Category: Reviews + Finds

Pink Narcissus (1971)

Pink Narcissus is a 1971 feature film directed by James Bidgood. The 65 minute film depicts a prostitute(Bobby Kendall) as he lounges in his apartment, drifting in and out of homo-erotic fantasies. There is no dialogue as the protagonist drifts through a number of dreams, such as that of becoming a matador in an encounter with a leather-clad biker, a Roman slave boy, masturbation in a forest and seduction by a belly dancer.


While the majority of Pink Narcissus is live-action, the film features several stop-motion animated sequences, puppeted and handcrafted sets, stunning creativity, inventiveness and a strong handcrafted quality throughout. I thought this film would be of interest to many people as it is unique and distinctly personal cinema.

During an animated sequence at the film’s onset, the camera tracks through a forest with a luminescent moon shining through foliage. We see handcrafted spider webs, and live mice scurry beneath a painted backdrop of stars. The camera then tracks in to a chryssalis hatching and a stop-motion butterfly emerging and taking it’s first flight. We then see our protagonist walk into a pink room to light a candle as stop-motion rose petals fall over a gilded picture frame suspended in a pink ether. This is just a sample of the vivid imagery which permeates the film.

Pink Narcissus was shot entirely in Bidgood’s cramped New York apartment over seven years. He lived among the various sets while creating the film. This lack of space and limited resources required a certain kind of ingenuity from the creator. When asked how he went creating the forest scene in his apartment, Bidgood replied “Every breath of space was used” … “I was in a very small apartment. So that moon was a tabletop that was in one room, and the sky in the background was a huge frame that was as big as it could be and still pass through the archway that led into the living room where it started…” “You see if you have that kind of conviction and want to do that and if you really think you know how to do it, you should do it! And you shouldn’t let anyone tell you that you should ‘start a little simpler’.”

One scene I find particularly amazing comes towards the final third of the film. Seemingly taking inspiration from Robert Wiene’s German expressionist films of the 1920’s such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Genuine, the scene depicts a hand-made New York cityscape. Asymmetrical buildings clad in glowing signage tower over colourful, strange and menacing characters. Pantless sailors, disheveled bagladies, men clad in BDSM chains and harnesses, a nurse in a storefront struggling(or dancing) with intestines, a cowboy with his cock out and a postman with his penis in his hand. Alongside these live-action characters sit atrophied stop-motion animated figures vomiting near a bin and cavorting outside a bloodbank.

“There were times when I needed four people to do a shot and there was no-body but me. There’s one scene where there’s a New York skyline. And I had to have little motors to make things work, the camera was connected to a string to make the it tilt up or tilt down because I didn’t have anyone to operate the cameras. There was another motor to make the fan blow intermittently so the curtain billowed. And then I had to run back behind the set to makethe signs in the skyline light up. It would have been nice if I had a couple of extra hands. A lot of things were like that. I had to make machines. I don’t think anyone realises how hard it was.” – James Bidgood

The film’s rejection of many cinema and staging conventions as well as it’s handmade aesthetic contribute to it’s otherworldly and ethereal tone. While nothing is done ‘sleekly’, the handmade aesthetic effectively weaves together the seperate elements to create this fantastical world . Another distinguishing feature of the film’s aesthetic and dream-like tone is it’s intense colour. Bidgood dipped the 8mm film in coloured dyes to give it bright pink to irredescent blue overtones throughout the film.

The sad part was that when you’re making a film for seven years, people don’t have a lot of patience, and they want you to finish your work of art on their timetable. So getting anyone to help me was very difficult. It was always difficult, even when I got help but it got to be toward the end that even the people that were… y’know… even Bobby left. He just couldn’t stand the whole situation anymore. Bobby is not the only Bobby in the movie, there are stand-ins for Bobby. *laughs* When you lose your leading man… first of all when your leading man goes bald making the movie, it takes a lot. It was very funny.” – James Bidgood

For years the film was rumoured to have been created by Andy Warhol or Kenneth anger, due to Bidgood being credited as ‘Anonymous’ after being denied the final cut on the film which was then edited by the producers. “It was very sad what happened to it.” ruminates Bidgood in an interview with Brian Robinson, Programmer of the London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival. “So much of Pink Narcissus is not there. It’s really sad because so many of the optical effects and the materials were all there to work with when it was taken from me and put together by people who had no idea what I was intending. First of all, the film is so personal, how could anyone else put it together? It’s like you’re trying to come into my dream world and see what I see only at night by myself.” During the mid 90’s the film’s origin was tracked to Bidgood and it was eventually re-released in 2003 on DVD by Strand Home Videos.

