The World of John Whitney

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John Whitney’s abstract films haven’t always been easy to see on YouTube, and when they do turn up they’re often poor quality, so this was a welcome discovery, a 38-minute compilation of Whitney shorts taken from a Japanese laserdisc. A couple of the items mentioned in the on-screen contents list are absent from the video. The actual contents are as follows:

Arabesque (1976)
Matrix III (1972)
Matrix I (1971)
Permutation (1968)
Catalog (1961)

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Catalog is a showreel of Whitney’s earliest film experiments, a compilation within the compilation. Many of Whitney’s films are among the earliest examples of computer animation, made in the days when creating any kind of computer graphics meant laboriously plotting co-ordinates into a program which would then be fed into a machine the size of a wardrobe; the resulting video output was captured on film by a camera pointed at a monitor, a process you can see in operation in a short demonstration of Whitney’s working methods, Experiments in Motion Graphics (1967). Colour overlays and superimposition transform these simple cathode-ray shapes into things of beauty, with Whitney’s soundtracks being the icing on the cake: Arabesque is accompanied by the santur playing of Manoochehr Sadeghi, while Matrix III features an extract from Terry Riley’s Poppy Nogood And The Phantom Band.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The abstract cinema archive

Deadtime Stories for Big Folk

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The punning title embraces a pair of short animations written and narrated by Russell Hoban. Deadsy (1989) and Door (1990) were both directed by David Anderson; notes from a VHS release describe the techniques used:

Deadsy: The film is a graphic interpretation of Russell Hoban’s narration of man’s fascination with weaponry and the sexual power of military aggression. Using a combination of live action, xerography, hand-rendering, laser xerography and model animation, Deadsy is a powerful and disturbing piece.”

Door concerns man’s relentless and impetuous curiosity and the results of his actions when he takes one step too far. It examines our ability to shut our eyes to what those results are, or may yet be. The film employs a mix of animation, pixillation in outdoor locations, animation of photographic images and xerography.

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Door is the most impressive of the pair on a technical level, with a complex pixillation choreography that brings to mind similar films by Jan Svankmajer; the keys burrowing through a door might be a scene from Svankmajer’s Alice. The narration, meanwhile, is a typically Hobanesque creation, littered with neologisms like “snivelisation” (is this where Orbital found their album title?), and a flavour of Beat poetry. The dialect and apocalyptic themes place the films close to Hoban’s most celebrated novel, Riddley Walker, for which they might serve as miniature appendices.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Butcher’s Hook, a film by Simon Pummell

The Midnight Parasites by Yoji Kuri

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The Midnight Parasites (1972) is a good example of the kind of animation I’m often searching for: strange and grotesque yet with its own internal logic. Yoji Kuri populates a Surrealist landscape with infernal creatures borrowed from Hieronymus Bosch, a succession of humanoids and predatory monsters whose struggles for survival are overlaid with an uncredited electronic score. I can imagine Roland Topor enjoying this one, it belongs in the same solar system as Fantastic Planet. Watch it here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Bosch details

Weekend links 638

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• After writing about Hungarian animator Marcell Jankovics back in January, I left a comment expressing the hope that Arrow or Eureka might give us a Region B blu-ray of Son of the White Mare (aka Fehérlófia), Jankovics’s “psychedelic” animated feature from 1982. Fast-forward nine months to Eureka’s announcement that they’ll be doing exactly this in November. Watch the trailer. The release will include some of the director’s short films plus his first feature, Johnny Corncob (1973), a historical tale presented in the “groovy” style (previously) popularised by Yellow Submarine. If idle wishes can be granted so easily then I’ll hope again that Eureka might do the same for René Laloux’s second and third animated features, the Moebius-designed Time Masters (1982) (made in the same studio as Son of the White Mare) and the Caza-designed Gandahar (1987). Fingers crossed.

• “I don’t think anybody copies me, but Harmony Korine, Todd Solondz, Bruno Dumont, Gaspar Noé, I like those kinds of directors. They’re sometimes not funny at all. They’re very serious and eerily melodramatic. I just like movies that surprise me.” John Waters (yet again) talking to Conor Williams about films, writing and a prayer for Pasolini.

• “There is something profoundly haunting about a master artist’s last painting left unfinished upon its easel…” Kevin Dann on The Mermaid (1910) by Howard Pyle.

• At Bandcamp: Navigating the Nurse With Wound List: A Gateway to Far-Flung Sounds.

• “Juicy With Meaning”: Alex Denney chooses five essential films by David Cronenberg.

• Mix of the week: Discovering 1970s jazz fusion with Kerri Chandler.

• Coming soon from Strange Attractor: Purgatory by Ken Hollings.

• Steven Heller’s font(s) of the month: Farandole & Lustik.

Dennis Cooper’s favourite albums.

• RIP Peter Straub.

White Horses (1968) by Jacky | Five White Horses (1968) by Sun Dragon | Ride A White Horse (2006) by Goldfrapp

Broken Down Film by Osamu Tezuka

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Astro Boy creator Osamu Tezuka directed a handful of short films throughout his career in which he used a reduced running time to try things that might not work so well at feature length. The shorts are often labelled “experimental”, which some of them are, although the term “playful” would be a better description for others. Broken Down Film (1985) is one of the latter, a Fleisher-like silent Western with a trio of stock characters and a stereotyped narrative that includes a gunfight (almost), and a heroine tied to a rail track. The playfulness is in the presentation which imitates all the material problems that can afflict a reel of film, from projection mishaps to various forms of damage, some of which impinge themselves on the characters. Tex Avery occasionally played with the medium in this way (I think it’s one of the Droopy cartoons where a character runs off the edge of the film) but even Avery never took things this far. The uncredited music, by the way, is Snake Rag by King Oliver’s Jazz Band.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Jumping, a film by Osamu Tezuka