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Animators Unearthed - Rick Raxlen

Every Monday, Chris Robinson serves up Animators Unearthed, a brief introduction to prominent and not-so-prominent indie animators. Today's artist: Rick Raxlen

'Jaffa Gate' by Rick Raxlen

Rick Raxlen has been around the block and seen his share of stuff, but when it comes to animation he’s a bit of a green kid on the scene. He’s been making live-action films since the early 1970s, but switched to animation in the late 1990s. It was a good start too. Geometry of Beware (1997) recycles old cartoon film footage into a nifty and playful experimental work. What caught me initially with this film (aside from the similarities to the work of New York artist Jeff Scher) was the music and rhythm. 

What stands out about Raxlen’s films is first and foremost their playful, personal and poetic nature.  Bob Dylan’s been on my mind a lot and with his recent records, there’s been some controversy about the artist’s so-called theft of lyric fragments, chord patterns etc… What a lot of people (including me, initially) miss is that not only has Dylan always been doing that but it’s just part of the folk tradition. He’s breathing new life into existing songs by taking fragments of old lyrics and songs and extending them along some new road of his own. They become his, but with an umbilical cord to the past still firmly attached. 

Raxlen’s work differs in that he’s taking existing footage that doesn’t necessarily excite or move him in the way that, say, Frank Hutchinson songs touched Dylan. But whether it’s the Mutt and Jeff film in Geometry of Beware, photomontages from books or records like in Deadpan and Rude Roll, or home movies in Fish Don’t Sleep [unfortunately none of these films are online at the moment], Raxlen takes these somewhat anonymous, public images and turns them into something more personal and poetic. 

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A well-known figure in the world of independent animation, writer, author & curator Chris Robinson is the Artistic Director of the Ottawa International Animation Festival.