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.

Blinky – Science Fiction Film by Ruairi Robinson

This short science fiction film about a robot playmate/servant by Ruairi Robinson is disturbing because it forces the viewer to be shocked by what happens to a repellent leading character. Personally, I cannot watch the film without silently cheering the little robot on.  In fact, more robots should be programmed just like him.

Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot

Filmmaker Jon Behrens’ Psychotronic 16 blog has posted an episode of a 1967 Japanese television show called Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot.  The show was based on a popular manga series.  It’s another example of that fantastic toy-like Japanese approach to science fiction and adventure that kids of the sixties and seventies were so familiar with.

Go watch the episode.