Friday, October 16, 2009

Fantasy: La fontaine d'Aréthuse (1936, Dimitri Kirsanoff)

La fontaine d'Aréthuse (1936)
France, 8 min
Directed by: Dimitri Kirsanoff

Polish composer Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) wrote his three Mity (Myths) classical pieces in 1915, in a collaboration with violinist Pawel Kochañski, for whom the pieces were originally conceived. I don't know anything about classical music, but apparently this work was revolutionary, described as "impressionistic" and "a new style, a new mode of expression for the violin." The three pieces were "La Fontaine d'Aréthuse," "Narcisse" and "Dryades et Pan," of which the first is the most well-known. To my knowledge, there's no specific story that is supposed to go with La Fontaine d'Aréthuse," but here Dimitri Kirsanoff has apparently attempted to devise his own. Fitting the images to the music, but also striving to tell a story, La Fontaine d'Aréthuse (1936) follows his similarly music-orientated short film of the previous year, the wonderful Les Berceaux / The Cradles. Like the latter, it was also photographed by Boris Kaufman, who would later achieve success in Hollywood as a cinematographer.

La Fontaine d'Aréthuse (1936) opens with credits over shimmering images of water, somewhat reminiscent of Ralph Steiner's H2O (1929). After this, the music takes prominence, and we see a pianist and violinist beginning the classical piece. That Kirsanoff even bothered to show the musicians emphasises the importance he placed on the music itself, re-enforcing that this piece wasn't merely chosen at random to suit the images. "La Fontaine d'Aréthuse" opens with what has been described as a "shimmering wash of sound in the piano, octave leaps in the left hand passing above and below repeated chords in the right," a tune which apparently suggests the splashing waters of a fountain. The story "told" by the music involves a naked water goddess on the river shore (no Production Code being enforced in France!), who is pursued by a Tarzan-like hunter, before disappearing into thin air to join her water once again. Pleasant, and recommended, viewing.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Animation: Kiwi! (2006, Dony Permedi)

Kiwi! (2006)
USA, 3 min
Directed by: Dony Permedi

When you've only got three minutes to tell a story, you'd better make it count. Pixar Studios has always excelled at such an efficient brand of storytelling: Geri's Game (1997) is a masterpiece in four minutes, and For the Birds (2000) and Lifted (2006) have always been crowd- pleasing favourites. Kiwi! (2006) is a student film by Dony Permedi, and it was produced in much the same mould. The short certainly looks like a student film, the CG animation terribly crude by modern standards (though, admittedly, it's unfair to compare any animated film to the standards of Pixar). However, the technical detail doesn't necessarily matter, as long as it succeeds in telling an emotionally-absorbing story. This it does pretty well. An ambitious little kiwi, long confined to the earth by his measly ratite wings, fulfills his lifelong ambition to fly – or, at least, to approximate the sensation of flight. The moment of success is oddly touching, and the single tear that slips from beneath his eyelid would be familiar to anybody who's ever achieved his lifelong dream. Still, I didn't find Kiwi! quite as life-affirming as many viewers seem to have – for me, it was an amusing little aside, and certainly not a bad way to spend three minutes of my time.