Never have I thought so much, never have I realized my own existence so much, been so much alive, been so much myself…as in those journeys which I have made alone and afoot. Walking has something in it which animates and heightens my ideas: I can scarcely think when I stay in one place; my body must be set a-going if my mind is to work.
― Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Confessions
Come take an artistic walk on the wild side where the sublime meets the brutal. Refreshingly honest, beautiful and whimsical!
The life of any ecosystem depends on the death and sacrifice of some individuals within that system, and this fantastic garden is certainly no exception. There are a few beasts here big enough, such as the amusing Pneumatic Behemoth who squeezes eggs from its nether region, to rest peacefully and quietly at the top of the food chain. If you wait a few seconds, someone will be eaten- the Behemoth itself has vulnerable young– or a fight will break out. Even the roses like to scuffle.
The Elephant’s Garden is a short film by animator Felix Colgrave with music by Anthony Calhoun, aka Red.M. You can take a listen to Red.M’s wonderful full score for the project, including music that was not used, here. Colgrave crafts a stunning world, full of marvelous, strange beings that often move in ways we don’t expect. This movement not only makes delightful sense, it is deftly choreographed to Red.M’s funky, rhythmic electronic score, which enhances the sensual beauty and dark wit of Colgrave’s work. There are many influences here, put together in a way that is uniquely Colgrave: Indian and and southeast Asian meet Peter Max, Terry Gilliam meets Miyazaki. It’s a colorful world.
A glance at Colgrave’s website will reveal a delightful and biting wit, cunning mind and a willingness to help and encourage others. You can check out his glorious video for Fever the Ghost’s song Sourceand the whimsically sadistic animated short Man Spaghetti, which is vaguely reminiscent of Ren and Stimpy. Colgrave produces clever animation that looks backwards while pushing the envelope relentlessly forward.
The Elephant’s Garden was a project Colgrave created at RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia’s largest University and a global leader in technology and design. It was the winner of Best Australian Film at Melbourne International Animation Festival 2014. We cannot wait to see more from this talented young animator!
In our time, the tantalizing mystery of Creation is usually explored through science or religion. Can art provide vision also?
This short film, Abiogenesis, by Richard Mans, produced by Fuzzy Realms, is an interesting take on the subject of life and its origins. A machine lands on a desolate planet, finds resources there and begins to create life. The animation is beautifully detailed; mechanical and biological forms are rendered in intricate clarity. The film is a fantastic fusion of images from the scientific and technical world with those from mythological and faith sources. I am especially drawn to the pools that exist on this bleak planet, which remind me so much of the colorful geothermal areas of Yellowstone National Park, and to the glorious representation of the Tree of Life that springs, volcanic, from the ground. This is an amazing work, full of deep connotations and new flights of thought.
Abiogenesis is the generation of life from that which is not alive. It doesn’t have the same implications as spontaneous generation, which implies that living tissue can randomly generate from non-living tissue. This is exemplified in the belief, held by scientists as recently as the 19th century, that maggots generated from rotting flesh. We now know that flies lay eggs on dead flesh, which hatch maggots. I think Mans gives a nod to this when he makes the collecting units of the machine look like flies, before they transform into motorcycles and race back to the landing module, where the “magic” happens. The next sequence is breathtaking, as life erupts on the planet. Rhian Sheehan’s musical score is wonderfully effective here. Kudos to sound designers Justin Doyle, Michelle Child and Dave Whitehead who round out the impressive team of artists at Fuzzy Realms.
I love the ending, the capsule reassembling into its original form and departing, ostensibly with the purpose of creating life on other worlds. We don’t know who created this machine, or how it was made, but I think most will agree that it is delightful and exhibits forethought and purpose, as well as some sort of Providence.
