Inspired by the new Grandchildren.tv video for Fleet Foxes, and by the way people enjoyed the stop-motion clips at the end of my post about Scrapefoot, I thought it would be fun to start a Stop-Motion Film Night, an occasional series of clips and films from this most painstaking and enchanting school of effects and animation.
I can’t pretend to be an expert on this, I just love digging up moving pictures and bits of old puppetry. Anything I do know comes straight out of Ray Harryhausen and Tony Dalton’s A Century of Model Animation, which is a fine and fully illustrated history of the technique.
I find there’s something eerie about films from eighty or ninety years ago. Perhaps it’s the probability that all of the actors have passed away and we’re watching a cast of ghosts. Perhaps it’s just the flicker and the grain, and the sense it gives of another era, a bygone worldview. This film, The Haunted House, is already a centenarian. Since it’s silent and we live in an audio visual age, you need something to listen to alongside it. I recommend the new track from Birdengine. Hit play on both of these in quick succession. The music will finish just around the part where the house starts swaying and is put into the devil’s sack, but such tragic endings require solemn silence.
Lotte Reiniger made a series of silhouette animations based on Grimms’ fairy tales, which the BFI has uploaded to Dailymotion. Her biography’s worth checking out. She and her husband did all they could to escape Germany when the Nazis took power, but were forced back to Berlin with the advent of World War Two. They survived, thank goodness, but it would be interesting to investigate how her experiences affected her work on the Grimms’ stories. Here’s Sleeping Beauty, which is my favourite because of the cook and the thieving kitchen boy.
This next is a clip from The Great Rupert, which you can watch in its entirety here (with the caveat that it’s about an hour and a half, and the best bit happens in the first three minutes). It’s a film about a squirrel who can dance a highland jig. Apparently, the effects were so convincing in their day that cinema-goers thought they were watching a trained animal. In truth, of course, it was stop-motion. A reanimated squirrel dancing with the charming-but-creepy strut you would expect of a taxidermist’s creation. If you watch the whole film be warned that there are hardly any other dances with squirrels. I guess that just goes to show what an effort it was to shoot the brief material that was included.
The Great Rupert reminded me of something far more recent. The video to Radiohead’s There There, which apparently was inspired by everyone’s stop-motion hero, Bagpuss. I can easily picture T. G. Rupert living among those roots and branches, or dancing his jig at that wedding party. In fact, I suspect that’s him in the mossy house at 1:02, smoking his pipe and reminiscing with his stunt double about their glory days.