Taking a Line for a Walk

Now Is The Time still 1 _All Rights reserved National Film Board of Canada 1951_

Scots-born animator Norman McLaren made his terrestrial debut 100 years ago, and the EIFF has been honouring him. MClaren’s work was mainly made in Canada, but one of his rare British pieces was made in stereoscopic 3D, and the resurgence in that medium has led to the restoration of all McLaren’s 3D work (as director and producer). A program of shorts gathered them all together along with classics like PAS DE DEUX and NEIGHBORS. It was particularly enjoyable to see the latter film with an audience who had not been properly forewarned — the parable of war works like a dream, suckering the punters in with the charming, quirky “pixillation” technique, in which real actors are stop-motion animated so they can slide around the lawn like figure-skaters or hover in the air with their lower legs a hummingbird blur (a series of upward leaps photographed and strung together so their feet never touch the ground). And then, without warning, the pleasant suburbanites are transformed by a territorial conflict into kabuki demons, clawing at each others’ faces with McLaren scratching the soundtrack to create horrific burping snarls. The murder of the wives and children, disposed of with casual slapstick brutality, got a whisper of “Oh my God!” from a woman behind me.

The 3D films are entirely abstract pieces, like most of McLaren’s work, with primary-colored ribbon forms angling through space. For some reason they gave me my first 3D headache, an instant eyestrain that may have been caused by too damn many screenings that day, or the animation, or some flaw in the original 3D or in the new restoration. They’re beautiful, but they HURT. Little tiny abstract-impressionist femme fatales.

2 Responses to “Taking a Line for a Walk”

  1. Wow, Neighbours is OUTSTANDING! I never knew McLaren worked with live performers. His influence on early Sesame Street is all the more obvious now.

  2. There’s a charming earlier one called Three Bagatelles I think, where he developed the technique. And then he used it here and abandoned it.

    But there’s also Pas de Deux, which is something else again, and staggeringly lovely on the big screen.

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