It’s mid-March, and I’m rounding the final corner on my animation project Wunderkammer. It appears that I’m on schedule to release this short film in late Summer 2018. Details to follow. Below are a few recent images:
Hello, my darklings. Sorry for the prolonged absence from this blog, as I’ve begun working on my new animation project entitled Wunderkammer. This project sees the return of Madelaine, the mysterious Victorian lady from my previous short films La Petite Mort (2013) and An Unfortunate Incident Involving Her Hat (2012). As always, curious happenings befall Madelaine. In the latter film, Madelaine became the victim of a very bizarre wardrobe malfunction, and in the former, she engaged in a romantic — but ultimately tragic — tryst with an octopus. Similarly, in Wunderkammer her uncanny adventures continue.
For those not familiar with the term, a wunderkammer was a Renaissance-era predecessor of the modern museum collection. Below is a definition copied from the Tate Modern web site:
Wunderkammer or curiosity cabinets were collections of rare, valuable, historically important or unusual objects, which generally were compiled by a single person, normally a scholar or nobleman, for study and/or entertainment. […]Exotic natural objects, art, treasures and diverse items of clothing or tools from distant lands and cultures were all sought for the wunderkammer. Particularly highly prized were unusual and rare items which crossed or blurred the lines between animal, vegetable and mineral. Examples of these were corals and fossils and above all else objects such as narwhal tusks which were thought to be the horns of unicorns and were considered to be magical.
— excerpt from “History of the wunderkammern (cabinet of curiosities).”
I include here some pencil sketches of the various items and curios found inside the wunderkammer of my film (subject to change as the project evolves, of course).
Hello, gentle readers. Many apologies for the fact that I haven’t been keeping up with my blog posting lately. As you can read in the previous two posts, I’m currently involved in a new animation project which is commandeering all of my “spare” time. Below is a screen capture from a lovely little write-up I received a couple of months back on the Dangerous Minds blog. I submit this for your reading pleasure. Enjoy.
A tale of love, betrayal and one vengeful butterfly. This project was inspired by the surreal animations of Lenica, Borowyck and Svankmajer, Japanese tentacle erotica, and those strange, middle-of-the-night dreams one has after spicy food.
Story, artwork and articulated paper puppets created by Jennifer Linton.
Stop-motion animation by Carla Veldman.
Original musical score by Zev Farber.
Directed & edited by Jennifer Linton.
This animation was made possible by the financial support of the Toronto Arts Council and the Ontario Arts Council. Copyright ©2013 Papercut Pictures (Jennifer Linton). All rights reserved.
It’s official. My animated short film Domestikia: The Incident in the Nursery has been selected under the International category for Animaldiçoados/Animacursed 2012, a film festival in Rio de Janeiro that features horror, suspense, and “other cursed” genres of animation. Mine is probably under the “other cursed” or possibly the “WTF” category, should they have one of those.
Visit the festival web site (in Portuguese, of course) and check out the selected films. Pretty solid programming! Amazingly enough, I’m sharing screen time with Julia Pott (see my last blog entry When I grow up, I want to make films like Julia). Not sure how that happened.
No, seriously. This animated short film by Julia Pott, entitled Belly, is a phenomenal achievement. Visually stunning, disturbing, and poignant. I could continue slathering on the superlatives, but you can see for yourself. Official Selection for the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
At last, I’ve completed my second stop-motion animated short film. Domestikia uses paper cutouts and articulated paper puppets in a stop-motion animation to explore the strange, dreamlike and uncanny realm of the Domestic Gothic. With a healthy dose of black humour, it tackles the anxieties and challenges experienced by parents of young children. The ‘Domestic Gothic’ as a motif developed through the writing of 19th-century women Gothic novelists, such as the Brontë Sisters, and dealt specifically with the horror of confinement felt by women who were ‘imprisoned’ within the home and unable to move freely in Victorian society. With contemporary women still predominantly acting as primary caregivers to their children — and thus financially penalized by either remaining at home or opting for employment that allows for ‘family friendly’ work hours — this sense of confinement is still present. The realm of the domestic has become infiltrated by strange creatures — a giant butterfly, an octopus, and bird-headed children — whose presence suggest a level of discomfort within the home. These creatures are the physical manifestation of Freud’s das Unheimlich (translates to English as ‘the uncanny’), a term which literally means ‘unhomely.’
All images and animation were done by me, in my basement.
