NY, NY, a film by Francis Thompson

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In Heaven and Hell (1956) Aldous Huxley considers various forms of art that might be said to imitate or resemble the intense visuals generated by psychedelic agents. In past centuries this would include firework displays and the vivid hues of stained glass windows; when discussing the present, mention is made of NY, NY, a short film by Francis Thompson that Huxley had recently seen.

Thompson’s film presents a day in the life of New York City with every shot being subject to some form of distortion or fragmentation via prismatic lenses or reflected surfaces. Nearly sixty years later this seems less psychedelic than it would have done to Huxley, although some of the reflections give the same effects as Ira Cohen’s later Mylar Chamber photographs. Watch NY, NY here, and if you do I’d recommend muting the Mickey Mouse score.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
Fog Line, a film by Larry Gottheim
Wavelength
La Région Centrale

Allegro Non Troppo

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Having watched Disney’s Fantasia (1940) recently, I had to search out this as a palliative. There’s a lot I like about the Disney film but the explanatory interludes for the Great Unwashed are tiresome, I’ve always loathed Mickey Mouse’s voice (although the Sorceror’s Apprentice sequence is fine), and, for a film that aspired to artistic seriousness, the Pastoral Symphony episode has all the aesthetic gravitas of a packet of fizzy sweets.

Bruno Bozzetto’s Allegro Non Troppo (1976) was a feature-length animated riposte to Disney’s pretensions. The concept is identical—well-known pieces of classical music illustrated by animation—but in place of inadvertent vulgarity there’s a heavy helping of deliberately crude behaviour. Bozzetto replaces the coyness of the Pastoral Symphony with the erotic melancholy of an ageing satyr set to Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune. The laboured explanations of Fantasia become a series of live-action slapstick moments supposedly featuring the animator, conductor, and members of the orchestra, all of which explain nothing at all.

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The one thing everyone remembers from Allegro Non Troppo is the Bolero sequence in which Bozzetto satirises Fantasia‘s evolutionary Rite of Spring. A departing spacecraft leaves a Coke bottle on the surface of a planet. The dregs left in the bottle give birth to a slime creature which crawls away and evolves along with Ravel’s music into a train of animals marching (and eating each other) across a treacherous landscape. The animation may lack Disney’s technical finesse but it’s a lot more memorable than his cartoon dinosaurs. Watch the whole sequence here.

Gerald Scarfe’s Long Drawn-Out Trip

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Yet more animation. Long Drawn-Out Trip was Gerald Scarfe‘s first foray into the medium, produced in 1972 at the request of the BBC who sent the artist to Los Angeles to try out the new De Joux animation system. The process needed only six or eight drawings per second of film thus reducing the usual amount of labour. Scarfe says in the first book collection of his work, Gerald Scarfe (1982), that the 16-minute film was still very labour intensive.

The subject of Long Drawn-Out Trip is Los Angeles and America itself, the concerns being the same ones that Ralph Steadman was depicting that year in his illustrations for Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72: venality, violence, vulgarity and the omnipresent spectre of Richard Nixon, a president who had the good fortune to be drawn many times by two of Britain’s greatest living satirists although he wouldn’t have thanked them for it. In Scarfe’s film we also find Mickey Mouse being reduced to his constituent lines and colours after smoking a joint. In the 1980s Scarfe regularly drew Ronald Reagan wearing the famous mouse ears, something that nearly got him fired from his post at the Sunday Times after Rupert Murdoch saw one of the cartoons. Long Drawn-Out Trip had a more favourable effect when it was seen by Roger Waters who asked Scarfe to create some animations for Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here tour. The animated sequences for The Wall have their origin in this short film.

Long Drawn-Out Trip can be viewed here where the 4:3 ratio has been grievously stretched to 16:9. For those who know how, I’d suggest downloading it then watching it in the proper aspect ratio.

Design as virus 9: Mondrian fashions

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Elly Jackson of La Roux in the recent video for Bulletproof. I’ve been enjoying La Roux’s debut album a great deal in the past week. The jacket she’s wearing is designed by Jean-Charles de Castelbajac and features the black stripes and primary colours used by Piet Mondrian (1874–1942) in his Neo-plasticist paintings of the 1920s.

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Mouse Heaven by Kenneth Anger

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Mouse Heaven: Minnie and Mickey.

Kenneth Anger’s paean to Disney rodent memorabilia, and one of his most recent works, turns up at the Grey Lodge. Mouse Heaven is a distinctly minor piece, an awkward mix of film and video which juxtaposes shots of mouse figurines with a song-based soundtrack. Scorpio Rising this isn’t but the editing is up to his usual standard, and it has a curious, if rather grotesque, charm.

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Rabbit heaven: Bugs drags up again.

I suspect I’m not the ideal audience for a film such as this, never having been very taken with Mickey and the rest of the Disney crew. This seems to be a generational thing. My parents are about Anger’s age and they watched Disney shorts regularly at the cinema, while older Americans would have seen the Mickey Mouse Club on TV in the Fifties. By the time my sisters and I were watching cartoons on television Disney had retreated into the pop culture background. Plenty of merchandise was available, of course, but the animations that gave birth to these characters were rarely seen on British TV since Disney was worried about over-exposure of their precious assets.

The consequence of this (which I doubt they realised) was that a new generation of kids could happily and eagerly watch all the Warner Brothers Merry Melodies (and MGM’s Tom & Jerry and Tex Avery cartoons) whereas I’ve still seen hardly any Mickey Mouse cartoons. When they did turn up they were either primitive (Steamboat Willie) or presented a Mouse character that was actually a suburban middle-class American. The contrast between Donald Duck’s irritating petulance and Daffy’s wisecracks, or between the Mouse in a house and a bisexual rabbit, could hardly be more striking. The last shred of any potential Disney charm was dispelled when I read the priceless demolition of the Magic Kingdom and its contents, Mickey Rodent!, by Harvey Kurtzmann and Bill Elder, in a reprint of MAD magazine:

Strolling in the foreground of the opening panel is Mickey himself, with a four-day stubble on his face and a snapped mouse trap on his snout; his left arm has a TV screen, smashed in the middle, with “Howdy Dooit” sunrays visible. (That’s an inside joke: in a previous issue, parodying “Howdy Doody,” Mickey was seen at the edge of the opening panel, grasping and shouting, “That’s MY sunray from MY movies behind his head and I wannit back!”) Around him a melodrama unfolds: Horace Horszneck is being dragged off to jail “for appearing without his white gloves.” The animal chorus behind him clucks, moos and barks their annoyance with “Walt Dizzy’s” rule about wearing white gloves at all times… “In this hot weather too!” “And it’s so hard to buy those furshlugginer three-fingered kinds!” (Read the rest of the description here and try and see the comic for yourself; it’s a masterpiece.)

There was no going back after that, and Wally Wood’s Disneyland Memorial Orgy was merely the icing on an already mouldering cake. So, sorry Kenneth, but I’m an apostate; Bugs Bunny rules my blue heaven.

The Look traces the history of Wally Wood’s scurrilous poster from hippie to punk to Alison Goldfrapp

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Man We Want to Hang by Kenneth Anger
Relighting the Magick Lantern
The Realist
Kenneth Anger on DVD…finally