A Reader in Animation Studies, Edited by Jayne Pilling
Political issues are explored in "The Thief of Buena Vista" by Leslie Felperin, who exposes Western attitudes towards Oriental and Middle Eastern cultures and Arabian Nights fantasy as depicted in Aladdin, released in 1992, a year after the Gulf War! In fact, the world of Disney is covered in several essays, the one most likely to appeal is Robin Allan's intelligent and revealing study of European art influences on the films of Walt Disney. To quote the author, "the films themselves were indebted to an older cultural heritage which Disney absorbed and recreated for a new mass audience." Many Disney films are based on European folk and fairy tales and Allan's research is penetrating. (He did his Ph.D dissertation on the work of Disney and European artists.) The similarity between early 19th century book illustrations and the work of Disney artists' inspirational drawings is made abundantly clear. The section dealing with the Beethoven Pastoral sequence from Fantasia is particularly engrossing. This enlightening and lengthy study gives one a whole new slant on the art of Disney and makes one long to see the films all over again.
New light is also thrown on some long-neglected films such as The Idea (Berthold Bartosch, 1932), the subject of an in-depth essay by William Moritz that depicts the struggle for freedom of thought. This film was, for me, a personal discovery at the SAS conference in 1993. Several contributions from Moritz appear in the book including his research into early abstract films and animation in Nazi Germany during World War II that makes interesting reading.
Paul Wells' study of the work of Jan Svankmajer highlights this Czech artist's obsession with `body consciousness.' His research into the intense and claustrophobic world of Svankmajer, a world of cruelty, violence and dark humor, is revealing. As so many of these essays do, it produces a desire to view again the works discussed with greater awareness.
The number of women working in animation today inevitably leads to Gender Studies with women's role in society being dealt with extensively. An examination of the work of three women animators in the UK, Joanna Quinn, Candy Guard and Alison de Vere, appears in Sandra Low's essay. It covers Joanna Quinn's approach to feminine issues through her films Girls Night Out (1987) and Body Beautiful (1990) featuring her anti-heroine Beryl, who is far from the stereotyped cartoon female. Her life with her staid husband, her encounter with a male stripper and her yearning for fun all endear her to us. She is "one of us," jolly, fat, feisty and full of life. Both films are played for laughs although there is an underlying treatment of women both in the home and in the workplace. Although the protagonists of Candy Guard's films are similar to those of Joanna Quinn, her style is less elaborate. It is unadorned and the characters more stylized. Narrative is an essential part of her films and the dialogue is short, sharp and pertinent. Most women can identity with her characters who have problems with dieting, getting their hair done, boyfriends and holidays abroad. The work of Alison de Vere, while dealing with many of the same problems, is far more spiritual and there is a lengthy study of her dream-like and very personal film The Black Dog (1987). Familiar as I am with the work of these three artists I found this a most absorbing study.
A more oblique approach is made in Sharon Couzin's analysis of two rather more avant-garde films by women that have a similar theme but are visually disparate. Susan Pitt's Asparagus (1978) is lush, gaudily colored and thought-provoking. It is an overtly erotic allegory about personal identity, while Joanna Priestley's All My Relations(1990),in which characters are depicted as abstract objects, is far more subtle. It satirizes the hazards of romance, marriage and childbearing and the disintegration of relationships.
Modern technologies are not neglected in two stirring essays on computer animation dealing not only with techniques, creating "reality effects" and "illusionistic representation," which one would expect, but also with style, and the relationship between computer imagery and aesthetics as depicted in a case study of Red's Dream (John Lasseter, 1987).