This film is essential viewing for anyone into personal underground cinema, which embodies stunning creativity and strong D.I.Y resourcefullness.

-Hamish Storrie

. All James Bidgood quotes were transcribed from an interview with Brian Robinson, Programmer of the London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival. The interview is contained in the special features of the 2007 BFI DVD release. 

Instagram Resources for Animators

It goes without saying that social media is mostly be a pointless time drain, but sometimes it can be used to insert great art and valuable influences into daily life. Recently I’ve found a few decent instagram accounts that highlight interesting animations, works to get inspiration from or resources to study. Here are a few of my favourites.

Anti-CGI
https://www.instagram.com/anti_cgi/
Anti-CGI is dedicated to practical effects, atmospheric stills and strange cinematic imagery. Heaps of gritty and dark influences to be found here.

99Machinders
https://www.instagram.com/99machinders/
A repository of captivating anime clips, 70’s japanese Tokusatsu, and manga. This instagram has so much visually dynamic and … imagery.

Animation Resources
https://www.instagram.com/animation_resources/
Clips of mostly 30’s, 40’s and 50’s animations from Warner Bros, UPA, Fleischer Studios and other of that ilk. Pretty useful for what it is but all pretty mainstream ‘cartoony’ animation.

Bittycar
https://www.instagram.com/bittycar/
An eclectic mix of 40’s and 50’s animation, graphical illustrations and forgotten pop-culture.

There’s probably more great accounts that I haven’t found yet so if you have any good resources leave a comment. I’m working on getting www.instagram.com/undergroundanimation off the ground but I’m still trying to figure out the right settings to upload videos. When I get some free time I’ll begin uploading some interesting clips.

-Hamish S

Chronopolis (1983)

Chronopolis is a 1983 stop-motion science fiction feature from Polish director Piotr Kamler.


The film’s sparse narrative involves a group of Immortal beings who inhabit a colossal city which sits above the clouds. The Immortals spend their time constructing, sculpting and bringing to life various forms of matter. A group of mortal explorers scale a tower, and one of them loses their grip and falls. After floating through the cloudy ether for some time, they land, unconcious, on a pipe. One of the Immortal’s creations, a living orb, wakes the unconcious figure. The figure and the orb begin to dance together and journey along the pipe. The pair eventually appear before three immortals which tower over them. The faces of the Immortals begin to pit and disintergrate, as do the walls of their city and their creations. The city is engulfed in a creeping darkness. The film concludes with the explorer and living orb moving along a line through a white void.

As far as narratives go this one is pretty loose, and the events that unfold throughout the film can be interpreted a number of ways. Kamler’s UbuWeb profile states itwell; “Completely unalike to more conventionally linear and text-based narratives, Kamler’s films instead explore a series of dynamic visual motifs.”. The narrative is set by an opening crawl which details the Immortals boredom and desire. Everything else is implied visually as there is no dialogue throughout the film. The original 1982 version had narration, however in the final cut the narration was removed.

Chronopolis drifts between the borders of abstraction and figurative representation. Often, you can tell you are looking at a physical object in  3-dimensional space, but the nature of the object is obscured and incomprehensible.

You really get the sense of great age in the design of the Immortals and their city. They exhibit small imperfections, marks and physical flaws throughout their seemingly inorganic forms. Their reserved movement also betrays age, or at least apathy.  The city’s old stone panels with intricate patterns and reliefs give a feeling that it might be from a time of early agrarian pre-history, or perhaps from a far off alien culture. The world of Chronopolis seems almost devoid of colour. The muted earthy tones, of concrete or stone are only ever punctuated by the occaisonal flashes of orange or red energy.

The inventiveness of the editing and compositing throughout Chronopolis is the work of a master. Both Kamler and the Immortal figures within the film playfully manipulate time. Kamler uses rapid jumpcuts, swiftly layered wipe transitions, microcuts and undulatinglight to create the sense that the city of Chronopolis follows it’s own laws of time and entropy.