The earliest texts humanity produced were Creation myths, set down in writing after being passed down by generations of storytellers. It seems that, since we became self-aware, we’ve always wanted to know why and how we came to be on this planet. Faith has sought to deal with questions of purpose and science with the mechanics of the creative process. In modern times these two branches of inquiry have come into desperate conflict. Troubles arise most quickly when faith tackles mechanics and when science ascribes purpose. These difficulties become almost insurmountable when people seek to impose their assumptions, drawn from their own experience and training, on others. We can only believe that which we are prepared to believe. Does this mean that the modern human must make a choice between having purpose and having knowledge? What an ominous decision.
The arts are uniquely positioned to help work through this crisis. Artists do not only study or theorize about the creative process, they live it. In order to produce an artistic creation, elements of purpose and mechanical facility must come together. If anyone can integrate and synthesize faith and science it is the artist, and Mans does a wonderful job with this video.
Each of us stands in a different place, with very different light. The more we share with one another the more expansive our sight becomes.
History is not dead, but is constantly reinterpreted through the arts. Can we relate to earlier interpretations despite their controversy?
Song of the South, produced by Walt Disney for RKO Pictures in 1946, was one of the first films to combine live action with animation, allowing actors to interact with imaginary characters. Audiences had been delighted the year before by the sight of Gene Kelly dancing with Jerry Mouse in Anchors Aweigh, so the time was ripe for a film that made extensive use of this novel technique. Unfortunately, Song of the South would become more famous for its controversial picture of race relations than for its beautiful cutting edge technology. To date, Disney has not released the film on video in the United States.
Walt Disney had been interested in Joel Chandler Harris‘s Stories of Uncle Remus for years. Joe Harris was a journalist in Atlanta who championed racial reconciliation during the Reconstruction period after the American Civil War. As Joel Chandler Harris, he published numerous stories collected and inspired from African American folklore, seeking to preserve evidence of a period of time that he feared history would distort.
Little Johnny’s father in Song of the South is no doubt patterned after Harris, as he also works for a newspaper in Atlanta, where he writes pieces that stir people up and make them angry. Even his wife is exasperated with him. We are never told the exact nature of his work, but are kept with Johnny in a magical bubble protected from adult reality. All we know is that things have gotten too hot in Atlanta for Johnny and his mother, who seek refuge at the plantation owned by his paternal grandmother. This is the first of many such omissions that make the film difficult to swallow, especially for modern audiences. In fact, the film does precisely what Harris, dead since 1908, had feared. It whitewashes history and fills it with awkward silences.
Some scholars have pointed fingers at Harris, saying he was a white writer of limited skill who stole stories from the African American community and used them for his own gain. “Harris went to the world as the trickster Brer Rabbit, and in the trickster Uncle Remus he projected both his sharpest critique of things as they were and the deepest image of his heart’s desire,” said critic Robert Cochran. Was his motivation to steal from African American culture or was it to join with its dissenting voice to satirize and disparage a southern oligarchy that he despised? Harris grew up an orphaned son of immigrants and spent his teenage years working on a plantation, where he felt more comfortable in the slave’s quarters than among Southern whites. He did not write kindly of the Southern gentleman and dared to speak positively about intermarriage between races, which was considered criminal at the time and referred to by the pejorative term “miscegenation“. Reading his stories today, one might balk at the use of dialect and stereotypes, but, for his time, Harris was on the progressive side of history. Even in 1946 his leanings were not exactly mainstream.
The original screenplay for Song of the South was written by Dalton Reymond, who hailed from the South, specifically Louisiana. It was the story of Johnny, a young boy on the verge of running away because of tension he perceives between his parents, who is comforted by the stories of Uncle Remus, an elderly African American who befriends him. When Remus’s stories inspire Johnny to disobey his mother in order to help a poor white sharecropper’s daughter, mother orders the old man to leave the plantation, with disastrous effects that almost cost Johnny’s life. This story, built to couch Harris’s fables, is tepid and preachy, while Uncle Remus’s “critters” seem much more immediate and exciting.
Video clip via Aidan Ralph on YouTube.
