Initially daily but now sporadic blog about anime and world animation with a specific focus on the artists behind the work. Written by Ben Ettinger.
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Archives for: November 2005, 05

Saturday, November 5, 2005

04:13:58 pm , 637 words, 1120 views     Categories: Animation, Indie, Movie

Sinyaya Ptitsa

Vassily Livanov's 1970 animated adaptation of The Blue Bird is certainly the oddest adaptation I've yet seen of the story, and one of the oddest animated films I've ever seen, period. A good film it's not. It's a total mess as a whole. But piece by piece it's full of so many interesting visual ideas and has such an unusual approach to animated filmmaking that you want to love it even though you can't. It dares to try to combine different media in ways that you would normally never associate with animated filmmaking, getting off to a bold and powerful start using collage technique only to suddenly switch to cell animation, so if for nothing more than its sheer audacity you come away wanting to give it the benefit of the doubt, just to applaud their bravado. I have to admit that I'm a sucker for films that get too big for their britches (Metamorphoses springs to mind). I come away feeling: at least they tried.

The animation is rather unique. Shadows dominate throughout, creating a wonderfully evocative and dark dreamscape that seems to stretch to eternity. Light is used sparingly to delineate the outlines of the characters. The layout is particularly memorable, using unexpectedly oblique angles to produce a nice rhythm and variety in the presentation of the action. The flow of action is slow and characters wander in and out of static shots, creating an eerie sense of vast space that lends a feeling of reality to the surreal situation. The ominous sense of something just beyond the darkness creeping up on you, as death is embodied in many of Maeterlinck's early works like The Intruder and The Blind, feels very well expressed here, but in the end the space occupied by the melancholy mystical longing that was the very essence of Maeterlinck's best work is here replaced by a villain stand-in for capitalism, which is far from the spirit of the original material. It would be interesting if one day we could see a film that really did Maeterlinck justice, on his own terms, though his brand of earnest, portentious symbolism is probably rather out of sync with the times. In the meantime this is certainly one of the most interesting stabs I've yet seen on film.

Aside from the technical details that I found interesting, what I probably most liked about the film was what I can only think to describe as its narrative freedom. This is what made it feel really different from the usual animated film. The way you don't have the characters in the frame at a set spot doing an action for a set time in a set fashion as you see in most animation being produced nowadays. The camera is free to be positioned in odd places, and the narrative doesn't have to push every button a pre-tested studio audience reacted to in advance screenings. The narrative style follows from the material, and consequently breaks with the conventional style of storytelling. You can have photo collage at the beginning and shift to cel animation if you want. The camera doesn't have to hyperactively follow the action. There can be long stretches with no dialogue. It's a film for children, yet the mood throughout is elegiac and poetic. In other words, it feels like filmmaking rather than animation. And yet, at the same time, the animation is extremely inventive and effective as animation. It manages to be interesting as a film and as animation. So although an odd and strangely shaped little film, it offers some interesting hints. Part of the excitement of perusing the animated films of the rest of the world is the anticipation of the possibility of a stimulating encounter with a strange new approach to animated filmmaking, and this film is a good example of that.

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