The dog days of Summer are now upon us, but don’t let those increased hours of daylight discourage our mutual reveling in the dark & macabre. Summer is the perfect time of the year to relax, disengage your critical thought and wallow in the raunchy, gory, completely tasteless absurdity of horror & exploitation films. For the bookish crowd, there are “Summer Reading” lists offered annually by media sources such as Toronto Life and CBC Radio. Now, don’t get me wrong — I do love to curl up with a good book whenever the opportunity presents itself. Film geek that I am, however, I derive greater enjoyment from seeking out and viewing obscure, bizarre and, um, not-exactly-high-brow films — such as the films I list below. If your taste in film is rather like mine, then track these films down as a “Summer Viewing” project. You probably won’t find these titles in your local Blockbuster video store, though. If you’re successful in locating any of these, then cue the DVD, pull the curtains, and embrace their insanity. Then tell me what you thought in the Comments section at the end of this post.
1. Valerie and her Week of Wonders (Czech: Valerie a týden divů) is a 1970 film from the former Czechoslovakia, directed by Jaromil Jireš. This is the most “artful” of the films that appear on this list and, even though the print I viewed was of very poor quality, the stellar cinematography clearly stood out. The film is a dark, coming-of-age fairytale as only the Czechs could envision. The titular heroine, 13-year-old Valerie, grapples with her burgeoning sexuality, as well as the many priests, vampires, men and women who attempt to seduce and/or kill her. Fortunately for young Valerie, she possesses magical earrings which, when placed in her mouth, rescue her from impending death — which happens with great frequency throughout the film. Disjointed and surreal, you’ll hurt your brain if you try to make sense of the proceedings. Characters often change appearance and, as in the case of the ‘Polecat’, occupy shifting and ambiguous roles. Is he a priest? A vampire? Valerie’s father? A weasel? All of the above? Yes. Don’t worry about it, just enjoy the many beautiful images and the hazy, dreamlike pace of this film.
2. Thriller — A Cruel Picture (Swedish: Thriller – en grym film, also known as They Call Her One Eye, Hooker’s Revenge and simply Thriller) is a 1973 Swedish exploitation film. The film follows the typical Rape-Revenge formula: the heroine suffers tragedy and physical degradation until the latter half of the film, when she exacts bloody revenge on those who’ve abused her. (Read my earlier post on the Rape-Revenge film for my thoughts on this exploitation subgenre.) The teenage Frigga — who has been rendered mute by the childhood trauma of sexual abuse — is kidnapped by the local pimp and forced into both heroin addiction and prostitution. When she is initially non-compliant, Frigga has one of her eyes cut out with a scalpel in a brief but grisly scene that reputedly employed an actual cadaver as a body-double. From then on, she silently endures abuse from her clients while she saves up her portion of the financial transactions. She packs her Mondays (her one day-off work) with karate class, rifle-shooting and driving-really-super-fast class, as she secretly plots her revenge. Montage after long montage, she finally dons a black leather trenchcoat, matching eye-patch, and a sawed-off shotgun, and pays a slow-motion visit to each of her (soon to be former) clients.
The film was marketed as the first film ever to be completely banned in Sweden, although the one that actually was first was Victor Sjöström’s The Gardener from 1912. It has received a cult following and was one of the inspirations behind Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, specifically the character of Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah). In Daniel Ekeroth’s book on Swedish exploitation movies, Swedish Sensationsfilms: A Clandestine History of Sex, Thrillers, and Kicker Cinema, it is revealed that the producers took out a huge life insurance policy on star Christina Lindberg, as real ammunition was used in the action sequences, and that she was asked to inject saline solution during the drug scenes. — from Wikipedia.
3. The Living Dead Girl (French: La Morte Vivante) is a 1982 campy classic from French fantastique director Jean Rollin. Reanimated by the spillage of a toxic waste goop on her corpse, the aristocratic Catherine discovers she has a new-found taste for human flesh. Like all of Rollin’s films, the aesthetics play a much more crucial role than the story or, indeed, the acting. His films are as gorgeous as they are completely ridiculous. The absurd plot devices — toxic goop dumped on (surprisingly well-preserved, two-year-old) corpse interred in family crypt — exist only to furnish Rollin with an excuse to create his signature erotic-grotesque imagery. Rollin’s The Living Dead Girl is splatter gore-meets-arthouse, served up with a little Jean-Paul Sartre on the side. The existentialist exchange that occurs between Catherine and her childhood friend Hélène is thoroughly hilarious:
Hélène: You were never dead. The dead don’t come back to life. You were put to sleep, drugged, driven mad or I don’t know what. I don’t understand. I never saw you dead, Catherine. They put an empty coffin in this crypt.
Catherine: No. I’m dead, Hélène. I know I am. Don’t you understand? I know I am!
Heady stuff, people. Heady stuff.
The following text has been copied from an interview with Terry Gilliam (source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2001/apr/27/culture.features1) in which the animator, filmmaker and former member of Monty Python reveals his creative inspirations.