Fearing that Reymond’s work might be too conservative, Disney hired left-leaning Maurice Rapf to rework the piece. Rapf didn’t initially want to do it; he was afraid the piece would be in the mode of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, full of racial stereotypes. He was later fired from the film after a squabble with Reymond, which proved his own misgivings correct as well as those of Disney. In 1947, Rapf was blacklisted for having been a member of the Communist party and his career in Hollywood ended. The uneasy relationship between Rapf and Reymond contributed to omissions and incongruities in the film as they continually vetoed each other’s ideas.
So why did the stories of Br’er Rabbit, Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear appeal to Americans after World War II? These are fables that show how a small character, quick on his feet and sharp-witted (Rabbit), can defeat a conniving and wicked one (Fox) paired with a large, stupid bully (Bear). This philosophy encouraged one of the more hopeful currents prevailing in the American psyche: that the United States had outfoxed the Germans, Japanese and Italians and brought World War II to an end. As Uncle Remus says at the beginning of the film, “Them what can’t learn from a tale about critters, just ain’t got their ears tuned for listening.” The moral here is that any means of defeating an evil enemy is justified, even if it requires doing something “tricky” like the irrepressible and ever lovable Br’er Rabbit. And yet Uncle Remus warns that Rabbit wouldn’t get himself into trouble if he didn’t go looking for it. Could there be isolationist sentiment along with war time guilt brewing somewhere under the surface of this children’s film? If so, it certainly hid these things with a happy smile.
Video clip via MegaRock64 on YouTube.
The stories of Uncle Remus are entertaining, beautifully shot and animated, as are the musical numbers. Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah, which went to filming before it had been blocked, is a incredible classic, with animated animals as back-up to James Baskett‘s heartfelt singing. It won the Oscar for Best Original Song in 1946 and was something of an unofficial anthem for the Disney Studios for many years. The imagination and confident ease with which Baskett delivered the song, clearly visualizing animals who had not yet been placed in the scene, is a true marvel and testament to his acting and performing genius. It is the animator’s skill, the lively voicing of Rabbit, Fox, and Bear, and Baskett’s loving portrayal of Remus, despite the stereotypical nature of the role, that render this film watchable and give it its best moments.
In a cruel turn of events, Baskett was not able to attend opening night of Song of the South because Atlanta was segregated and no hotel would book an African American. To his credit, Walt Disney actively campaigned for an Oscar for Baskett, revealing that the actor frequently worked without direction and praising him as one of the finest actors with whom he had ever worked. In 1948, James Baskett became the first African American man to win an Oscar, which he received in honor of his portrayal of Uncle Remus and voicing of Br’er Fox two years earlier. Less than six months later he was dead of heart disease at the age of 44.
Song of the South can be applauded for making the case that white Americans have something to learn from African Americans, however clumsily it did so. These folk tales, which came from people that had endured oppression, had a great deal of value to a nation recovering from war. What is awkward is that the film wants to acknowledge that wisdom without recognizing the oppression. Set during Reconstruction, the film presents happy-go-lucky sharecroppers who sing and dance and get along with their former masters with hardly a hint of strife. This is not realistic. Slavery did not end quickly and easily at the close of the Civil War. The attitudes that made slavery possible still persist in some areas. Slaves that were freed often found themselves doing backbreaking work for little pay and less respect under bosses who still looked at them as slaves and were frustrated that the government no longer supported that view. Uncle Remus comes across as a magical character rather than a plausible portrait of an African American male living in post Civil War Georgia, a strange cross between a grandfather and a fairy. Perhaps the most baffling moment occurs when Remus tells Johnny that there was a better time in the past, when man was closer to nature. This nostalgia coming from a freed slave seems misplaced and insensitive and doesn’t agree with the film’s narrative. Aren’t these the good times at the magic plantation? Perhaps this is an artifact of Rapf’s left-wing sympathies telling us that all is not well.
This is not the only difficulty. If we accept that Johnny’s father, like Harris, is a man who writes about racial inequality in the south, then why is he presented in such a poor light for sticking to his writing and staying behind in Atlanta? Grandmother, who we are told likes the things he writes in the papers, cheers him on at the end when he abandons his post to care for his own family, giving up his inflammatory journalism. Apparently standing up for other’s rights is not a worthy cause if doing so threatens your own family. Then again, there is no racial conflict at the magic plantation, so an escape to that reality provides a convenient end to the story.
