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The Academy Presents 'Restored Animated Rarities'

Filmmakers Frank Mouris, Nick Doob, and Robert Swarthe and composer Michael Riesman at the Restored Animated Rarities program hosted by Brian Meacham at The Metrograph in NYC. 

I had an opportunity to attend Restored Animated Rarities a program of Experimental Animation Shorts from the ‘60s to the ‘80s, in 16mm, 35mm, and newly restored DCP (35mm films courtesy of the Academy Film Archive. 16mm films courtesy of the Yale Film Study Center).

The event was introduced by Roger Mancusi of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and hosted by Brian Meacham of the Yale Film Study Center at The Metrograph in NYC on November 8, 2017, 7pm.

Brian Meacham spoke of the immediate association we have of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with the Academy Awards but reminded us of additional endeavors taken on by The Academy including the preservation and restoration of films.

You’re not Real Pretty but You’re Mine… — Dir. Frank Mouris. 1968 / 5mins / 16mm
A precursor of Frank Film (below), this stop-motion piece incorporates cut out images and audio clips.

Frank Film — Dir. Frank & Caroline Mouris. 1973 / 9mins / DCP
“As Daniel Eagan explained in America’s Film Legacy: The Authoritative Guide to the Landmark Movies in the National Film Registry (2010), the Mourises ‘researched, cut out, and glued onto acetate cells 11,592 images – photographs, illustrations, and other graphic work.’” (Moving Image Archive News. June 25, 2015)

Thousands of transposed images are rhythmically applied in an artful manner, sometimes grouped by theme, sometimes grouped by shape. The audio track is a mix of autobiographical narration and an alliterative list of descriptive words relating to the filmmaker’s life. While your interest was pinned on the hypnotic overload of sensory input you are lead to consider self-indulgence, obsessiveness, and our ability to organize a constant barrage of audio-visual feed. The film inspired thoughts about what periodically leads our mental focus in day-to-day life, during times of non-emergency.

Plastic Saints — Dir. Nick Doob. 1968 / 6mins / 16mm
Black & White footage of the 1967 March on the Pentagon intercut with color paint on film and set to an early Beatles recording of “When the Saints Go Marching In”. You can’t help but be affected by the youth of the protestors and the humanity of the document followed by the flesh and blood feel of the painted cells.

Pianissimo — Dir. Carmen D’Avino. 1963 / 6mins / 35mm
Stop-motion animation of a performance lead by a record, a gramophone, a player piano, a cupboard, and pen and paint. With music by Leonard Popkin, piano keys fly, hammers dance, paint marks and decorates.

The brisk pace of the music moves this piece along and the audio track is punctuated by sounds of record scratch, applause, recorded music, ambient crowd, cranks, mechanical noise, struck keys, violin, laughter, cows, roosters, wolves, thunder, and traffic.

The paint in motion is sometimes decorative, sometimes tribal, sometimes descriptive and sometimes garish. The film ends with the player piano vomiting its roll and the record breaking.

The film seems to show a contrast between the mechanical and the organic.

Pencil Booklings — Dir. Kathy Rose. 1978 / 14mins / 35mm
Rotoscope and hand-drawn animation. “If you let us name the film, we’ll be in it!” The animated characters have a will of their own. The animator directs their motions, cycle by cycle, and when she walks away to make tea, slightly frustrated, the characters work together to take a hand at creating a film of their own. On her return, the characters are happy to see her and tell her “if you really want to make good cartoons you have to be in one first!” The animator morphs from a rotoscoped version of herself to a hand-drawn version of herself, in the style of the other characters. She communes with the group. The figures wrap around one another in an organic way and morph from one object into the next in a liquid dispersion, accentuated by water sounds.

The animator briefly returns to her own reality but then reenters the paper pages, embracing fully the symbiosis she has with the objects of her creation. She remains in the looped cycle and the book closes.

