Every Thursday, Chris Robinson takes a look at films from animation’s past. This week he takes a look at the brilliant 1992 puppet film, Screen Play by Barry Purves.
Screen Play (1992) is presented as a Japanese kabuki play. A revolving set sits in the middle of the frame. A narrator enters the scene and tells a tale of forbidden lovers who go against their families to be together. Throughout the tale, moving screens trigger the change in scenes. The camera, though, remains stagnant, giving the viewer the feeling of be audience members in a live performance.
Just when it looks the story has ended happily, a hideously masked creature breaks through the screen, slices the narrator’s head off and then opens another screen to hunt down the lovers. Blood and guts flood the screen. The creature kills the male lover before being killed by the woman. Alone, the woman then takes her own life. In an instant, Purves’ stylish, sexy and romantic tale turns into a Quentin Tarantino bloodbath. As the bloodshed unfolds, Purves also switches the audience’s perspective. The camera comes alive and brings the viewer right smack into the action. Our distant, objective distance is shattered as we become participants in the carnage. After everyone is suitably dead, the camera pulls back to reveal another screen, which is further seen as part of a film set and ultimately the camera pulls back to marked-up script in a binder. Finally, we see the hand mark a check on the script and close the binder. The film strip flickers into darkness.
With Screen Play, Purves was taking the concept of visual language to another level. “Screen Play,” he says, “became about using as many different forms of visual language as possible, from the coded language of Sign language, to the cultural language of Kabuki.”
As for the stagnant camera, Purves says, “the long sustained shot not only reflects a theatrical story telling it is also about having an adrenalin whilst filming. I like the challenge of such long sustained shots. I don’t really enjoy very short shots where the performance is created through editing. I want to see the performance.”
To watch Screen Play on Vimeo, click on the image: