The Metamorphosis of Mr Samsa, a film by Caroline Leaf

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Caroline Leaf’s adaptation of Franz Kafka’s most famous story was made by animating sand on a pane of illuminated glass. Leaf made several films using this technique which gives painterly, if monochromatic, results, and is probably less time-consuming than other techniques that aim for similar effects. This is one story that’s best treated as an animation (or theatre, as Steven Berkoff demonstrated); Kafka’s Ungezeifer is a famously difficult word to translate into English, and an even more difficult concept to bring to life in a film studio.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Kafkaesque
Screening Kafka
Designs on Kafka
Kafka’s porn unveiled
A postcard from Doctor Kafka
Alexandre Alexeieff and Claire Parker
Steven Soderbergh’s Kafka
Kafka and Kupka

The pinscreen works of Alexandre Alexeieff & Claire Parker

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The incredible animated films of Alexeieff & Parker have been featured here before, the last occasion being a post about their 1963 adaptation of Gogol’s The Nose. The Gogol film is included in this 38-minute YouTube compilation whose contents are as follows: A Night on Bald Mountain (1933), En passant (1943), The Nose (1963), Pictures at an Exhibition (1972), Three Moods (1980). The Nose is still the best of their films that I’ve seen to date but mention should be made of the gem that is En passant, a very brief illustration of a Canadian song. The precision of this piece never fails to astonish me: the pinscreen technique must be difficult enough without also being able to suddenly shift viewpoint—the moment when the squirrel jumps on the windmill blades!—and accurately convey the movements of a squirrel and a rooster. Watch that one if nothing else.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Nose, a film by Alexandre Alexeieff & Claire Parker
Alexandre Alexeieff and Claire Parker

Walls, a film by Piotr Dumala

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Polish animator Piotr Dumala was among the filmmakers contributing to Academy Leader Variations, the short anthology that was the subject of a recent post. He also received a mention in the Screening Kafka post for his memorable animated portrait of Franz Kafka. Walls (1988) is another short film made just after Academy Leader Variations, and like all of Dumala’s films the images are created by scratching lines into painted plaster. The cross-hatching that results from this means the animated images are much closer to drawings than the vaguely similar pinscreen animations of Alexandre Alexeieff and Claire Parker. Walls is moody, inexplicable, and may be watched here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Academy Leader Variations
Screening Kafka

The Nose, a film by Alexandre Alexeieff & Claire Parker

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The last time I wrote about the animated films of Alexandre Alexeieff & Claire Parker the only copies available were low-grade things on YouTube which have long-since vanished (one of many reasons I don’t embed YT players in these posts). Happily a new copy of The Nose (1963) has appeared that’s not only better quality but isn’t split into two as was the case earlier.

The Nose is based on the Gogol story of the same name, a tale of a St Petersburg official who wakes to find his nose has left his face and is masquerading as a civil servant. I’ve not read Gogol’s story but I do have Nabokov’s book about Gogol which dwells not only on the prominent nose of the author, but also his traumatic death which was hastened in part by a quack physician who treated Gogol by applying leeches to his nose. Neither story or film contain anything as horrific. The film version is a wordless animation made using the pinscreen technique which Alexeieff & Parker developed in order to create greyscale animated films without recourse to smudgy materials like pencil, pastel, charcoal, etc. As I’ve mentioned before, the most notable application of this technique is the prologue the pair created for Orson Welles’ film of The Trial (1962). What’s striking about the Alexeieff & Parker use of the pinscreen is how skilfully they use it to manipulate light and shade. Where other animators like Jacques Drouin used the technique more impressionistically, Alexeieff & Parker’s films at times give the impression of watching an animated engraving. The Nose is one of their finest pieces. (Thanks to Gabe for the tip!)

Previously on { feuilleton }
Alexandre Alexeieff and Claire Parker

Kafkaesque

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Another book design of mine (interiors only) which I completed last September for Tachyon and about which I had this to say at the time:

Kafkaesque [is] edited by John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly. It’s a collection of short stories either inspired by Franz Kafka, or with a Kafka-like atmosphere, and features a high calibre of contributions from writers including JG Ballard, Jorge Luis Borges, Carol Emshwiller, Jeffrey Ford, Jonathan Lethem and Philip Roth, and also the comic strip adaptation of The Hunger Artist by Robert Crumb.

The book gained a positive review at SF Site recently, reminding me that I hadn’t written anything about the design. As with some of my other Tachyon work the interiors take their cue from a pre-determined cover by another designer, in this case Josh Beatman. I followed Josh’s type choices (Senator for the titles and headings) and also extended his use of an insect as a recurrent motif. Before I saw the contents I was fairly determined to avoid any further insect imagery but it became apparent that Kafka’s Metamorphosis is a repeated reference in many of the stories.

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As for the recurrent “K”, that seemed inevitable given Kafka’s own use of the letter as well as its presence not only in Kafka’s own name but in the names of the editors. The frames were an idea borrowed from (and referring to) Steven Berkoff’s stage adaptation of The Trial in which portable frames serve on the stage as doorways, windows, corridors, picture frames and so on. I was hoping to do more with this idea but (as is often the case) ran out of time to develop it further.

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And while we’re on the subject of Tachyon designs, I don’t seem to have mentioned my interiors for a Joe R Lansdale collection, Crucified Dreams, which also appeared last year. This is a hard-boiled anthology of Lansdale’s favourite stories for which I supplied suitably rough-and-tough graphics comprising scanned scalpel blades and lettering assembled from torn newspaper pages. I’m due to start on some new work for Tachyon this week. More about that at a later date.

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