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Keep it in Motion: Classic Animation Revisited – George Griffin’s 'Head'

This week Chris Robinson takes a look back at a 1975 film from American indie legend George Griffin.

The early part of George Griffin's long career (he’s gotten awful quiet during the last decade or so) was dominated by a series of films investigating the illusory nature of animation. In these films Griffin investigates the material roots of the medium while incorporating his own personal history. One of my favourites from this period is Head (1975).

Appropriately, the only connecting images in Head are heads, whether it be a head of film, the head of the artist, or the head of various drawings. The film plays with various facial expressions and is linked by a live action shot of Griffin addressing the camera and talking about his change from youth to middle age. He explains that while his aging face shows well-defined character, his drawings have on the other hand reverted from complicated pictures of his youth to very simple childlike drawings. This regression is a reference to Emile Cohl who began his career created detailed caricatures and drawings until turning to an almost stick figure style in animation. Head rejects the notion of style in favour of a more primitive anti-style, and alongside Griffin's ongoing reminder of the material nature of the medium (eg. seeing the paper that is being drawn on), Head becomes a celebration of the artist, not as a great magician, but as a labourer.

Head is also notable for the debut of Griffin's Saul Steinberg-influenced "square guy" alter ego. Aside from the character's relationship to Griffin ("it's a reflection of my self-image as a kind of square"), "square guy" is also a representative of Griffin's anti-style ambitions of the time. Not only is the square guy a diversion from the primarily circular characters of modern animation, but he also reflects Griffin's desire to "reduce the idea of what a portrait is to just the bare essentials and to make a style of drawing that anybody could do."

Chris Robinson's picture

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.