Unreal Nature

February 15, 2013


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:48 am

…  I don’t think you fall into ruts; I think you’re born into them, but that every effort to break out is a healthy one …

This is from A Critical Cinema 2: Interviews with Independent Filmmakers by Scott MacDonald (1992). This is from his interview is with Robert Breer:

[ … ]

Breer: One thing about narration is its effect on figure-ground relationship. One common form of narration is to have a surrogate self on the screen that people can identify with. In cartooning, it’s a cartoon figure. Grotesque as he or she might be, the figure becomes an identity you follow. If that figure is anthropomorphic or animal, it has a face, and that face will dominate, the way an active ingredient in a passive landscape dominates the field. It sets up a constant visual hierarchy that to me is impoverished. I want every square inch of the screen potentially active, alive — the whole damned screen. I don’t want any one thing to take over. The problem with narration is that the figures always dominate the ground. In the theater, the actors have their feet planted on the stage, and there’s a large space above them. That space is justified because the actors are three-dimensional, living, breathing, sweating human beings who make sound when they move and have real physical presence. It doesn’t matter that gravity keeps them all at the bottom of the stage. But when it comes to a flat screen, I don’t have to have gravity dominate, and I don’t want it to dominate.

Felix the Cat is an interesting case. It was one of the first times cels were used. They drew the background on the cels and the animation on paper — just the reverse of what the cel process was finally used for. So that meant that Felix was on paper underneath his background. If he went over to a tree he’d have to go behind the tree. There was no way for him to go in front of the tree because the tree was on a cel on top of him. I think that made for a nice agreeable tension between the background and the foreground. The foreground (which would normally be the background) fought back against the domination of the figure. And, of course, with Felix the foreground was very busy: everything was animated in those films. That’s a case where all eyes were on Felix, but there was a nice playoff between the physical, plastic environment and the narrative of this little creature.

It came naturally to those early cartoonists to see narrative as a skeleton you could hang things on.

Felix the Cat [image from Wikipedia]

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Breer: … New wine in old bottles, or is it old wine in new bottles? I forget. I’m always hoping for a totally new kind of image, but I’ve been around long enough to know that repeating myself is something I can’t help. I don’t think you fall into ruts; I think you’re born into them, but that every effort to break out is a healthy one and should be nurtured. When I was a kid, I thought style was going to be forever elusive, and that it was something some people had and others didn’t. Now I realize that style is something everybody has in spite of themselves.

[ … ]

Breer: Do you know the joke about the two explorers who get captured by the natives and tied to trees? The chief tells the first one, “You  have two choices: death or ru-ru.” The explorer thinks a bit and says, “Well, ru-ru.” “Wise decision,” says the chief, who unties him. Then the whole tribe beats him up and abuses him sexually and completely destroys him and throws him down dead in front of the other explorer. The chief asks the second explorer which he prefers, death or ru-ru? The second explorer is very shaken up by what he’s seen and finally says, “Death.” And the chief says, “Very wise decision — death it is — but first, a little ru-ru.” I love that joke. In my work there’s always a little ru-ru.

[ … ]

Breer: … Right now I’ve got a couple of shoe boxes full of index cards and half an urge to go up and fiddle them into a sequence, and I follow my urges pretty much. They don’t always take me into doing a film, but I’ll return to the euphoria of putting out a work of art because it’s a high you can’t get any other way that I know of.



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