Thursday, December 24, 2020

Józef Robakowski - "Prostokąt dynamiczny" (1971)


                                                        Music by Eugeniusz Rudnik


"Józef Robakowski... was the founder of artistic collectives Oko (1960), Zero-61 (1961-1969), and Krąg (1965-1967), and member of the 'Pętla' Student Cine Club (1960-1966). In Łódź, he co-organised the Workshop of Film Form (from 1970), and the 'Stacja Ł' Television Creative Group (1991-1992). He teaches at the National Higher School of Film, Television and Theatre in Łódź. An integral part of Robakowski's work are his statements and self-commentaries, as well as numerous programming texts and manifestoes, e.g. Calling Once Again for 'Pure Film' (1971), Video Art - a Chance to Approach Reality (1976), or Manipulating! (1988). Since the 1960s, Robakowski has remained an active animator of cultural life, as the author of a number of important initiatives (e.g. the Exchange Gallery), organiser and curator of exhibitions, and originator and editor of publications (Nieme Kino, Pst!).

"Robakowski made his first experimental film in 1962, 6,000,000, a compilation of fragments of Holocaust-era documentaries. Photographic activity dominated the early period of his practice, also as part of the collective Zero-61... During that time, besides various photographic experiments (e.g. Photo-Painting, 1958-1967; double-exposure photographs employing mirror-image composition), Robakowski made photo-objects, such as Colander (1960), the photograph of a colander nailed to a plank.... Between 1965-1967, Robakowski was also active on the collective Grupa Krąg, which brought together visual artists, filmmakers, poets, sculptors, and photographers. The artist remembered: 'These exhibitions were like quasi-theatrical happenings, with all kinds of actions, 'tricks', transforming exhibition presentations into spectacles (...) I was closest to a simulated character that didn't really exist, and its name was Józef Korbiela."

"In Łódź...  in 1970, the Workshop of Film Form (Warsztat Formy Filmowej) was founded... The Workshop's practice, focuses on an analysis of the new media language (photography, film, video), drew its inspirations from the constructivist tradition and conceptualism, striving to get film rid of 'alien elements' (anecdote, literary forms, narration) and make its language simpler and information denser.

"The artist's analytical position at the time was also manifested in his interest in the peculiarities of human perception towards the still cameras and film cameras, in questions about these tools as extensions of the human organism's mental and physiological functions. During this time, from 1974, Robakowski also embraced a new medium - video.

"The move away from the traditional forms of filmic narration often went hand in hand with a rejection of the representational function. The non-camera film Test II (1971) is among the most radical statements against the narrativity and illusiveness of the traditional filmic message, made by puncturing a dark film tape, as a result of which the viewer was 'attacked' by a strong beam of projector light, producing the effect of afterimage.... 

"In the 1971 manifesto Calling Once Again for 'Pure Film', the artist wrote, 'Currently the subject of my work is eliminating from film elements characteristic for literature....  through various kinds of experiments, trials, propositions, I will succeed in freeing film from the ballast of habits adopted from literature, uncritically accepted almost universally by both filmmakers and viewers.'

"The first piece made as part of WFF was Robakowski's Market Square (1970), an animated film compiled with still images of the Łódź market square, Czerwony Rynek, made every five seconds on a single day between 7 am and 4 p.m. In the film, that time was compressed to five minutes.

"An important aspect of Robakowski's WFF work were experiments with image and sound - an extra soundtrack, asynchronicity of sound and image, or their mutual relation. The artist experimented with them in Próba II (1971), juxtaposing intense red colour with classic organ music. In Dynamic Rectangle (1971), Robakowski manually shaped a rectangle to music by Eugeniusz Rudnik. The issue of the relation between sound and image returned frequently in the artist's oeuvre, including the films Videosongs (1992) and Videokisses (1992).

"... Since the 1970s, an important role has been played in Robakowski's art by his concept of art as a field of energy transmissions. Hence he has focused in many of his works, which are often biological-mechanical recordings, on issues such as vitality or energy resulting from the contact with a tool. The film are often an effect of an encounter between the mechanical camera and the human body, a confrontation between man and medium. "I want to tell you all that art is energy", Robakowski says, jumping out of water in his Energy Manifesto (2003), as if paraphrasing and referring to a conception by Andrzej Pawłowski, who claimed that "art is an energy field". Robakowski wrote in 1977...


"...n 1975, Robakowski started a series of works called Energetic Angles, which, as he says, reflect my fascination with the problem of the existence of 'Angles' as a kind of intuitive geometry. (...) I've been wondering to what extent geometry, whose goals are intended to be purely practical, can function in art.... 

"Energy fields have also been realised in Robakowski's art in other ways. In the 1980s, he made films based on recordings of rock concerts, especially his favourite band, the punk group Moskwa. In 1989, in the film My Videomasochisms, he mocked self-mutilating tactics of performance artists: during a for-camera performance, he manipulated various tools next to his face, inflicting a kind of torture on himself. In 1996, in a TV studio, he carried out a happening, broadcast live, during which he was connected to electricity, asking viewers to increase the voltage (I Am Electric).... 

- Culture.PL.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Kibwe Tavares - Robots of Brixton (2011)

"Kibwe Tavares combines his training as an architect with his love of storytelling and animation to create futuristic 3D animated/live action films with social and political depth, creating incredibly detailed, vivid, and kinetic visual environments to entice audiences. His first short, ‘Robots of Brixton’ (a thesis project for his master’s degree) made a big splash in 2012 leading him to win the Special Jury Award at Sundance.... He is a founding member of Factory Fifteen, a design-led creative studio working with animation, VFX and emerging technologies." 

