Fresh From the Festivals: December 1999's Film Reviews
The Albatross My Father's Story
A completely different use of direct-on-film animation can be found in Paul Bush's scratched-on-film, The Albatross, inspired by Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." This work is extremely realistic in its reproduction of human forms, churning waves and rocking vessels on the sea, which clearly have been created with the use of live-action reference footage. The English-language voice track, sometimes motivated by characters on-screen and at other times functioning as voice-over narration, results in a tale that is told verbally as much as visually.
Bush's work has been described as crossing boundaries between fiction, documentary, and animation. In terms of The Albatross' imagery, the intersection of documentary and fiction is quite strong, with the underlying live-action footage evoking a sense of the real while the etched images are themselves quite stylized. Achieving a level of stability approaching that of Norman McLaren in his "Lines" films (Lines Horizontal and Lines Vertical, plus Mosaic), Bush employs a diverse range of line qualities with great precision. It is no easy matter to steady the naturally kinetic lines of direct-on-film animation, but Bush comes close; the "wood cut" quality of his images allows for some wavering, while still demonstrating the artist's ability to maintain control.
In this film, animator/director Mary Kocol relates the story of her father, who was one of over two million Polish citizens placed in forced labor camps by the Nazis. It is told through an interview technique, with Kocol asking questions and her father, Romuald Kocol, telling his story. Visually, the film is created with photo collage (one of the best known examples of that technique being Frank Mouris' Frank Film). Images from the past are combined with recent photos showing her father today, long after his emigration to the United States. It is not surprising that still photographs play a significant role in the film, since Kocol is an accomplished photographer with work in the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, among other places.
Given the compelling nature of the subject matter and the natural way in which her father imparts his story, the film has quite a strong affect on the viewer. Personally, I feel that Mary Kocol's narration, which is used to launch the interview/storytelling and combine various aspects of his story, is a bit too overpowering; her father's thickly accented, deeply meaningful recollections could stand on their own. Still, I think the film as a whole has an impact that would make it useful in many contexts: as a document about WWII, as an example of oral history, or in terms of the photo collage animation technique. The film's production was supported by grants from the LEF Foundation and the Somerville Arts Council, through the Massachusetts Cultural Council. The narration is in English.
My Father's Story