The Birth of the Robot: 1936 Experimental Advertising Film by Len Lye for Shell Oil Company

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.

Here’s a gallery site with information and examples of his artwork.

Know No Truth – A Film About a Painter by Joe Martino

This beautiful film by Joe Martino features painter Landon Richmond working and talking about his perspective on the pursuit of one’s art and expression. It’s a very direct and moving film. I agree with every word that comes out of the painter’s mouth. And I like the way he says it without a trace of pretension or irony. He’s interested in facing the darkness in his art and he recommends this fearless approach as a general principal. You have to be able to look directly at anything.  Richmond also acknowledges the place that chaos occupies in his work – the willingness to not necessarily understand where it is that you are going but to go nonetheless.  I really enjoyed hearing this painter’s words today and will keep them in mind for quite some time.

You can see lots of Landon Richmond’s paintings and a web comic at

Maybe One Day Everything Will be Beautiful – by Landon Richmond