"OKA: You've said that your 2011 film, Robots of Brixton came out of questions you had about your identity, specifically as a university-educated black Briton. What were some of questions you were asking when you made that earlier film?

KT: I made Robots as my final thesis piece, to look at how migrant cultures reappropriated their space. I used it as an opportunity to redesign Brixton but also to be propositional about what I was suggesting. Something I noticed while I was travelling in East Africa was the segregation between tourists and local people. I felt strange. None of the locals expected me to be a tourist because I was black - but I was staying in these weird campsites which were really isolated - so I was in Africa but surrounded by white people. Somehow I was the only black guy in a very black place. Now that’s quite normal for me  - to be the only black guy in the room,  or at a party. But it's very different from when I was growing up. As you go down this architecture path, slowly, slowly, slowly, you’re taken into a different world. I was thinking about that, looking at race, and what happened to migrant populations. I looked at the Brixton Riots as something that happened right at the start of my life. When they happened [1981], it would have been quite rare to see a young black academic, and still is, although less so, but at this level we’re still quite rare. So I was just looking at what’s changed, and trying to retell that story which I felt was important to my own story. But I wanted to do it in a way that was a bit less “black” – which was a bit more accessible, which had a wide audience – from schoolkids to academics, to people just into sci-fi. So it became very broad but also had quite an important meaning to me. So many people have that experience of being other. Not everyone – but a big chunk of people - always feel like the outsider. That’s why abstracting it allowed it to be a project that doesn’t have so much baggage. And I think that’s one of the reasons it was successful." -- interview with Okayafrica

Saturday, December 5, 2020


Recently I participated in a project called microtelevision pulled together by outernational audio imprint Artetetra, "an experiment in imaginal PSAs, digital folklore and non-narrative infotainment". Basically it's lots and lots of YouTube playlists of cool shit curated by oddball types, mostly musicians in the same online milieu that Artetetra moves within. 

My contribution is an immense (and still growing) playlist of experimental animation, visual music, and weird short films titled Dreams Built By Hand  - an offshoot of this blog, although I forgot the significant comma in Dreams, Built By Hand

The Artetetra project is a finite entity, so for the permanent link to the playlist, go here. But do check out the other great stuff at microtelevision

Below is my introductory text to the playlist, which serves as an explanation for this blog too: 

It was music that actually led me into the world of 20th Century experimental animation. 

I noticed that some of my favorite avant-garde electronic composers had provided the scores to various films: Bernard Parmegiani and Francois Bayle both made music for Piotr Kamler, a Polish animator transplanted to France, while his erstwhile compatriots Jan Lenica and Walerian Borowczyk  drew on the eerie abstractions of composers like Wlodzimierz Kotonski  and Eugeniusz Rudnik.The makers of the films sought out music as alien and futuristic – or surreal and creepy – as the moving images they created.  Sometimes that was from established composers;  other times from lesser known people  of their acquaintance who had institutional access to synthesisers or studios at universities. In some cases, animators like Norman McLaren and Jeff Keen, created their own peculiar scores, using various methods. In McLaren’s case, this involved a self-devised technique of “hand-drawn sound” whereby he literally scored the film, scratching miniscule markings on the celluloid’s edge that controlled loudness, pitch and timbre. When the film was run through the projector, this miniature code generated electronic-sounding scurries of blips.  

The connection with avant-garde sound makes sense because much of this animation is so abstract it falls into a category that scholars call “visual music”.  So there’s a reversibility at work: two art forms united through their shared synesthetic ambition. Animation in its most radical, pure form is aspiring to the condition of music; music, in its most radical, adventurous form, is trying to create moving pictures in your mind.

Another parallel between experimental music and experimental animation is that much of the work involves a do-it-yourself, outsider ethos. Just as there is a whole tradition within avant-garde music of inventing instruments (Percy Grainger’s assemblages of ready-made household equipment like vacuum cleaners to invent sound-generating machines, Harry Partch and his gamelan-like percussive constructions), likewise in experimental animation, it is usually a lone operator, maybe occasionally a duo, creating these projects over a long period of time. You often have an obsessive, eccentric individual, like Harry Smith, devising their own techniques and spending months or years painstakingly assembling these works.

Hence the playlist title “Dreams Built By Hand”. It’s almost all animation from the pre-digital era. The means of production is manual, laboriously fiddly, time-consuming, and it involves working with the stubbornly material realm of the analogue. Techniques range from widespread ones like drawing cels and stop-motion using puppets, models, paper cut-outs, etct o more bizarre, self-invented modes (Julian Antonisz’s “non-camera films” that involve painting directly onto the surface of the celluloid film, Ferenc Cakó’s patterns drawn in sand, etc).  

These literally hand-made movies have a certain quality that is phenomenologically different from digital animation. The illusionism at work feels like magic, in both senses: conjuring tricks, and the uncanny and sorcerous. A creaky kind of artificial life is created before your disbelieving eyes. 

Sunday, November 29, 2020

PIOTR KAMLER, L'Araignéléphant / The spiderelephant / Slonoiga (1968)


"One of the Polish greats, Kamler made most of his classic animations in France, where he forged working relationships with musique concrete composers like Luc Ferrari,  Francois Bayle, and Bernard Parmegiani. The latter soundtracks “The spiderelephant” (1968) with wondrous avant-whimsy.  The film itself takes us into a glowing otherworld inhabited by the eight-legged pachyderm of the title.  Don’t worry about the narration in French, just relax into this exquisitely rendered tone-and-texture poem of crinkly iridescent lines and mottled patches of pink, violet, and grey. Every shot is like a Rothko if his career had been diverted into children’s storybook illustration. 

