ANIMATION WORLD MAGAZINE - ISSUE 5.8 - NOVEMBER 2000
Last Exit on St. Laurent Street: The Wonderfully Fucked Up World of Ryan Larkin
(continued from page 3)
Street Musique. © National Film Board of Canada. All rights reserved.
Following Street Musique, Larkin was assigned to a feature film that the Board was working on called Running Time. Larkin was asked along with Co Hoedeman to do three short animation sequences combining the actors with animation images. However, Running Time soon turned into a nightmare for Larkin: "I was trapped into it for four years because the executive producers kept putting it on the shelf, then there were endless committee meetings. I was getting pissed off because I was on hold. I had no other budgets or work to do. Frustrated, Larkin began working at home on his next project, Ding Bat Rap. This decision has led to one of the myths surrounding Larkin.
In the book Cartoon Capers, author Karen Mazurkewich claims that drugs and depression got so bad that Larkin exiled himself to his home. For two years, the NFB sent him cheques by taxi. He was then fired. According to Larkin, things didn't quite happen this way. "Well, what happened was, I was seeing this feature film just flying away and in the meantime, I was developing my own idea, and I had my own setup in my apartment. I had two apartments, one that I lived in and one that I used as a studio. I was developing my own new film but I couldn't get a budget to work on it, and the executive producers of this feature film were saying, 'Well, wait a couple of weeks and just stand by because we haven't got the approval from upstairs.'" Rather than sit around the Board offices doing nothing, Larkin worked at home on his next film, a project he anticipated would be approved by the NFB. The situation was ideal for Larkin because if he woke at 2 am he could simply work on his film. This was something he couldn't do at the office. Larkin also notes that the producers knew that he was doing research and development for Ding Bat Rap at home while the feature was on hold. "That seemed to be okay with them since I was not able to work on the project."
About a year later, Larkin finally received a budget for Ding Bat Rap, but he continued to work at home. "I told my producers to trust me, I was working on the project, so they sent me my cheques." Larkin paid for the cab. Ding Bat Rap was to be Larkin's first 'talkie.' The film was to be set in a bar with a bunch of regulars sitting around talking nonsense with great earnest. "A lot of people talk and talk without saying anything. They make gestures with their hands, give meaningful looks back and forth towards each other." Larkin had experimental voice actors to re-create the 'babble.' He had originally hoped to record actual dialogue, but noticed that people froze up so he dropped that idea. He also selected swing music for the soundtrack: "There was a beautifully organized music library at the Board, made to provide filmmakers with soundtracks for any subject. I selected that material and edited it myself. So I had edited my soundtrack but I didn't have enough animation drawing. I had drawn my characters, about five. It was a very abstract, poetic thing. I had a storyboard and filmed still images, but there was no actual animation movement."
By this time, Larkin was a coke addict. Coke was a big attraction to Larkin. It was a magical, almost spiritual experience. "The cocaine was giving me incredible insights into human behavior and very acute sensitivities towards what constituted human behavior." But, contrary to Heraclitus' thoughts, the way up was not nearly the same as the way down. With the high, came the low. The neurological stimulation gave way to backlash. A flood of ideas drown the mind. Larkin discovered a confidence he never knew, but the pace of the magic locked Larkin into a fantasy world. A magician trapped within the allure of his illusions, Larkin was no longer able to work.
Meanwhile, the program committee was none too thrilled with Larkin's project. What Larkin saw as a satire on ethnic groups and nationalism was viewed with disdain as a reactionary, almost racist vision. "I was making sound and visual jokes against all people that were too full of pride. There was an anti-Muslim thing, and anti-Christian thing. I was trying to put down the nationalistic attitude that was happening at the time." Even McLaren backed out of Larkin's corner. "Norman was also sort of shocked by my heavy punk material." In Larkin's mind, he was making unsafe work for a conservative institution. But he also acknowledges that he was burning out. "I was losing my edge because I'd been there for too long. I was having a creative block that was probably the result of the coke." In a sense, Larkin was unable to grow up or at least fit the model of maturity prescribed by the society around him. He was pushing forty, but living like a punk. He was playing in rock bands. He was still hanging out with younger people, financing their bands, writing lyrics. He was a godfather to the punks. Nevertheless, it was clear that Larkin and the Board were no longer good for each other. For Larkin, the NFB became increasingly restrictive. A coked up, confused, talented Larkin wanted his freedom back; whatever the hell that was.
A Different Path
Never one to forget the encore, in 1975 Larkin was invited to create a mural for the NFB. What he drew was likely not what they had envisioned: an adolescent with an erection who may or may not have been ejaculating. The mural was 20 x 15 feet. "It was meant to be a satirical commentary on masculinity because at the time there was a year long festival going on about women's rights. It was supposed to be a comical relief from all their terrible, self-conscious seriousness." Ryan Larkin's tenure at the NFB ended. No one really seems to know what happened, but whether fired, resigned, whatever, Larkin was free. So he thought.
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