ANIMATION WORLD MAGAZINE - ISSUE 4.12 - MARCH 2000
The Old Man and The Sea: Hands Above The Rest?
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As it turned out, Petrov lost almost no time at all. The system built by Lajoie and his team proved to be reliable and highly functional. There were almost no mistakes made at all. "Alexander is unbelievable," says Blais. "Eighty-five to ninety percent of the scenes that we have in the film are his first try. He didn't do many re-shoots." Out of 250 scenes there were problems on an amazingly low three scenes.
"I have produced simpler films that have turned into nightmares," says Blais. "This one is the most difficult film we have ever undertaken and it was the one that went the most smoothly. I have never had so much respect for one individual as I have for Alexander Petrov. He had the pressure of the whole film on his shoulders. At the worst moments, he never lost his cool or his nice manners. We ended up the best of friends, which is very rare in this business."
While a friendship developed, a great film did not on a narrative level. For all the hype surrounding The Old Man and The Sea, Petrov's vision is a disappointment. Certainly it is difficult to condense Hemingway's novella into a 22-minute film, but within that time Petrov should have explored the complexity of at least one of the old man's relationships (eg. the boy, the marlin, his decaying hands, the sharks, his identity). The struggle between Santiago and the marlin is the backbone of the novel and the film fails to convey the intensity of that relationship. Time spent on, for example, the arm wrestling match in Casablanca could have instead been invested in the battle between the man and fish. In focusing on the non-essentials of the narrative, Petrov's interpretation becomes congested and ultimately superficial. In the novel, the on-going tension is a character in itself, but it is almost entirely absent in the film. In its place is composer Normand Rogers distracting, melodramatic score that serves as an inadequate substitute for the narrative's emotional void. The acting in both the English and French versions of the film are weak. In particular Gordon Pinsent's (a Canadian icon) unemotional impersonation of a Canadian maritime fisherman seems far removed from the shores of Cuba. Beyond the debate of content (and ultimately the scope of this article), one questions whether Petrov's technique is being misused on the construction of natural or photographic-like realism rather than exploring the more creative options of animation.
Delivering a New Marketplace
Narrative shortcomings aside, The Old Man and The Sea has been a resounding critical and popular success. The film recently won the Grand Prize at the 1999 Krok Festival as well as receiving an Oscar nomination for Best Animation Short Film (Petrov's third nomination). In Montreal, some 50,000 spectators have seen the film, while in Paris somewhere between 60-70,000 Parisians have ventured to see what Blais proudly deems an independent film. "We really believe [Petrov's] style," adds Blais, "which is so different than what the average spectator is used to seeing gave us the opportunity to show [the audience] a new art form of animation that they are not used to seeing, and they can appreciate." But is this true? Is the success of The Old Man and The Sea a sign that independent animation has a market and audience, or is it more that an inherently loyal IMAX following will see anything in a large format regardless of content?
As we've seen with the likes of MTV, Sesame Street and so many other indie friendly producers and broadcasters, there is a tendency to appropriate the look of a particular animator without the content. In removing the heart of the animator's style, the purpose of and personality behind the style becomes diffused within the context of client controlled marketing. This is not to say that The Old Man and The Sea is empty fodder, however would an audience be flocking with the same verve to a decidedly personal and elliptical work like Petrov's The Cow that doesn't have the endorsement of a heavily marketed literary centenary?
Like Petrov's crude model for what would become a technically sophisticated animation stand, The Old Man and The Sea is a blueprint for a market which has the potential to become a new avenue for the production and reception of independent animation. Nevertheless, the box office numbers for The Old Man and The Sea, discriminating reception aside, suggests that perhaps the visual palate of the general public has expanded enough to support an alternative to mainstream animation. However, in its current form, IMAX animation bears more resemblance to a Hollywood studio epic than an independent personal vision. It's a shame too because what better way to deliver an audience than by the hands of a master.
Alyson Carty is an Ottawa-based independent filmmaker, assistant director of the Ottawa International Animation Festival, and is currently studying cinema at Montreal's Concordia University.
Chris Robinson is executive director of the Ottawa International Animation Festival and the founder and director of SAFO, the International Student Animation Festival of Ottawa. In his spare time, Robinson is vice president of ASIFA-Canada. Robinson has curated film programs (AnimExpo, Images Festival and Olympia Film Festival), served on juries (AnimExpo, World Animation Celebration), and written articles on animation for Animation World Magazine, FPS, and Take One.
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