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Smash: A Fast Moving Thesis

Don Perro takes a look at Kirsten Winter's impressive visual narrative Smash.

perrosmash01.JPG Kirsten Winter's latest experimental animated film, Smash. © 1997 Kirsten Winter. Download a Clip (827k)

In a world of darkness, there is a flash of white as the title of this experimental film appears. The main credits roll past a background of black and white and gray to the striking percussion of a sullen dark score.

Suddenly, a light, almost playful melody begins and a rapid montage of images, lasting only a few frames each, flash on the screen, allowing barely enough time for interpretation: a bare torso being dressed; a faucet; a knife buttering bread; a ring of keys being picked up; a women walking through a doorway; a fast commute past city skyscrapers. We seem to be watching a "day in the life," although it soon becomes days in a life as several of the images suggesting commuting and office work begin to repeat themselves. The pace of the music and machine gun editing becomes more frantic. As the melody reaches its crescendo, the scenes rush by until a white block of light hits us dead on and we roll slowly to a stop. Fade to black. The mood of the music reverts back to its somber origins and the images become abstract movements of gray with short flashbacks from the previous scenes of the daily cycle.

Frame By Frame

Smash is an experimental film produced and directed by German filmmaker, Kirsten Winter. It has a "paint-on-glass" look and includes live action images. The film is eight minutes and forty seconds in length and is a montage of moving images and music. The music, composed by Elena Kats-Chernin, is as important to the film as the imagery. As a work of art, the film is impressive, and really demands more than one screening for the viewer to be drawn into its flow. I watched it many times and often froze the picture to view scenes frame by frame. Only then was I able to make my own interpretation as to what the artist was saying. Unfortunately, when this type of experimental film plays in a festival the audience usually only sees it once. Films like these should be shown with other works of fine art in galleries where one can study every aspect of the piece.

Two Distinct Worlds

It would be a difficult task for me to offer a more in-depth review of Smash. I can recommend it as art and I think if you approach the film from that angle, you will be moved by it. But I am not an artist as much as I am a craftsman. I enjoy all forms of animation, but am committed to training students in the techniques of characters and traditional storytelling. Abstract, experimental films in my opinion are so far removed from the world of character animation, that it is like comparing Rodin's The Thinker with the three inch toy statue of Buzz Lightyear standing on my desk.

Both world's are valid and both reach wide audiences. Problems arise however, when, at festivals for example, fans of Ren and Stimpy find they are sitting in the dark through what seems like hours of abstract shapes and sounds. It is probably about as annoying for them as it is for others to sit through "commercial" animation aimed at an audience looking for gags about hairballs.

So, getting back to this particular film. If you are looking for humor, clear story-telling and character development, you won't find it here. But, if you enjoy experimental films and like to try to evoke meaning from a visual narrative that exists but is open to interpretation, Smash is a film that will definitely perform. It is a fast moving thesis on the idea of a routine life which becomes chaos which then becomes something else...

Don Perro is an animator/instructor who enjoys the challenge of training animation students for successful careers in the industry. He has made one experimental film in his life: a frame by frame tour of his 1977 KZ 650 motorcycle using a macro lens, one inch from the bike. It was never shown to anyone.