"If you enjoy “The spiderelephant”, try out Kamler’s similar  “La planète verte” – or the quite  different atmosphere / look of “Delicious Catastrophe.” Between 1977 and 1982, Kamler devoted five years of his life to creating a  full-length animated science fiction movie called Chronopolis – then, possibly completely shagged out, he returned to Poland and switched artistic lanes to  sculpture." 
- SR

"Kamler began studying as an artist in his native Poland in the 1950s – an era that saw an extraordinary flowering of creativity in the realm of experimental animation in Eastern Europe – but soon relocated to Paris. There he became involved with the Service de la Recherche at ORTF, France’s national agency for radio and television at the time. Among the entities working within the Service de la Recherche was the Groupe de Recherches Musicales (GRM), which remains legendary within the history of avant-garde music as an epicenter for composers, musicians, and technicians experimenting with electronic composition, musique concrète, and other forms of acoustical research. Among those working under the umbrella of GRM were such luminaries as Luc Ferrari, Iannis Xenakis, Beatriz Ferreyra, Bernard Parmegiani, Ivo Malec, and François Bayle, all of whom would collaborate with Kamler to provide soundtracks for his films.

"Kamler’s early films are predominantly abstract, emphasizing color, shape, and motion to create a counterpoint between image and sound. He moved increasingly, however, towards representational imagery, favoring surreal, haunting figures and fantastic environments whose symbolic suggestiveness and existential starkness are highly reminiscent of the work of other Polish animators like Walerian Borowczyk, Jan Lenica, Daniel Szczechura, Stefan Schabenbeck, and others. Using a wide range of techniques – from ink to pinscreen to rotoscoping to clay – Kamler created numerous short films from 1959-75, before devoting himself for the second half of the 1970s to the painstaking creation of his magnum opus, the feature-length CHRONOPOLIS, a dizzyingly inventive sci-fi allegory concerning the nature of time." -  Anthology Film Archives 


"Piotr Kamler’s SF film Chronopolis (1982) is a hypnotic exercise in sinister science whose imagery is lifted from an archaic stone vault. Against an unsettling patina of musique concrète composed by Luc Ferrari, we are plunged into a far future existence where immortal beings ensconced in a celestial city perform apathetic conjurations of matter. An external force, explorers climbing the pillars (?) that hold up the city, presage a deliverance from the languor that afflicts all.

"... In Chronopolis the hieratic denizens perform science as a ritual to hold off inexistence. The science itself appears primal, a knowledge forever know, but abstracted as mesmeric movement...

"The city, formed as if from astronomical telescopes and astrolabes, takes on the appearance of an ancient mausoleum wall, the figures chiseled yet animate, accessible though a causeways of gates. Kamler deliberately evokes the feel of Egyptian hieroglyphics without direct references. Or the pressing of a Phoenician seal into wet clay. The effect is timeless. The city has always been. The incantations that fill the sacred space continue. The musique concrète, the manipulation of found sounds, further enhances its timeless qualities.

"Like an animate Remedios Varo painting, this is an immersive experience with only fragments of plot."

- Joachim Boaz, SF Film Ruminations

Monday, November 16, 2020

Jeff Keen – Irresistible Attack (1995)

Brighton-based Jeff Keen was an important figure on the  1960s British underground scene of happenings and “expanded cinema”. This film “Irresistible Attack” comes from 1995 but is essentially of a piece with his earlier work  - typically consisting of short bursts of rapid-fire imagery, scrawled drawings, roughly clipped photographs from magazine advertisements and newspaper stories, and sometimes 3D objects like plastic toys that melt before our eyes.  Although not typical ‘visual music’ in the sense we’ve seen earlier in this video-lecture, there’s two connections to music here. There’s a violence that convulses Keen’s work, in both the editing and the imagery itself - endless explosions and savage acts, mutilated scraps from the mass media, the burned black materials. That reminds me of Bomb Culture by Jeff Nuttall – a British counterculture contemporary of Keen’s, although involved in experimental poetry more than the visual arts – in which Nuttall writes evocatively about the orgiastic violence coursing through the music of the Sixties – the overloaded, distorted guitars, the heavy amplification, The Who and Hendrix destroying their instruments onstage – which Nuttall saw as a kind of Dionysian reaction to the threat of living under perpetual threat of nuclear obliteration (hence "bomb culture") as well as to contemporary carnography of Vietnam. Another music connection is the soundtrack, which Keen made himself, using processed shortwave radio sounds and other electronic effects. The scores to the films were released a few years ago by Trunk Recordings under the title Noise Art. ” - SR, from a video-lecture given at the Tate Modern. 

"Jeff Keen was no minimalist. You’re apprised of that at the entrance to this selection of works from the 1950s to the ’90s, where several of the late artist-filmmaker’s early films are looping. The opening two minutes alone of Meatdaze (1968) – an eight-minute 16mm film intended as a compacted simulation of an entire movie programme – overwhelm the eye with intensely accelerated and inventive footage; rewatching it on the BFI boxset GAZWRX: The Films of Jeff Keen (2012) invites athletic use of the pause button. To a thunderous soundtrack of kitsch war-movie orchestrations and booming bombs, a cut-out biplane soars through a gallery of Old Masters, red goo bursts from an anatomical drawing, torpedo-like cocks spurt, giant bubbles menace a doll’s house … and that’s about two seconds’ worth....

