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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Sunday, July 11, 2004

01:34:57 pm , 932 words, 2314 views     Categories: Animation, Indie

Foreign anime?

I was just rewatching some rips I made a few years back from a long out-of-print LD release of pre-war abstract animator Oskar Fischinger's works that I managed to find in a university library somewhere or other, and I was again struck by how damned incredible they were, and how for the life of me I've never seen anything yet that comes near to topping them - save perhaps for Norman McLaren's work. Why aren't these on DVD yet? In Japan they released a wonderful 3-DVD set of Norman McLaren's work, the first of its kind anywhere (for shame, Canada!), and they've been putting out lots of interesting DVD releases of animation masters from around the world, including a beyond-your-wildest-dreams 8-DVD set of Karel Zeman's works that I'm still hoping to get soon, and over here we've seen any number of obscure items turn up on DVD, such as Ladislaw Starewicz's insect/puppet films, but Fischinger has yet to turn up on the DVD radar on either side of the Pacific.

First of all, I find this quite lamentable. I understand that the size of an audience for a pre-war German mystic synaesthete abstract animator must have its limits, but just the same, people don't know what they're missing. In terms of sheer volume of ideas per second, they're up there near the top in the history of the medium.

That said, since they're not available anywhere right now, I don't feel too bad about putting up one of his films for people to download, his Study No. 7 of 1931, probably the most famous of his Studies series.

Forget characters, forget story, forget colors, forget anything that would distract from the fundamentals that form the basis of animation, movement + shape, and this is what you get: pure, unadulterated visual music. Think animated Kandinsky. And every frame here was drawn by one man. Don't give me any crap about a computer program being able to generate something comparable. Maybe we could create a computer program that could reproduce a Bach fugue convincingly (though I have my doubts about this). Does that take away from his genius?

Back in the LD era the biggest name in art animation releases was Pioneer, with their Animation Animation series that put out, well, pioneering two-LD sets of Tadanari Okamoto, Kihachiro Kawamoto, Yuri Norstein and so on. Now that we're in the DVD era they've changed their name to Geneon and wasted no time in moving ahead with DVD releases of all the old names as well as many new (though still no Tadanari as of yet) in the appropriately rechristened New Animation Animation series: Kihachiro Kawamoto, Yuri Norstein, Ishu Patel, Co Hoedeman, Raoul Servais, Shanghai Animation, Alexander Petrov, Yoji Kuri, Koji Yamamura, Jiri Trnka, Tezuka Osamu, Russian shorts, plus the aforementioned McLaren and Zeman sets.

I'll go out of my way to mention that the 5-DVD Trnka set is particularly welcome because it sees the first DVD release anywhere of Trnka's magnum opus, A Midsummer Night's Dream, which in my opinion is the greatest puppet film ever made.

There's also been a spate of Slavic fuzzies of late, with classic children's puppet series like the popular Chebrushka and Bretislav Pojar's brilliant Pojdte pane, budeme si hrat turning up on DVD. To capitalize on the fad, someone even put out a ridiculously skimpy DVD+plush doll set for Mitten, a short done by the Chebrushka team.

Svankmajer is well represented, with almost all of his full-length features out on DVD as well as his shorts. And a number of those weird 80s French sci-fi features are even out on DVD. You know... Planete Sauvage, Les Maitres Du Temps, Gandahar. I must say, I don't know about you, but I found Gandahar to be supremely crappy. Planete Sauvage is still watchable in a quaint sort of way, I guess. Haven't seen the other one.

Not a Japanese release, and not even animation in the conventional sense, but a few years back a selection of the film works of Charles & Ray Eames was released on 5 DVDs. The Powers of Ten, clocking in at a mere 8 minutes, is quite simply one of the most amazing films I've ever seen. It is required viewing for anyone who considers himself an aficionado of cinema or animation. The film is a miracle of perfection. I was so mezmerized and amazed on the first watching that I don't remember how many times I rewatched it immediately afterwards, in addition to ripping it from the LD I'd rented so as to be able to watch it yet more innumerable times. (The DVD wasn't out then.) For the record, I'm a partisan of the early version. I personally think the collective body of the Eames' work is among the greatest left by any American visual artist in the last century. And I don't even know that much about what else they did. (Apparently they were no less important as architects and furniture designers.)

I just noticed Criterion released a DVD of Stan Brakhage's works. Very curious about that.

And, oh yeah, whatever happened to Norstein's Overcoat? It's been like, what, 20 years since he started?? I know he's still alive and kicking, since he made a great new short for Winter Days and had enough free time to do some voice-acting on Jubei-chan, of all things.

And what about Paul Glabicki? I've seen a few of his incredible abstract works, and they clearly deserve much more recognition than they seem to get. It's practically impossible to find them.

Anyway, I think that'll be enough horrendous digression for now.

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3 comments

Paul Glabicki
Paul Glabicki [Visitor]

I’ve just discovered ANIPAGES DAILY, and want to congratulate you on this excellent source of animation dialogue and information. The comments and interviews express a genuine dedication and enthusiasm for the art of animation. It’s also exciting to discover so many talented and imaginative new animators. Thank you, and keep up the good work!

11/23/04 @ 09:09
Ben
Ben [Visitor]

Thank you for taking the time to write this word of encouragement. I admire your work tremendously so it means a lot to me.

11/30/04 @ 09:53
Irina
Irina [Visitor]

Thank you so much for “Study 7″ by Fischinger. I’ve been looking for this short for so long. I consider this one the best abstract animation ever.
Thank you again.

02/08/07 @ 18:01