Tuesday, June 20, 2006
Ok, I know I'm getting really tired of all these little rubber arms and boring explanations! It's time for something more fun! Here's something I've been discussing with.... an imaginary friend. ; ) The image above is from an incredible film called Balance by Christophe and Wolfgang Lauenstein... in fact, thanks to YouTube, it's also a link to the movie... click it to see one of my all-time favorite stopmotion films. And the one below takes you to a film on Google Video called Quest, by Tyron Montgomery and Thomas Stellmach. Go ahead, click through to both now, they'll open in separate windows and start loading up. Then you'll be able to watch them both about the time you finish reading this. Oh, the following does contain spoilers... so you might want to hold off on reading it until after you've seen both films. Your call.
Both films were made as student works at a German university. And they share a few factors in common that I think are worth further scrutiny. Here's my nutshell analysis of why they're so effective.
First and foremost they're simple. That's key to why everything else works so well. The puppets are very stylized and simplified, no attempt to give them realistic features or proportions. They're cyphers. And the worlds they inhabit are almost featureless. For this reason, any object that exists takes on a special significance. The floating slab in Balance, hovering enigmatically.... where is it? In space? High in the air? Why do these men live there? Are they prisoners? Have they always been there? These questions lie just under the surface of your mind as you watch, but because the action holds your attention you don't get too caught up in them. The story unfolds with simple, undeniable logic that keeps your interest. And as you watch you begin to make connections.... oh, the slab represents society or co-operation... they have to work together or they'll all fall off. Brilliant! The whole environemt... the whole narrative world - becomes a metaphor! And the best thing about it is the fact that it remains unexplained. If there was some involved sci-fi explanation of why the slab is there and how the men got there, it would lose its mythical power. But as it is, the film plays out like a game. One step forward, tilt the slab... somebody must step back. Power politics in action. It's so broad in its interpretation that it could represent world powers or individuals or anything in between. One thing that smacks me in the frontal lobes every time I watch Balance is the brilliant use of moving composition... every frame is beautiful!
Quest has the same kind of simplicity, though not carried to the same extreme. There are a few environments, and they're more fleshed out, but still every object carries power. A pile of rocks, sheets of paper, automatic welding machinery... it's like a surreal dreamscape where nothing extraneous exists. And again, the fact that nothing is explained forces the viewer to think in broad terms, makes everything a cypher carrying great power, the way images in dreams do. In order to create something with this much power, you have to do away with extraneous detail. It's almost as if each prop comes into existance only when it's needed and for a very specific reason.
Neither film really follows traditional narrative form - introduce the character(s), reveal a problem they must solve, and show how they do so. In each case, we don't really know anything about these characters or their situation... the fun lies in the discovery. Along the way, as we watch, we're trying to figure out what's going on. And in each case, the final shot puts a new spin on things. It makes you reconsider everything, adds a layer of meaning and depth to it all.
Another thing they have in common... I could easily see them as 2d cartoon animation, done in an international style. In fact, I noticed in the credits to one of them a few repetitions of the name Prof. Paul Dreissen. If you're not familiar with that name, he's a great cartoon animator, and I suspect had a strong influence on these films.
If you're interested, there are a few really short follow-ups to Balance, as well as some other clips, on the Lauenstein's site
Ok, sorry for the Introductory Film Analysis 101 lecture, it's just me trying to grasp ways to make cool stopmo flicks. Now back to your regularly programmed scheduling.