"The Brighton-based artist and pioneer of expanded cinema, who died last June aged 88  had served in World War II, working on experimental tanks and aeroplane engines. Afterwards he became interested in Surrealism and Art Brut.... He took up filmmaking as British art went proto-Pop. All these influences bubble through his wildly inclusive films, whose ensemble casts, multiple exposures and haywire storylines echo and perhaps anticipate those of Andy Warhol and Jack Smith. They’re reflected, too, in his auxiliary production of 2D works (replete with forces-style stencilled texts on dirty grounds), assemblages and sculptures, barely seen outside Brighton galleries until a couple of years ago, when Paris’s Galerie du Centre began showing his paintings.


"The result is that this show, which touches all bases, feels like a soup made out of individual soups, scalding hot and, in places, burnt. Keen’s art is structurally gristly, but what comes out of it most strongly is a translocation of the violence he witnessed in war into culture, wherein it might provide an exhilarating headfuck that retains a latent critical dimension. He seems to have been warring with categories and borderlines from the start, and comes off as a rigorous anti-formalist as well as a reflector of unstoppable bodily energies....  ‘It’s Auto-Bio-Graphik / But not an Autobiography / Direct Projection / & not an illustration / See the world drawn inside-out…’ he once wrote.
                                                                            - Martin Herbert, Frieze, 2013.

Interview with Jeff Keen by Jackie Foulds & Duncan White.


Wednesday, September 30, 2020

HARRY SMITH, No. 11: Mirror Animations (1956-57)

"To be an animator requires a methodical and systematic mind, diligence and meticulous attention to detail, and the patience and sheer stamina to withstand long-haul, labour-intensive  and hideously fiddly work. Harry Smith was unusually endowed with these qualities. Although best known for his work as a collector of obscure folk and blues 78 rpm recordings (resulting in 1952’s epochal and hugely influential six-LP compilation The Anthology of American Folk Music), McLaren’s true passion was animation. 

"Using various self-developed techniques of hand-painting and marking the film using masking tape,  working with scratch-board drawings, and cut-out images, Smith would spend years holed up in his New York apartment toiling over a single film.  His animations often reached several hours in length and required drastic editing down before he could show them.  Many projects were abandoned in an unfinished state. On their rare public performances, Smith would project the films onto special painted screens of his own construction. Music – usually jazz  – was central to his work, as with the original version of Thelonious Monk’s “Misterioso” that soundtracks “Mirror Animations”.

"Like his hour-long masterpiece “Heaven and Earth Magic”, “Mirror Animations” (1956-57) emerged out of Smith’s obsessive collation of illustrative material from 19th Century catalogues.  He filed the cut-outs – photographs or drawings of people, animals, vegetables, tools, furniture, and sundry other objects -  in glassine envelopes for protection, while noting on file cards every possible interaction that a given image could have with another image.  Yet, contradicting all this obsessive-compulsive preparation, when it came to the assembly process, Smith aimed for a state of mental vacancy akin to automatic writing. 

"The deliberately stilted movements of the snipped-out images have a quaint and creaky quality that casts back to the magic lanterns of the 17th Century. Magic of a different kind – not conjuring tricks and illusions, but the occult and hermetic knowledge – suffuses Smith’s work. Some of the imagery in “Mirror Animations” looks like it’s plucked straight off a set of Tarot cards.  No wonder film-maker and critic Jonas Mekas celebrated “the magic cinema of Harry Smith” while avant-jazzman John Zorn hailed him as a “Mystical Animator”."  - SR

".... An eccentric polymath. He painted, made experimental films, practiced occult alchemy (he was ordained in the Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica, a spiritual group affiliated with the magician and self-appointed prophet Aleister Crowley), and believed that the careful accumulation and ordering of things could bring about new knowledge....  Smith collected all sorts of stuff: paper airplanes, Ukrainian Easter eggs, figures he made by looping or weaving lengths of string, anything shaped like a hamburger, and thousands, if not tens of thousands, of 78-r.p.m. records... Like many serious collectors of arcane but precious objects, Smith could be irascible, mean, and single-minded to the point of psychopathy. There are stories of his thieving, particularly when he believed that an item would be better off in his care. He never married, drank to unconsciousness, went absolutely nuts if anyone talked while he was playing a record, and, according to his friend Allen Ginsberg, kept “several years’ deposits of his semen” in the back of his freezer for “alchemical purposes.' "
 - Amanda Petrusich, in The New Yorker, on The Harry Smith B-Sides, a box set of the flipsides of all the 78 rpm tunes that he collected on The Anthology of Folk Music. 


Confession: I have owned the reissue of The Anthology for a couple of decades now,  but only ever got round to playing one of the discs. When I did, I unawares miscued the CD-player controls -  as a result, one particular Dock Boggs song played over and over for about 35 minutes. It took me quite a while to notice - about 20 minutes in, I was like "wow this is intense, this endless incantatory folksong saga, verse after verse!". Eventually I twigged what had happened. 

Never went back to the set - never seemed like the right time, always something more pressing in the present, or a corner of the past that seemed more compelling. Perhaps it's finally time - indeed the box is sitting reproachfully near the front of the records by the stereo. Should definitely listen to  first, before getting on to the B-sides... 

