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RIDM Preview: McLaren's Negatives

Posted by Omar / November 11, 2006


On the heels of that other short-form animated documentary about an NFB animator (the Oscar winning Ryan), McLaren's Negatives may, in comparison, seem to have less going for it. We don't get to see someone like Ryan Larkin and the filmmaker portrayed as fractured half-beings with part of their faces missing. We don't get emotional outbursts, like when Ryan Larkin yells at the director for suggesting he quit drinking. We don't get the arty-narration, the meta-animated documentary questioning and self-reflexiveness.

Instead, we get a very studied short film paying simple homage to an animator/filmmaker and his process. Maybe the problem is that the film's subject, NFB animation pioneer, Norm McLaren has been dead for almost twenty years and is not known for his personal story but rather his brilliant body of work. This is not about McLaren the man, but rather about the essence of McLaren - a portrait of the artist as an insatiably curious and playful man.

(The film is screening at Cinema ONF, 1564 Saint Denis, on Saturday Nov 11 at 14:50pm and Sunday Nov. 19 at 17:15pm)

McLaren, whose works often conveyed the sheer spiritual joy and whimsy of movement and animation, was all about process. His process was almost religion to him. When one thinks of McLaren's works, they are almost all merged with the very process that created them. In Begone Dull Care, the film's process of painting directly onto film to create a motion painting is the very point of the film.

Take for example McLaren's early film Lines Vertical and its sequel Lines Horizontal. These sibling films are a study. Pure experimentation, diving deep into abstraction, almost scientific. But the tone of the film is not clinical at all. If anything, McLaren's films have the kind of natural curiosity of a child looking through a telescope.

McLaren's Negatives, directed by Marie-Josée St-Pierre, is really an essay film, very in keeping with McLaren's style and approach. Hearing McLaren talk about his process, one is struck by the the idea of the pure artist who creates for the sake of creating. And the filmmaker is clever enough to portray McLaren through his pioneering techniques -- the film mostly employs rotoscoping, which McLaren was a master of.

If St-Pierre's film suffers at all, it is in the feeling that the filmès subject is too large to fit on her canvas. McLaren, the man, his voice, his clips, his process feel barely contained by the film -- indeed the film almost feels superfluous -- more like a conduit than a statement unto itself.

A lovely homage to one of Canada's most underappreciated cinematic artists, all the same. I am actually pleading with all of you, whatever way you can become acquainted with McLaren (click here to see his award winning live action short "Neighbours") and as The Flintstones said 'let the sun shine in.'

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