In 1936, experimental filmmaker Len Lye made this short surreal animation to advertise the benefits of Shell oil for lubricating things. The film is a hyper-saturated stop-motion extravaganza that involves a mechanical world turning on some sort of hand crank. There’s an adventurer driving around the sands of Egypt. His car winds down and konks out leaving the man dead in the desert. The angel of oil rains drops of lubricating crude down on the Egyptian landscape bringing the parched skeleton to life as the Shell Oil robot. Fascinating. It’s got that awkward, shiny, naive beauty that could only be achieved in the 30s. Parts of this thing look like they might be influenced by Salvador Dali’s work. Something about that dead skeleton and the desert looks like it could fit right into the Surrealist master’s paintings.
Lye was from New Zealand and worked not only as an experimental filmmaker but also in newsreels and advertising. He was a kinetic sculptor, poet, painter and a writer of essays on artistic theory and philosphy. He made a 1935 short film called ‘A Colour Box’ which was the first generally exhibited film made by painting directly on the film emulsion. It’s a brilliant experimental animation posing as an advertisement for cheaper parcel post. I’m sure the great direct paint filmmaker Stan Brakhage must have been familiar with Lye’s work.
First, here’s a nice review and interview about the film at Dangerous Minds. Want to follow a secret identity artist through a dangerous Los Angeles as he escapes and hits like a criminal? Hang on and watch carefully. You may need to watch it 14 times to catch the drift. But you’ve probably got that kind of time anyway. This is a Los Angeles crime film. But it’s as if several films on celluloid fused together and what you end up with is an art film that gets overwhelmed by urban documentary and then collapses into a narrative thriller. It’s filled with hints, clues, evidence and misdirection. Images, ideas and sounds bounce off each other, mirror each other. There are secrets in this film. You have to watch carefully, through layers to catch things. I’ve tried to make a film that moves like disjointed thoughts toward the preordained ending. Continue reading …
The film seems almost out of time. It could have been filmed fifty years ago. The gently swaying palms of Los Angeles fit between buildings easily but seem to have a romantic life in this film. The music, a piece for theremin and string quartet by Herbert A. Deutsch, fits the imagery in Jennifer Sharpe’s film to perfection. This kind of filmmaking, done with a small camera and then edited and colored in a relatively simple digital editor, is very close to the simplicity of the poet working in a notepad or the artist sketching from her window. Sharpe’s films are deeply felt poetic expressions that seem to exist in the only possible form that they could have. She turns her video images into something close to painting, extending time and finding mystery in simple movements. She has a very gentle approach but with strength in her observation and emotional ability, sort of like a butterfly with steel wings.
The ‘Hyrcynium Wood’ is a 2005 experimental film by British filmmaker Ben Rivers who tends to work with old film cameras and 16mm. I like the layered misty anxiety of this short film. Rivers has a couple of films showing at this year’s New York Film Festival.
At the start, I’ll say that this is one of the most magnificent films I have seen in years. David Vaipan has made this relentless and fully-committed scream of artistic intent, desire, confusion, effort and love. This is a film about being an artist. It is a film about fear and confidence. About effort, will and failure. Vaipan simply takes the entire history of art and all that it has given him and dumps it out on his desk and turns it all into his own material. All of art, music, film, literature and poetry become Vaipan’s crayons and he uses them to tell his own personal story.
The film bombards with imagery. Just gaze in wonder at the crayon animated memoir that’s presented like a little puppet theater show. It moves from birth to boarding schools to Wall Street and beyond with effortless skill. The drawings are amazing and funny. Just when you think you’ve seen plenty Vaipan moves into a stick figure run through the history of art and it just keeps coming at you. He cuts and chops and mixes and slides and just keeps streaming the grandeur of art at us like a force of nature. He’s completely lost inside the world of inspiration. He sees the fear of getting lost in the pile – the fear of being ignored – and he literally revels in the fear itself. He makes the fear seem like something to seek. This is a grand and important statement from someone who I think is a young artist. The tools of his trade are digital and he uses them freely with a wild eagerness to explore that is extremely difficult to maintain. The unabashed use of video effects and computer equipment as if they are the oil paints and charcoals inside a painter’s box is one of the hallmarks of the emerging American video art movement. I can see the influence of Ryan Trecartin’s work in this. There’s a familiarity with digital layers that is of primary significance in this recent art. There’s a hard-edged willingness to allow the digital processes to show through. It’s sort of a freedom with the computer and video that means one doesn’t have to make anything necessarily look the right way or look like something it isn’t.
You have to really watch this film very closely and try to catch the pieces of the roaring mass of art thrown at you. Even the ending credits are a complete statement in themselves with the director drunkenly singing the Rolling Stones’ ‘Sympathy For the Devil’ in the background.
So many people are part of this film. Kenneth Anger, Stan Brakhage, Jean Luc Godard, Maya Deren, Luis Bunuel, Stanley Kubrick, David Foster Wallace, Michael Snow, Agnes Varda, to name but a few.
I know that the intertitles and other things flash by too quickly to grasp and maybe that intimates something about the info-age and attention spans, it’s why your lord Hiesos Kristos, magician of the beautiful, invented the pause button and that’s also why the real Creator (one D. Vaipan) put this on the internet rather than wherever, because you have control.
See? That’s one of the little treasure waiting for you in the end credits of this gigantic and raving epileptic fit of a film that should ultimately bring you close to tears and make you want to explode in all directions and actually truly and finally… make something!