Moon Breath Beat — Dir. Lisze Bechtold. 1980 / 5mins / 35mm
Animation drawn straight ahead to a rhythmic beat. Morphing loops of a woman and two cats are inhaled into the moon. When exhaled, the woman seems comprised of nature’s wild. The scenes shift into cycles of pursuit and capture until the woman and her cats morph into a seated sleeping position as though the whole experience was a dream. The entire scene is inhaled by the moon and the woman with her two cats is exhaled now into her original pose. She still contains a touch of the wild.

Furies — Dir. Sara Petty. 1977 / 3mins / 35mm
A beautiful hand drawn shaded animation about two cats moving through a world specific to them. The environment is an abstract painting in motion inhabited by two graceful and delicate felines. The film seems to shift into the cats’ perspective as tunnels and stairs fly by. At the end of the abstract path you land back at the window. Perspective expands and you feel like you’ve been ported into a and out of a mind that sees only shape. It’s a gorgeous rush.

Odalisque — Dir. Maureen Selwood. 1980 / 12mins / 35mm
Soundtrack by Michael Riesman. Subtitled “Three Fantasies of Pursuit”, this hand-drawn animation made with graphite and colored pencil presents a personal history in three parts. A woman is sleeping in her room. Her cat is sitting at the open window. Fish swim in a bowl. Flowers sit in a vase. Light from the window scans through the room. It feels like a lazy day.

The light moving through the room morphs into the stage of an opera house. On the stage characters seem to be depicting moments from the woman’s life, all actors take part singing an aria by Verdi, even the dog.

Then, the woman is watching her goldfish and the cat is watching the light pass and another idea emerges onto the screen. The camera pans across different tables of people landing on one group at a time. This vignette tells another time in the woman’s life.

Back in the sunny room, the cat goes after the fish. In the last movement, the woman is now swimming naked in the sea. Her companion animal morphs into many different forms and finally into a swan who forces himself on her. The woman splits into two and then morphs into a Mother and Child.

Returning to the room, the light moves across the fishbowl and over the woman. The breeze moves the curtains.

Ace of Light — Dir. Sky David. 1984 / 8mins / 35mm
This film, part journey, part hallucination, is by David Pies (AKA Sky David). Drawings are created on the negative and then projected with an experimental process resulting in figurative lines of light and flares. The visual components are accompanied by a poetic narration and dark droning audio.

Asparagus — Dir. Suzan Pitt. 1979 / 19mins / 35mm
A multi-layered circuitous fever dream narrative of painted cells and rotoscope. The first shot is a pan across a lush painting of a home interior. The title sequence of moving paintings is an ass on a toilet evacuating ASPARAGUS. This scene sets a tone for the rest of film. The woman is at a window in a moving room which moves along an obsessive botanical garden filled with threatening flowers and a larger version of herself. The dollhouse is a replica of the home interior. It contains a dollhouse, which may contain another dollhouse. You never see the face of the woman until she removes the mask she’s donned and you realize she is faceless except for her asparagus eating, sucking, regurgitating, mouth. The music has a tone of horror. The theater scene incorporates stop-motion claymation. The audio is a cacophony of happy theater music and a layered with a dark drone. It’s uncomfortable. Fallacy, obsession, imperilment, sexuality, mystery, and botanicals are intertwined like an unkempt garden of weeds.

Kick Me — Dir. Robert Swarthe. 1975 / 8mins / 35mm
“This animated cartoon is made of tiny little pictures drawn directly on frames of motion picture film.” The hero is a pair of red stick figure legs. Legs is a rollicking, graceful, show off who enjoys dancing and kicking. Kick me is a fun and entertaining film which really pushes the medium as the hero runs from one environment to the next, kicking things, chasing balls, and running from spiders. There a number of funny moments, the animation timing is really nice and the film goes places you don’t expect it to. Also, you learn that pair of stick figure legs can be endearing. This film was another one of my favorites.

The lineup was inspiring. It made me want to make something worthwhile. The films selected for the Restored Animation Rarities program were all painstakingly cut together and assembled with care. We have so much technology creating shortcuts in the film-making process. Seeing these independent films is a reminder to take advantage of these shortcuts and keep your nose to the grindstone.

Yvonne Grzenkowicz
Animation for Adults
Animation Nights New York