Stop-Motion Film Night 2

AliStop Motion Film Night

Time for our second Stop-Motion Film Night.  Roll up.  Settle down with the popcorn, the pick ‘n’ mix or the pack of cold beers.  Let the cinema curtains crank open in the dark. The first Stop-Motion Film Night was a somewhat creepy affair, so for this second instalment I tried to find some light-hearted videos for your delectation.  For the most part, I failed.  Let’s face it, antique toys and taxidermied beasts lurching into animated life are always going to tingle the spine.  But here’s a short film that raises a smile and leaves your vertebrae untickled. It reminds me, particularly when the hole opens up in the floor and the girl dives in, of Lewis Carroll: “Down, down, down. Would the fall never come to an end! ‘I wonder how many miles I’ve fallen by this time?’ she said aloud. ‘I must be getting somewhere near the centre of the earth.” Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland bring us to Jan Švankmajer, and at once the creepiness kicks in.  The compiler of this video has set it to a track by Múm, a perfect choice to keep some of Švankmajer’s darkness at bay, but there’s nothing any accompaniment can do about the goggle-eyed bone monsters the white rabbit summons. Let’s go back, way back.  The grain of old film.  The earnest faces of actors long passed.  These things do more for my sense of wonder than all the sophistications of modern cinema.  Something in the long focus and the time taken and the stiff playfulness.  Below is Dreams of Toyland, stop-motion from over a hundred years ago.  Bear with the serious boy in the tricorn as he and his mother labour through the introductory live action scene.  Enjoy what follows and choose something slow and careful to listen to as you watch it.  Josh T Pearson’s Country Dumb will see you through most of the film, and leave you quiet for the disturbing finale.  Come the 3.30 mark, watch the shadows cast by the sun on the streets of toyland, a hint of the long hours devoted to the stop-motion. To finish on the light-hearted note we started on, here’s Gulp by Sumo Science at Aardman, but not before some Ernest Hemingway to set the scene.  This is the largest stop-motion ever, and come the end of the film there’s a link to a making of featurette.  As well as giving you an even greater sense of the scale of the set, it will give you some sand sculpting tips you can put to good use next time you’re at the seaside. Then he began to pity the great fish that he had hooked. He is wonderful and strange and who knows how old he is, he thought. Never have I had such a strong fish nor one who acted so strangely. Perhaps he is too wise to jump. He could ruin me by jumping or by a wild rush. But perhaps he has been hooked many times before and he … Read More

AliStop-Motion Film Night 2

Stop-Motion Film Night

AliStop Motion Film Night

Inspired by the new video for Fleet Foxes, and by the way people enjoyed the stop-motion clips at the end of my post about Scrapefoot, I thought it would be fun to start a Stop-Motion Film Night, an occasional series of clips and films from this most painstaking and enchanting school of effects and animation. I can’t pretend to be an expert on this, I just love digging up moving pictures and bits of old puppetry.  Anything I do  know comes straight out of Ray Harryhausen and Tony Dalton’s A Century of Model Animation, which is a fine and fully illustrated history of the technique. The Shrine / An Argument from Sean Pecknold on Vimeo. I find there’s something eerie about films from eighty or ninety years ago.  Perhaps it’s the probability that all of the actors have passed away and we’re watching a cast of ghosts.  Perhaps it’s just the flicker and the grain, and the sense it gives of another era, a bygone worldview.  This film, The Haunted House, is already a centenarian.  Since it’s silent and we live in an audio visual age, you need something to listen to alongside it.  I recommend the new track from Birdengine.  Hit play on both of these in quick succession.  The music will finish just around the part where the house starts swaying and is put into the devil’s sack, but such tragic endings require solemn silence. Lotte Reiniger made a series of silhouette animations based on Grimms’ fairy tales, which the BFI has uploaded to Dailymotion.  Her biography’s worth checking out.  She and her husband did all they could to escape Germany when the Nazis took power, but were forced back to Berlin with the advent of World War Two.  They survived, thank goodness, but it would be interesting to investigate how her experiences affected her work on the Grimms’ stories.  Here’s Sleeping Beauty, which is my favourite because of the cook and the thieving kitchen boy. This next is a clip from The Great Rupert, which you can watch in its entirety here (with the caveat that it’s about an hour and a half, and the best bit happens in the first three minutes).  It’s a film about a squirrel who can dance a highland jig.  Apparently, the effects were so convincing in their day that cinema-goers thought they were watching a trained animal.  In truth, of course, it was stop-motion.  A reanimated squirrel dancing with the charming-but-creepy strut you would expect of a taxidermist’s creation.  If you watch the whole film be warned that there are hardly any other dances with squirrels.  I guess that just goes to show what an effort it was to shoot the brief material that was included. The Great Rupert reminded me of something far more recent.  The video to Radiohead’s There There, which apparently was inspired by everyone’s stop-motion hero, Bagpuss.  I can easily picture T. G. Rupert living among those roots and branches, or dancing his jig at that wedding … Read More

AliStop-Motion Film Night

Happy Birthday Ray Harryhausen

AliStop Motion Film Night

Many happy returns to Ray Harryhausen, who turns 90 today. I’m a massive fan of his.  I remember that as a child I used to sit with my dad on the floor and watch Sinbad movies in which all manner of monsters came to life.  CGI was already establishing itself at the time, with Jurassic Park and the like hitting the cinemas, so Harryhausen’s stuff already had an antique sense to it that made it all the more special.  There’s something enchanting about the movement of stop motion animation.  It’s slightly too jerky to be real, and I think it’s that characteristic that’s meant it’s aged so well.  In other words, it’s art.  It’s the painstaking frame-by-frame repositioning of puppets.  It’s even, in a way, a bit like writing, in that it involves a huge amount of patience and stage-by-stage detail that you hope will end up looking seamless and spontaneous and fluid. This clip from The 7th Voyage of Sinbad always creeped me out when I was little (and still does).  When you catch a glimpse of the dancer’s face it’s simultaenously aghast and grotesque.  This clip has been edited a bit because in the original there are some close-ups of the dancer’s face, performed just for those shots by an actress.  This clip has also been chopped short: notice how at the end the dancer’s tail gropes up towards her throat…

AliHappy Birthday Ray Harryhausen