                                                     Harry Smith contact sheet by Allen Ginsberg


Sunday, August 23, 2020

Ryszard Czekala - Apel (The Roll Call), 1971

"It is one of the most stirring animated films in the history of animation. In a simple, but powerful way Czekała presents a horror that happened in concentration camps – prisoners’ dread, humiliation, and lost humanity. The everyday roll-call ends tragically because of prisoners’ “insubordination” in this black and white film. The Roll-Call crossed borders of what can be presented or not in animation. It is sometimes interpreted as a response to the trend of allegorical and philosophical films that dominated Polish animation in the 1960s."
- Animaphix

"Czekała was one of the reformers of Polish animation in the late 1960s and early 1970s. What sets him apart from our other animation artists? First of all, his focus on the plot of a film, his way of treating material in a way that brings animated film closer to feature film or documentary. Therefore it is the themes, which seemed reserved for feature films and documentaries until Czekała's animation appeared. He has said,

"I take the themes for my films from everything around me [...] I model the matter of my films from everyday life accessible to everyone [...] eliminating all the formal ornamentation and spectacular material - I select the form to match what I want to say. What I say are simple things. (Polska 5/1971)

"Today it seems obvious that an animated film can tell a story, that it can be subtle, expressive, close to people's hearts, yet still remain an animated film. This has been proved by Czekała's successors, mentioning especially Piotr Dumała. Though critics point out that Czekała's films might just as well have been told with actors, the formula of animated films give them additional meanings, greater expression, strengthening an impression that maybe the same stories told traditionally could not have created.

"What were those stories? Ptak (The Bird, 1968) - the main character dreams of freedom, its substitute being freedom for a bird that he is saving up his pennies to buy. Syn (The Son, 1970) - the loneliness of parents abandoned in the countryside by their now "urban" son. Finally, Apel (TheRoll-Call, 1970) - a shocking picture of life in a concentration camp, a story of fear, humanity and the inhumane camp system. These stories could have been told differently. However, what Czekała did when he made these three films can be compared to the contemporary achievements of Art Spiegelman, author of the Maus comic book, and Zbigniew Libera, who proposes that we build ourselves a concentration camp from Lego yoy bricks (LEGO Concentration Camp), where the material adds meanings but also forces people to take an aloof look at the consumers of things that, one would think, are impossible to consume.

"Andrzej Kossakowski wrote that with Apel (The Roll-Call), Czekała contributed to overcoming certain mental barriers: "It's true that animated films have long come out of the nursery ... but not all issues seemed possible to transfer to the world of animation." The director also showed that animated films can be used "to speak about serious matters seriously, without that seemingly necessary wit, that 'tongue in cheek'," something that had seemed reserved for documentaries or acted films. (Film 50/7)

"Ryszard Czekała's proposal was interpreted by many critics as a reaction to the ossification of philosophical films, which dominated the 1960s. Czekała confirmed this:

"I simply don't really like animated films which are allegories, or films which are philosophical tales, where people and objects have symbolic meanings. I want to show specific events and situations. My only concern is that they be evocative. ("Film" 25/1970)
As Kazimierz Żórawski writes:

"The works of Ryszard Czekała are a natural and conscious reaction to the philosophical or rather pseudo-philosophical aspirations of many makers of animated films, to those films - parables of the world, films - syntheses of existence, films - grand symbols. 'Ptak', then 'Syn', and finally [...] 'Apel', are works telling simple and uncomplicated stories, where the simplicity is intentional, it is an artistic method [...] The aim of a realistic story line supported by a visual setting reminiscent of documentaries, is to bring the author's thoughts closer to the viewer." (Kino 10/71)

"It is worth noting this comparison, because it comes up in texts by critics analysing Czekała's early animated films. Alicja Iskierko compares them to documentaries in her book Znajomi z kina. Szkice o polskim filmie krókometrażowym / Cinematic Acquaintances. Sketches on Polish Short Films (Warszawa 1982). So does Kazimierz Żórawski, mentioned earlier, many times in fact, writing even more explicitly:

"His films give [...] the impression of being "documentaries" transposed to the language of animated film, not only in the images which Czekała composes three-dimensionally, but equally, thanks to the themes and references to reality, in moving from the realm of"'thinking" to the realm of "feeling". (Film 12/71)

"In fact, Czekała comes much closer to feature films. The drama of his works, the way he leads the camera, the rhythm, sound, the precise and extremely meaningful editing similar to that of features, the use of detail, all this gives them an affinity to feature films.....

"Ryszard Czekała said:

"I try to create a certain evocative vision of the world in my films which would make the viewers forget they are at the cinema. The audience should feel participants in the events, they should identify themselves with the characters. [...] Even a world drawn on paper can look enough like genuine reality for the viewer to believe in its existence. Even a drawn person can betray their personality, their feelings. (Film 9/1971)

"Asked point blank if that meant he wanted to make feature films, he replied:

A producer who can narrate an event with the help of drawings should also be able to narrate it with the help of staged shots. ... We should think in film terms, not in terms of graphic art, painting, or theatre. To a filmmaker all these disciplines are only an element of directing. (Film 25/70)

"As Kazimierz Żórawski writes (Kino 10/71), Czekała emphasised that he thought in film images from the start, including the sound, or maybe even initially he heard his films more than he saw them. That's an important confession. It is exactly this equal value of story line, sound and image that constitutes the value of Czekała's films. Żórawski writes:

"It is that naturalistic and surreal sound to which the black-and-white images in Ptak are synchronously set, which creates images of the loneliness of a hunched man, and in Syn the loud swallowing of soup, the sound of a piece of bread falling to the ground, the quiet splash of a tear flowing down the father's cheek and hitting the smooth surface of the liquid filling his plate, finally the rustle of the newspaper as the son reads it, create the mood and the audience's emotional reception.