The Poor People’s March, 1968
If we learn anything from America in 1946, let it be that hardship brings people of different backgrounds closer together. In the decades since we have come to understand that we only remain together if there is appreciation and understanding for who we are without that particular hardship. When the emergency is over, we have to deal with the difficulties that still exist. Fables, which evolve as human understanding changes, are not an escape from reality, but a preparation for it. As Uncle Remus tells Johnny, “You can’t run away from trouble. There ain’t no place that far.”
All images used in this post are either Public Domain or are used in accordance with Fair Use Policy.
Sam3 is an artist living in Murcia, Spain, whose work includes mural and street art as well as film. Today we feature the stop motion video entitled Ouroboros, which cuts together footage shot in Berlin in autumn 2008. Stop motion is a form of animation in which a subject is manipulated physically and filmed so that it appears to move on its own. The subject is moved between shots, creating the illusion of autonomous movement when the shots are edited into a continuous sequence. Sam3 has used this technique imaginatively to illustrate the cyclical nature of motion and life itself. Ouroboros refers to an ancient symbol of a dragon or snake eating its own tail, symbolizing recreation and rebirth, the mystery of beginnings and endings.
The music is by Persian musician Bijan Chemirani. The video is dedicated to “all the people who appear without permission”. Lovely!
The bicyclists by the roadway blow my mind, as different cyclists merge into one another and cars pass in both directions behind a foreground dominated and punctuated by arches. Trippy and extremely clever! Extra points must be awarded for the creative use of a bicycle chain and the word play between cycle and bicycle. Sam3 has a knack for capturing synchronicity.
The sea is full of movement, from the motion of small rocks, seeds and other particles carried by the water to the growth of plants and animals. The impressionistic film below uses computer generated images (CGI) to re-imagine these underwater dancers as jewels, creating crystalline forms that reflect and refract light. Shimmering sea horses and slinky jellyfish, undulating seaweed and starlike anemones are kin to the particles carried on the waves. Unbelievably beautiful and magical!
The film is entitled Hinode, Japanese for Sunrise. It is directed and animated by Tetsuka Niiyama using 3dsMax and V-Ray software. Niiyama is a dreamer who makes aesthetic depictions of things that are hard to see and hard to describe. What connotations do these forms hold for you?
Ever wonder what is going on above your head? Take a look up in the sky with NPR correspondent Robert Krulwich, known for demystifying complex subjects, and animator Benjamin Arthur. Good for restoring a sense of wonder and awe. Enjoy!
This is an amusing short by filmmaker and animator Alê Camargo. It features a vampire in the city of São Paulo, Brazil, who is having an exceptionally bad night. A predator more persistent and horrifying is making him miserable. I can relate, what about you?
I guess that is what he gets for napping when he should be out getting a bite! If Looney Tunes had a vampire cartoon, this would be it. Slapstick humor and vampires, just plain awesome. Cream cheese and broccoli pizza? Not so sure about that.
If you want to know more about Alê Camargo and Buba Films, click here. It helps if you read Portuguese.
This is an outsanding article from Sound on Sight about the amazing career of Ray Harryhausen, who created many classic monsters and special effects for film. A pioneer in constructing creatures and stop motion animation, Harryhausen’s influence is still present even as Computer Generated Images (CGI) have changed the world of film. He passed away on May 7 at the age of 92.
This is a beautiful animated video from Joseph Hodgson and Frank Aubry dramatizing and interpreting an eclipse as a kiss between sun and moon, who long for each other across the distance of space. A highly poetic and imaginative piece, Kiss: A Love Story speaks on many levels. Enjoy!
Directors: Joseph Hodgson & Franck Aubry
Animation & Art Direction: Joseph Hodgson & Franck Aubry
Sound Design: Erlend Elvesveen & Sven Erik Nordset
Sound Mix: Erlend Elvesveen
Music: ‘Stille’ by Bendik