Monday, January 19, 2009

Avant-Garde: Blinkity Blank (1955, Norman McLaren)

Blinkity Blank (1955)
Canada, 5 min
Directed by: Norman McLaren

The idea of creating visuals to match existing music was certainly not a new one, either in animation {see Disney's wonderful Fantasia (1940)} or live-action {see Jean Mitry's Pacific 231 (1949)}. With Blinkity Blank (1955), offbeat Canadian filmmaker Norman McLaren offers his own bizarre take on the technique, matching simple two-dimensional images (etched directly onto the cell print) to some classy jazz music by Maurice Blackburn. The idea, I must admit, works better in theory than in execution. I liked how McLaren attempted to replicate the subtle musical melodies using purely visual cues, in effect the closest a deaf person will ever get to hearing the music for himself. But he doesn't quite pull it off. McLaren's primitive etched outlines, depicting anything from birds to umbrellas, communicate the tempo of the music, but not the emotion. It takes a masterpiece like Fantasia, with its breathtaking Technicolor animation and gentle pacing, to achieve this aim most completely.

Contrary to my first impressions, apparently there is a story behind the animation in Blinkity Blank – something to do with a bird and its cage. However, I was too busy nursing a migraine to worry too much about these details. McLaren's animation flashes in and out of frame, flickering like a strobe light, and I found it almost maddening to keep my eyes open. Had the film simply been dull or monotonous, I should still have admired the craftsmanship, which, despite the rudimentary animation, must have taken a lot of work. However, once again, it gave me a splitting headache {the first film to do so since the latest Bond flick, Quantum of Solace (2008)}, and I just can't support a film that inflicted pain upon me. My relationship so far with Norman McLaren has been an ambiguous one. While I found Pas de deux (1968) to be absolutely mesmerising, I was pretty much indifferent to his most famous short, Neighbours (1952). Given time, I'm sure that I'll find at least another of his films that I love.

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