"After he made his feature debut Zofia / Sophia (1976) and abandoned animation for 10 years, Wanda Wertenstein wrote that a careful observer could have predicted that Czekała would find animated film too confining. In his three early pieces, "Their graphical realism was not far from photographic realism, while the notional, philosophical aspects were shaped by classic means of expression of narrative cinema - the choice of standpoints, light gradations, editing, the relation of image and sound. The drawn figures were surrogate actors, the animated cut-outs - a substitute for real gestures." (Kino 10/76)....

- Culture.Pl

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Mike Burakoff + Hallie Cooper-Novack - When You Die (2017)

"It’s a testament to the speed with which culture moved in 2017 that “style transfer” already feels a little passé. This technique started life in the AI community as a way of applying the textures and tones from image onto another, but it soon made its way into apps like Prisma then big platforms like Facebook as a tool for sprucing up snaps and selfies. Now, MGMT have used it in the music video for their latest single, When You Die, and to the credit of the video’s creators [Mike Burakoff and Hallie Cooper-Novack] made style transfer look fresh once more.

"The video stars actor Alex Karpovsky (of Girls fame) as a magician who seems to be trapped in some sort of Groundhog Day-style loop and floating through the astral plane. Whatever’s going on, it all fits very neatly with the aesthetics of style transfer, which give surfaces weird new hallucinogenic depth, shifting and mutating from one scene to the next. The visuals were produced with the help of some custom software named “Glooby,” and you can check out more of its weirdness on the creators’ Instagram account" -   James Vincent, The Verge.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Michael Bentine - The Bumblies: Cowboys and Indians (1954)

"Michael Bentine's first appearances on television were as presenter on a 13-part children's series featuring remote controlled puppets, The Bumblies, which he also devised, designed and wrote. These were three small creatures from outer space who slept on "Professor Bentine's" ceiling and who had come to Earth to learn the ways of Earthling children. Angelo de Calferta modelled the puppets from Bentine's designs and Richard Dendy moulded them in latex rubber. He sold the series to the BBC for less than they had cost to make" - Wiki

This is the later series I remember from childhood: Michael Bentine's Potty Time.

"Michael Bentine lost the power of speech for 13 years as a child but recovered in time to attend Eton. Following his education and wartime service during WWll, he decided he wanted to be a comedian and auditioned at London’s famous Windmill Theatre. It was here that he met fellow ex-services entertainer Harry Secombe. Secombe introduced Bentine to his friends Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers, and the group would often meet up at a pub run by Secombe’s writer and agent Jimmy Grafton. From those meetings at the Grafton Arms, the quartet developed the idea for The Goon Show, which went on to become the most famous British radio show of all time.

"Bentine left after the second series to continue touring in his own show and in 1954 was offered a TV series by the BBC – A children’s puppet series called The Bumblies. Following numerous appearances on other shows and another series, After Hours (1958-59), he made his best-remembered series It’s A Square World. Potty Time saw Bentine return to his Children’s TV roots, with puppets made by Joan and Stan Griffiths and operated by The Barry Smith Theatre Of Puppets.

"When promoting his new Potty Time show in 1974, Bentine described ‘Potties’ thusly: “they are really Bumblies with clothes and hair on. They live in their own Potty world and have their own Potty history”. The cast included 26 Potties, about ten of which were used in each programme."
                                                - Nostalgia Central

Friday, July 17, 2020

Cecil Stokes - When the Organ Played ‘Oh Promise Me’ (1943)

"In this extremely rare surviving example of “Auroratone” films, abstract visuals are created by
filming crystalline growth using polarized light and time-lapse photography. Melancholic sentimental
music plays, crooned by Bing Crosby. All but forgotten today, the Auroratone films were produced in the early 1940s by an obscure British inventor and mystic named Cecil Stokes (1910-1956). He intended for them to be used as a therapeutic aid in the treatment of post traumatic stress, manic depression, anxiety disorders, and similar conditions. They were much like this one – slow, mildly sad and melancholic music combined with imagery, usually abstract, but some used semi-animated drawings instead, according to contemporary descriptions.

"Stokes was awarded a patent for his film process in 1942, and he formed the Auroratone
Foundation of America to make and distribute his films. One of his partners in the effort was Bing
Crosby, who also contributed new song recordings to a number of them. Auroratone films were donated to a number of hospitals in the US and England, where records indicate they were indeed used as part of therapy with vets. One of them was a VA hospital in Ohio, where the trial program led to a series of articles in major medical journals, written by Capt. Herbert E. Rubin
and 2nd Lt. Elias Katz of the Crile General Hospital in Parma, Ohio. They consistently reported positive benefits. “Most patients became more accessible” after watching the films. They “spoke more freely,” making it “possible for the psychiatrist to establish rapport.” Curiously, an article about Stokes and his Auroratone films also appeared in a 1944 issue of Rosicrucian Digest.

"According to reports published in Billboard magazine, Stokes later hoped to make the films
available to the general public in “film jukeboxes,” commonly known as Scopitone machines, which were popular in bars and lounges during the 1940s and ‘50s. In the summer of 1945, he made a presentation to a number of such distributers in Chicago, but the businessmen demurred, reportedly saying “the haziness of the color pattern – or lack of pattern – made the process unsuitable for adaption to jukes.” In a word, it was just too weird. The record fades after that, except to note that Stokes died less than 10 years later."

text borrowed from program to Visions: Animation and Abstraction Experimental Masterpieces, 1908 – 1994, shown at Northwest Film Forum, Seattle, WA, on Wednesday, August 10, 2011 - a co-presentation of The Sprocket Society and Third Eye Cinema

Alternate version

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Lewis Klahr - Pony Glass (1998)

“Pony Glass” (1998) drops us in the thick of the retro-pomo era. Where the Pop Art aligned films of Jeff Keen responded to contemporary pulp inputs and info overload, Lewis Klahr’s film languidly oozes nostalgia for mid-century America. Collaging cut-out images from glossy magazines, mail-order catalogues and comic books, Klahr is attentive to the contrasting grain of the archival materials he’s recycling (there’s also an occasional dried leaf intruding an incongruous real-world feel).  Characters talk through speech bubbles, but the text mostly consists of meaningless swatches of print ripped from books or newspapers. Sound-tracked by Sinatra or pre-WW2 ballads, the mood of this three-act piece is romantic and wistful, yet prone to irruptions of pure porn: watch out for erections poking out at unexpected moments, for the cheeky female finger probing a male rectum. 

