© Dreamland Editeur, 1996
René Laloux. Ces dessins qui bougent­p;Cent ans de cinéma
d'animation [Drawings That Move-One Hundred Years of Animated Films].
Paris: Dreamland, 1996. 200 pp. illustrations. 248 F.
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By Giannalberto Bendazzi
In his new book, René Laloux states that, "In animated cartoons,
contrary to what one may think, the needs of graphics do not necessarily
correspond to the needs of movement. Faced with this dichotomy, the artist
must find a balance between these two 'enemies,' in order not to prejudice
the rights of both: a difficult task easily prone to failure. The easiest
way out then, obviously, is to favor one of the two contenders. Consequently,
the American School ties drawings to animation; the European School (tied
to its cultural heritage) generally tried to do the opposite, basing itself
upon graphic imagery. What resulted is very interesting. The total freedom
of movement (with its implied association with the Anglo-Saxon taste for
nonsense) led Americans to an taste for curved lines, quick movement and
comedy, as well as an emphasis on character. In Europe, the emphasis on
graphics favored the straight line, slow movement, fantasy and a lesser
emphasis on psychology of individual characters."
This is only one of the many pointed, personal and contentious remarks from
a highly contentious, personal and pointed book by René Laloux, recently
published in France: Ces dessins qui bougent-Cent ans de cinéma
d'animation (Drawings That Move-One Hundred Years of Animated Films).
Laloux is a youthful 67, endlessly munching on his pipe (I have never seen
him smoking), smiling easily and very caustic. He has made some good shorts
and three of the most successful animated features ever made in France:
La planète sauvage (Fantastic Planet, 1973), Les maitres
du temps (The Masters of Time, 1981) and Gandahar (1981) --
all of which are sci-fi tales. Now he gives us this book, which provides
a rare opportunity to learn first hand what his views and opinions are.
Animators have provided some of our century's richest and most charming
cinematic moments, but they have seldom written their opinions down. So,
although we have their films, we are often left wanting as to what their
views are (or were).
Ces dessins qui bougent begins and ends like a conventional "history
of animation": it starts with a chronological rundown of films and
filmmakers, and ends with a long year-by-year filmography. The rest, though,
is a wonderfully creative and disorderly discourse, impelled by a pure need
to communicate. You feel like you are reading a transcript of one of those
endless arguments that festivalgoers get into, when the theater lights are
off, but the passion is still hot.
Not by chance, Laloux explicitly includes his memoirs of the glorious Annecy
Festival, in France, especially the early editions, when "we were a
bunch of young filmmakers with films in competition, like [France's] Jacques
Colombat and [Italy's] Pino Zac, to mention only two of those friends, and
we denounced with vengeance each and every film which had even the slightest
resemblance to animated cartoons or with entertainment aimed at children.
We could accept laughter only if it was black comedy or based on 'stupid
and evil' ideas (i.e., films by Japan's Yoji Kuri), or anticlerical (i.e.,
films by Italy's Pino Zac)."
© Dreamland éditeur, 1996
What emerges from all this is an intimate self-portrait of Laloux himself.
It is shaped by the things he loves, hates or decides to ignore; by the
things he sees in himself, or things that are alien to him; anti-Disney
idiosyncrasies ("The studio's recent films show an even more pronounced
graphic weakness") and an impassioned defense of scriptwriting ("It
is difficult to be a real auteur, as very few filmmakers are really able
to write an original and well-constructed script, direct actors, edit the
film with a good rhythm, compose the right music. The low quality of many
films should be blamed first of all on weak scripts and dialogue.")
There are even paradoxes and provocations ("Will we be forced to rediscover
silence, so we can really express ourselves again in this audiovisual world
dominated by noise and void of words?"). And there is, of course (as
Laloux being a visual artist who began his career as a painter), a very
good selection of illustrations.
Ces dessins qui bougent will probably perplex young readers, or
those who are not very knowledgeable about animation. It is far from being
objective, accurate or scholarly. It even has its share of misspellings
(for instance, Matt Kroening instead of Matt Groening). But it will certainly
stimulate the reflections of all those who are still among the happy few.
And his ultimate message is very optimistic and simple: animation, he notes,
"is an art that you conjugate to the future time."
Giannalberto Bendazzi is a Milan-based film historian and critic whose
own history of animation, Cartoons: One Hundred Years of Cinema Animation, was
published in the US by Indiana University Press and in the UK by John Libbey.
His other books on animation include Topoline e poi (1978), Due
voite l'oceana (1983) and Il movimento creato (1993, with Guido
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