The final shot in the film is particularly telling; a human figure walking in a void and a bouncing ball following. Perhaps this is a self-reflexive reference to the form of animation itself as two of the first sequences an animator will likely learn is the simple walk cycle, and the physical properties of a bouncing ball.

The version I viewed was the final cut which ran at 52 minutes however the original 1982 version runs at 66 minutes which I am keen to get my hands on. Chronopolis‘ production ran for 5 years, from 1977-1982 with Kamler completing most of the animation and editing himself. It’s interesting to note that he recieved a grant for $400,000 by utilising a script which had nothing to do with the final film.

Chronopolis is a film which might not appeal to many viewers due to it’s sparse narrative and recurring abstractions; however I really enjoyed the fascinating world Kamler created and his masterful use of the medium to self-reflexively examine the artform. Check it out.

-Hamish S

Hideaki Anno Teaches Kids

In 1999, following the completion and success of “Neon Genesis Evangelon”; animator, director and actor Hideaki Anno appeared in an episode of the documentary series “Welcome Back for an Extracurricular Lesson, Sempai!”. In the episode Anno travels back to his hometown to teach animation to a class at his old elementary school. The show is super cute, yet hidden within it are several nuggets of wisdom and clues behind the development of Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Anno’s creative process.

hannofire

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eh0qbJAQhgk

Anno turns up to the elementary school looking disheveled and seems extremely awkward around the kids. He seems really genuine and doesn’t try to sugar coat anything for the kids either. At one point a child asks him, “Do you like the anime you make?”. He replies with “Like… well, I like some, but hate others.”. “What parts don’t you like?” asks the child, “The parts where I see myself.” replies anno. He later states “I’m not crazy about myself.” You can definitely see aspects of several NGE characters in Anno, which isn’t surprising as a large amount of the final episode’s material is essentially excerpts from a journal he wrote in during a four year bout of depression.

hannoself

Later in the episode he goes on to talk about his own aspirations. “I think animation is best for visualizing images that come from inside you. No doubt, you can develop a very individualized expression.”

He also talks about his life growing up the the industrial city of Ube, his background and how he communicates with others. “Answering questions from the children is a type of communication. And my way of talking shows that I am not a person who gives detailed explanations. Do I like this? No, I don’t. Unless they ask why, I won’t go any further.”

By the end of the two days of teaching simple animation, taking field trips to his parents house and old haunts; he seems a lot more comfortable around the kids and opens up a bit. He tells the kids before leaving, “I hope you have each gotten something out of this. keep these feelings dear to you and try to think of and search for your own answers.”

The short video is inadvertently a fairly comprehensive look into the mind of one of 20th century animation’s greatest creators. Check it out.

-Ham

Jan Švankmajer’s Final Film

Jan Švankmajer is in the process of making his final film, ‘Insects’. He has successfully crowdfund part of the production on indigogo, which is getting more common with filmmakers of his level.

When asked about why he chose crowdfunding over more traditional funding methods, Svankmajer stated that “It gets increasingly difficult to fund independent art that scrutinizes the very core of our society. Who would deliberately support their own critics? We make a film every five or six years not because of a lack of ideas, but due to the lack of funds to back up our projects. Our hope is that crowdfunding may be the way to change this. The initial $150,000 we aim to raise on Indiegogo will enable us to start shooting with live actors; eventually, we will need to raise far more in order to complete the animations and post-production.”

hmyz_insects_the_insect_play-904679989-large

The film will be based on the satirical Čapek Brothers play, Pictures from the Insects’ Life. Svankmajer has stated that “The Čapek brothers’ play is very misanthropic. I’ve always liked that — bugs behave as human beings, and people behave as insects. My screenplay extends this misanthropy further while also reflecting Franz Kafka and his famous ‘Metamorphosis.’”

“To those of you who choose to support our effort, I want to thank you. I promise you that I will invest my entire body and soul into this last feature film of mine. After all, that’s the only way I know how to create.” (JŠ)

I’m really looking forward to seeing what Svankmajer accomplishes with Insects, but also sad that this will be his last film.

-Hamish