If you dig “Pony Glass’, check out Klahr’s earlier “Altair,”  constructed largely from images taken from 1940s issues of Cosmopolitan. “When I first started doing this, in my late twenties, I was really trying to bring my childhood back,” Klahr told BlouinArtInfo. “I wanted the world to look like that again. As I aged, and as I grew as an artist...  it was more about memory.... It’s a place I like hanging out.” 

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Lawrence Jordan - Hamfat Asar (1965)

"Evolving the structure or script for the film involved a process of controlled hallucination, whereby I sat quietly without moving, looking at the background until the pieces began to move without my inventing things for them to do. I found that, given the chance, they really did have important business to attend to, and my job was to furnish them with the power of motion. I never deviated from this plan" - Larry Jordan .

"The title of this film conjoins a made-up name for Lawrence Jordan's home, "Hamfat," with the archaic name "Asar" for Osiris, the Egyptian god of the underworld. Jordan explains that, "Every culture has a relation to symbols. Every culture has their ways of getting at the infinite. I especially like Egyptian culture in that way. So many of their symbols and practices are about getting in touch with an afterlife. Everyone has an inner personal place, a yearning. And, most artists get at that through representation.

"The strangeness of this film is laced with carefully molded apocalypses as the filmmaker explores a vision of life beyond death—the Elysian fields of Homer, Dante's Purgatorio, de Chirico's stitched plain. A moving single picture.

"Larry Jordan’s meticulous and wondrous body of work—animated collages of 19th-century engravings, manuscripts, common symbols—plumbs the depth and mysteries of the mind.  Jordan’s experimental collage films transformed familiar ‘found’ objects into Surrealist mappings of the world of the imagination—uncanny, dream-like constructed through a process of free association.  A master of cut-out animation, Larry Jordan, together with mentor and visionary pioneer of the assemblage Joseph Cornell, would forge an American Surrealism unfettered by European concerns."

- Christopher Zimmerman, curator of The Alchemical Films of Larry Jordan, 2018

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Ishu Patel - Perspectrum (1975)

This wonderful interpretive response to a piece of koto music is a cosmopolitan hybrid work – India-born animator, working for the National Film Board of Canada, responding to traditional Japanese music.

"Born in Gujarat, India, Ishu Patel studied Fine Arts and Visual Communication in India and advanced Graphic Design at the Basel Shool of Design, in Switzerland, before landing at the NFB in the 1970s, on a Rockerfeller Foundation Scholarship. Celebrated for his short animation, he is also an accomplished photographer, a passion he picked up during his stint as guide and photo assistant to Henri Cartier-Bresson in India....  Decidedly trippy, yet almost academic in its study of geometry and symmetry, this sweet kaleidoscope of a film [Perspectrumfeatures small squares, rectangles and lozanges that form, re-form, pile up and fan out against a silky black background. Twirling and pulsating at the rhythm of the koto, the 13-stringed Japanese instrument that provides the soundtrack, the diaphanous shapes begin assembling quite simply, before rapidly gaining in complexity, as more and more colours and patterns enter the dance. A truly dazzling display of skill, Perspectrum is an even wilder proposition when you consider it represents Ishu’s very first film." - NFB

"A masterpiece of abstract animation. On the one hand, the squares and their actions in themselves do not invite comparisons with anything in the natural world; they are, for all practical purposes, completely abstract. But at the same time they are not cold, mechanical, and calculated in their animation; there is an air of spontaneity and grace to how they move through the blank space, to say nothing of the beauty of their interactions and the formations they create, as though they were reflections of Ishu Patel himself. In effect, Patel creates a world that seems completely separate from the real world—but parallels it in terms of building up larger structures from simpler components, with both the squares themselves and their aural accompaniment in the arrangements of Sakura acting in this manner, and on top of that bears Patel’s personal stamp as an artist and person." - Toadette from On the Ones blog, from a very in-depth profile / career survey / filmography of Ishu Patel 

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Yōji Kuri - The Bathroom (1970)


Music by Kuniharu Akiyama

Sound Department:
Kuniharu Akiyama - sound
Hiroshi Yamazaki - sound effects / sound

"Genre - comedy, dementia" - My Anime List

"Yōji Kuri is an animation artist most known for his work during the 1960's and is known to be of large importance to the history of animation. Known to be dark humored, independent and minimal artist, his work seems to capture a disturbing perspective of love and sex. Some such films as Human Zoo (1960) and Ai-Love (1963) depict this type of imagery and end fairly quickly. The time range for Kuri's work seems to be shorter then ten minutes, perhaps implying the shorts are more of a thought then a statement. He later produced an animation film The Bathroom (1970), it too was along the same subject matter as previous work. One part of the film at the end depicts butt and leg sculptures; the style and location (bathroom) reminded me of the TV show Shin Chan. Shin, a 5 year old boy whom is obsessed with human privates, frequently flaunts his rear and enjoys time in the bathroom.
Yōji Kuri continues to draw today as well as teach animation at the Laputa Art Animation School."
                - animation blog at School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

                                                My name is Lidia.


