Timothy David Orme is an educator and animator.