It was at the Sitges film festival that I first saw an exhibition of work by the pioneering Russian animator Wladyslaw Starewicz, and the puppets were so enrapturing that when I got home I ordered up all the tapes I could find of his work. His work is absolutely breathtaking, surreal, inventive and extraordinary, encompassing everything that Jan Svankmajer, Walerian Borowczyk and the Quay Brothers would do subsequently. This is his last film, after The Tale of the Fox from 1930; it is all right there in this cosmic animation soup. It is important, before you journey through all these mind-bending worlds, to remember that it was all done years ago, by someone most of us have forgotten about now. This is where it all began.
For me, as an American growing up in Minnesota, Walt Disney was animation. But the joy of Disney’s films always came from watching the baddies. Pinocchio is visually the richest of his features and it is also the darkest. The Bad Boys’ World is a truly immortal nightmare, full of eerie images of kids turning into donkeys and all manner of strangeness. Then there is that stuff with cages, and I notice now that every film I have made features a scene with somebody in a cage – a trait I attribute to watching Pinocchio. Great songs in that film too; Disney was essentially a musical film-maker. Plus there is something intriguing about a character who desperately wants to be a real person, but who we all think is actually more interesting as a piece of wood.
The magic of Tex Avery’s animation is the sheer extremity of it all. The classic Avery image is of someone’s mouth falling open down to their feet, wham, their eyes whooping out and their tongue unrolling for about half a mile: that is the most wonderfully liberating spectacle. Avery would just stretch the human body and face however he liked, and the result was unbelievably funny. There is no hesitation in his work, no sense that you can go too far. I think that nowadays they should put on Tex Avery festivals as an antidote to political correctness. There is also a childlike sense of immortality and indestructibility in his work; people get squashed, mashed, bashed, bent out of shape, whatever, and they bounce back. In essence, it is like the myth of eternal life.
I first saw this when I was a teenager and, in retrospect, it was a career leap for me. This was when I first discovered surrealism. You have a scenario in which you see an animator creating something which suddenly develops a life outside of the cartoon. The character starts communicating with the animator, and then it is Frankenstein all over again, the creation of a monster over which you have no control. Until I saw Out of the Inkwell, I had always thought of animation as existing on one plane, but here were the Fleischer brothers taking you right through the looking glass and into the picture. Of course, when I saw it I loved it – not because I wanted to be the animator whose ink comes to life, but because I wanted to be the animation, the clown wreaking havoc upon the world.
After college, I lived in New York with some people who would watch experimental avant-garde films. We embraced them because they annoyed everybody else, even though they were mostly awful. One night we were enduring some of this stuff when on to the screen came a cut-up image of Richard Nixon trying to talk with his foot in his mouth. It was the simplest animation pun imaginable. Years later, when I had come to England and we were working on a TV programme that was meant to make people laugh, there was a problem with dramatising one of the ideas. So I got a picture of Jimmy Young, cut it in half, moved his mouth around a bit and everybody laughed. That subsequently became a trademark, for which I think van der Beek should take credit.
Walerian Borowczyk was a twisted man whose films were infused with a unique cruelty and weirdness. He started out making extraordinary animations, graduated to directing classics such as Goto, Island of Love and La bête, and then ended up directing Emmanuelle 5, which I think is a perversely fitting end. Les Jeux des Anges was my first experience of animation that was utterly impressionistic. It didn’t show me anything specific, just sound and movement from which you create a world of your own.
Jan Svankmajer’s stop-motion work uses familiar, unremarkable objects in a way which is deeply disturbing. The first film of his that I saw was Alice, and I was extremely unsettled by the image of an animated rabbit which had real fur and real eyes. His films always leave me with mixed feelings, but they all have moments that really get to me; moments that evoke the nightmarish spectre of seeing commonplace things coming unexpectedly to life.
There is something peculiar about falling for Jan Svankmajer and then discovering the Quay brothers – Americans who came to Europe and somehow wound up working in a style that felt like Polish animation. As an American, I always wanted to be seduced into this strange decadent, rotting idea of Europe, and the Quays have created that world in a manner which hypnotises me, but which I don’t fully understand. Maybe I like them because they ended up going further east than I did.
John Lasseter’s work was the first digital animation that had genuine life in the characters. To be able to mix that level of characterisation with the smooth, crisp, clean quality of computer animation, to give it a real sense of three-dimensional existence, of touchiness and tactility, was like discovering a whole new texture of animation. The quality has endured from Lasseter’s short films such as Knickknack through to Toy Story 1 and 2, both of which are touching, funny, intelligent and brilliant.
Parker and Stone are the only guys who were ever inspired by me, who took the crudeness of my animation to even lower depths. Their stuff is so shoddy that it is miraculous that it works at all. I assured them that while it may be great for TV, there was no way to sustain it for 90 minutes. And, of course, their movie worked just brilliantly.