                                                       The Bathroom -

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Nazim Tulyakhodzayev - Будет ласковый дождь / There Will Come Soft Rains (1984)

One of four "imaginal soundtracks" created by contemporary musicians for the 1984 Uzbek (then USSR) animation by Nozim To'laho'jayev  a/k/a Nazim Tulyakhodzayev

Release rationale:

"Phantom Limb's soundtrack imprint Geist im Kino continues with the launch of new series Imaginal Soundtracking, in which contemporary musicians are invited to re-score existing film pieces.

"Designed to reframe overlooked or forgotten works of cinema and to offer a new artistic challenge to the contributing musicians, Imaginal Soundtracking acts as a dialogue between the creative minds at play. The first release in the series, out digitally on June 19, sees a quartet of highly inventive, wildly varying takes on award-winning animation There Will Come Soft Rains, created in 1984 by Uzbek filmmaker Nazim Tulyakhodzayev. The film is based on a short story of the same name by Ray Bradbury, itself a reference to a 1918 work by US poet Sara Teasdale, which foretells the danger of mankind’s extinction by war, predating many such fears by some decades. Characteristic of Soviet filmmaking of the time, Tulyakhodzayev's adaptation is abstracted by layers of allegory and interpretive meaning, rendering it bizarre, sometimes lysergic, but nonetheless arrestingly powerful and hauntingly relevant today in its story...

"Watch the film and listen to acclaimed London based Japanese producer Masaaki Yoshida's (better known as Anchorsong) unique interpretation...  His lamenting, piano-led score highlights the futility and sadness of the story. A single, gentle, repeated pulse holds the tempo while soft chords respond to the film’s increasingly bleak imagery. He retains the robot’s voice from the original film, building his own composition around it."

The original film without imaginal soundtracks added.

Tulyakhodzayev made an adapation of another Ray Bradbury story, Veld, in 1987 - live action rather than animation. You can watch it here.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Julian Antonisz - Jak działa jamniczek (1971)

Julian Antonisz - Jak działa jamniczek (1971)

'His works are characterised by the "non-camera films" technique, with which he explored transience and fallibility by doing away with the camera in favour of applying animations directly onto film... Fascinated by kinetic toys, optical machines and the variety of effects attained by experimenting with film tape, Antonisz strove to uncover the roots of cinema and created his own devices for producing films using a non-camera technique. Many of his findings were published in his 1977 Artistic Non-Camera Manifesto. In formulating his vision for producing works directly on film tape, he surmised that "Only films made with the Non Camera technique can be called authentic works of visual, painting, graphic and musical art"'

More about Julian Antonisz


Monday, May 18, 2020

Adam Beckett - Heavy Light (1973)

"A young artist, a career full of promise, a life of innovation and energy tragically cut short. Such a summary barely begins to describe the bright, fast burn that was rising star Adam Beckett (1950-1979), one of the first graduates of the CalArts Experimental Animation program, and a prolific animator, sketch artist, and effects prodigy. Known for his unique abstract film loops, as well as for his precise, yet organic work with the optical printer, Beckett’s work continues to influence young animators both at his alma mater, where he is frequently mentioned, as well as in the wider animation world....

"Before joining the then-new Experimental Animation Program at CalArts, Beckett had studied mathematics. A seemingly incongruous link, his ease with numbers and abstractions would prove essential, and made him a natural when it came to manually exposed and re-exposed animation.
Appropriately, Beckett's earliest works are very much a representation of the direction of Jules Engel's Experimental Animation program in the early 1970s. Engel, a former animator at Disney, and later UPA, was at that point a dedicated abstract expressionist whose interests were concentrated in visual music and painterly, geometric animation. The influence of this iconic program chair can be felt in early Beckett pieces like the musically-driven Dear Janice, with its mixture of abstract cycles, words, sexual imagery, and live footage, or in Kitsch in Synch, where playroom shapes build and build in time to a nonsense chant that grows from child-like voices to wild cacophony....  Works such as Evolution of the Red Star, with its cycling, multiplying shapes, color tinting, and playful use of the animated frame, or Heavy Light, with its energy trails optically printed on black, showcase Beckett’s sense of experimentation and personal evolution. The figure makes an appearance, too, memorably in the pornographic, yet placid, Flesh Flows with its homages to Schiele and Dali enveloped by pulsing, gradually distorted imagery....

"In many of the shorts, Beckett’s focus is on rhythm, and on new configurations of repetitive movement and morphing shapes....  In his work, Beckett displays an easy mastery of the optical printer, used to create multi-layered effects that, at the time, were a far cry beyond what was capable using a single or multi-plane downshooting rig. For those unfamiliar with the technique, an optical printer is a device that links one, or several, film projectors to a movie camera, allowing for the re-photographing, layering, and alteration of film.

"...  in Beckett’s case, this understanding of the optical printer’s range of uses straddles both the art and VFX fields. Shortly after graduating from CalArts, Beckett went to work at Industrial Light & Magic. His previous experiments with the optical printer, particularly the so-called Knotte Grosse Experiments, and his tinkering with the roto camera setup at Lucasfilm paid off, as Beckett was put on visual effects development for a new science fiction film called Star Wars...."
                                                                     - Zoe Chevat, Animation World

Adam K. Beckett: Complete Works 1970-1979 dvd purchasable here