JWR Articles: Film/DVD - NFB Shorts (Directors: Theodore Ushev, Norman McLaren) - September 5, 2006

NFB Shorts

No rating No rating

Reviewed for the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival
Two talented filmmakers
Franz Kafka by Andy Wharol The Scream Theodore Ushev

The Man Who Waited/L'Homme Qui Attendait
Four and one-half stars
Theodore Ushev
Canada (2006)
7 min. 24 sec.

Waiting in vain

A near-perfect storm of story (Franz Kafka), music (Arvo Pärt), voice (Tony Robinson) depicted through animation (Theodore Ushev, in a style that marvellously echoes Edvard Munch’s recently reclaimed The Scream) comes together in this capsule of the quest for truth which resonates in the heart and soul long after its protagonist is released from his earthly terror.

From the opening’s frantic hive of typewriter keys to the dwarfing of “the man” by an overpowering office desk of the gatekeeper, to the golden candle which, like the interminable wait to obtain “permission to enter” one’s own truth is extinguished before the rules of the game are known, this brief film (also directed by Ushev) is a “must see” for anyone who has trembled before the weight of their self-knowledge.

The only blemish was the inexplicably vertical rendering by both cello and piano of the forward-moving music that should have been at one with the expertly crafted images. No matter, in this instance the words and their pictorial realization sweep the entrancing voyage to a successful conclusion: to a place that shuns the gatekeeper’s flea but never permits the horrible transformation into, say, a giant beetle … JWR

Kudos to the National Film Board for compiling and now releasing a seven box set of the complete works of one of the world’s most creative artists and filmmakers. Norman McLaren: The Master’s Edition is a must-have collection for his admirers and anyone who loves their art served up with imagination, fun and insight. Below are three samples of what’s in store from the self-described animator—like “being a dancer second hand,” whose fifty-eight films range from social commentary to ballet to abstract art.

The box set also includes fifteen mini-documentaries and interviews. Wisely, they are both informative and brief—no sense trying to upstage the star!

Norman McLaren:  Neighbours still

Five stars
Norman McLaren
Canada (1952)
8 min.

Timeless neighbours

Revisiting the 1952 classic, Neighbours, packs as much punch now as in the post-war era that heralded the explosion of suburbia (cross-reference below). As the rage over a borderline flower escalates from bravura to brutality, human conflict everywhere is explained in just a matter of minutes.

The perky electronic score (another marvel of our time!) and the famous conductors’ duel where the army of white pickets magically morph from dividers to weapons provides laugh-out-loud humour that makes the death and destruction to come all the more heinous.

World leaders should be compelled to take a peek, although they would probably spend most of their time deciding whether to cheer for the bow-tie or long-tie combatants and which one of them had “God” on his side. JWR

The dancers in perfect form

Pas de deux
Five stars
Norman McLaren
Canada (1968)
13 min.

A ballet film noir

McLaren’s genius with his art has no better example than Pas de deux, which shimmers with the spectacular form and long lines of dancers Margaret Mercier and Vincent Warren. The techniques of superimposition, slow motion and side-lighting are combined into a whole that only film can display. Flawless technique is a must for the pair as they dance in, with and around themselves. The lifts are miracles of movement, artistically aided and abetted by an ostinato, pedal-rich accompaniment that signals changes in the action and emotion with the equally fleeting and delicate tone of the Pan flute. Any nymph would be enthralled!

Much is learned by comparing the restored DVD to the original VHS tape (which also contains Ballet Adagio and Narcisse/Narcissus). While the former reveals improved clarity (notably in the credits) the latter’s broader and somewhat deeper white-on-black adds a few degrees more warmth to this truly fantastic display of human imagination at its noblest and best. JWR

Beyond Dull Care print

Beyond Dull Care
Five stars
Norman McLaren
Canada (1949)
8 min.

Keep your eye on the music

What does jazz look like? That question is magnificently answered in McLaren’s Beyond Dull Care. This 1949 gem fills the screen with up-tempo freneticism, a blues that refreshes and a boogie woogie that won’t quit ‘til the last image fades to “oh yeah!”

Piano (Oscar Peterson flies through this chart with heady abandon), bass and drums are shown in their true colours (unforgettable are the drum solos on white, the piano riffs that abound with hot textured orange and a thoughtful bass that coaxes out tadpoles from its pool of sounds). The double-time upright necklaces and steady stream of driving autumn leaves paved the way for music videos of today, but few can match its passion and pizzazz. With eight minutes of paint feasting the eyes, is it any wonder that the “skins” on this track are also struck with brushes? JWR

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