Norman McLaren: The Masters Edition
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(Oct 17, 2006)
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Influenced by surrealism and his passion for music and dance, controversial abstract filmmaker Norman McLaren is heralded as a ground-breaking visionary. From his early cinematic experiments in Scotland in 1933 to his final film for the National Film Board of Canada in 1983, McLaren's work is remarkable for its inventiveness, research and humanism. This carefully restored collection of 58 of his films includes the Oscar-winning "Neighbors" (1952) and several unfinished and formerly lost efforts. This seven-DVD set of his complete works also provides an illuminating booklet insert, filmed interviews with McLaren himself and 14 new short documentaries that guide the viewer to the heart of McLaren's art, each offering a distinct perspective of his work.
Although his name is a hardly a household word, Norman McLaren ranks among the most significant figures in the history of world animation. Other artists created films; McLaren created ways of making films. He drew scratched and painted images directly onto blank film stock for "camera-less animation." He combined slow-motion photography and multiple exposures to reveal the patterns created by dancers' movements in Pas de Deux. He moved actors and full-sized props in Neighbors, his Oscar-winning parable of human aggression: Two friends turn into homicidal maniacs when they vie for possession of a single flower. He demonstrated the underlying structure of musical forms visually in Canon, and created artificial sound to accompany many of his films.
In 1941, Canadian Film Commissioner John Grierson invited McLaren to head up the newly founded animation unit of the National Film Board of Canada. McLaren spent the rest of his life at the NFB, pushing the boundaries of animation and providing a place where talented artists from Canada and other countries could explore personal visions of what an animated film could be.
The Master's Edition offers not only all of McLaren's extant films, but experiments, tests, and outtakes. Each film has been carefully restored to correspond as closely as possible to the artist's vision: The prints have had dust and dirt removed, but flaws that resulted from the limited technology McLaren employed have been preserved. New documentaries by Donald McWilliams and other Canadian experts provide introductions to McLaren's work and often arcane techniques. This handsomely packaged seven-disc set, which includes a booklet in English and French, is certain to be the definitive edition of the films Picasso once described as "something new in the art of drawing." (Unrated, suitable for ages 8 and older: tobacco use, stylized violence in a few of the films) --Charles Solomon
- 58 short films
- 14 new short documentaries
- Filmed interviews with Norman McLaren
- Excerpts and unfinished and formerly lost films
- 84 page booklet (in English and French)
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These films are generally both "experimental" (often rather abstract) and lots of fun! "Begone Dull Care" might be described as "The missing Jackson Pollock segment from Fantasia" - captivating! Not only do you get dozens of marvelous short films, there are also quite a number of themed mini-documentaries that outline McLaren's different approaches, his collborators, etc.
These are NOT, however, typically narrative films that one often associates with the NFBC - such as "The Cat Came Back" or "The Big Snit" - those can be found elsewhere (though a comprehensive box set of their best shorts, similar to this one, would be much appreciated). These aren't cartoons for most kids (though some will love them), but more for thoughtful adults with an interest in the arts.
The box set is a bit pricey, so you might want to search out his stuff on other compilations or on youtube before buying this, but if you like what you see there, this box is well worth the price!
I was too late on buying the "Creative Process" 2-disc set that Milestone put out since it's out of print and fetching over $150 for used copies. Well, this box set from the NFB and Home Vision completely went under my radar screen. Not only is it in print, but it has every existing film by McLaren.
The NFB's new digital restorations are absolutely stunning. Layers of dirt, flickering, and scratches are gone. Since his hand-drawn films were made unconventionally (india ink on clear film with color added in optical printing), color had not maintained its quality on some. They were able to color correct them to the point where the color jumps off the screen and it looks brand new!
The supplements are excellent, too. The 15 featurettes cover every aspect of McLaren's films. There's also longer documentaries, outtakes and test footage, as well as synthetic sound tests. To top it off, the set has seven discs in thinpaks and a large booklet. Most of the films also have a choice of the original monaural audio, stereo, and 5.1. While the older films aren't that enhanced, a few really stand out in the 5.1 remix. Neighbours, Synchromy, and Pas de Deux sound fantastic in 5.1.
The films themselves are usually great. The hand-painted works like Begone Dull Care, Stars and Stripes, and Fiddle-de-dee are visual delights. The live-action films are often funny, but often beautiful. Neighbours is hilarious, but disturbing since it shows how ridiculous fighting can be (like in wars). Pas de Deux is probably the most beautiful film I've seen. The combination of the swelling music and the silhouetted dancers really works well.
Overall, get this set if you're an animation fan. These may come off as pretentious or inaccessible, but McLaren's best are just as fun to watch as a Looney Tune.
For me McLaren's works are an enormous source of inspiration. I remember when I watched "Neighbors" for the first time, I was astounded by the way he created his movements, and in the same time I realized that Norman McLaren is a genius, a true "poet of animation", how he was called.
Norman McLaren said that he was influenced by Sergei Eisenstein's films, and indeed, the influence of Eisenstein is seen in many of his films. Also, Eisenstein's conflict ("Art is always conflict") becomes in McLarens `films either movement or dispute.
First, in "Neighbors" "the conflict" becomes the battle between Munro and Ladouceur, in "A Chairy Tale" is the fight between Jutra and the chair, in "Opening Speech" is the dispute between McLaren and the microphone.
Second, where "the conflict" becomes movement, it becomes the "conflict" of forms, is the one that is seen in "Begone Dull Care", in "Le Merle", in "Fiddle-de-dee", or in "Hen Hop".
Also must be remembered that like Eisenstein, McLaren "reinvented" the monumental pose, the "mi-e" from the Japanese Kabuki Theatre, and I believe that "Pas de Deux" speaks for itself. I don't want to make a parallel between Eisenstein and McLaren, but I want to prove the immense contribution that McLaren had on the development of animation. Or in other words, what the name Eisenstein means for film, the name McLaren means for animation.
For me, McLaren is a true "wizard of movement", an original artist and innovative inventor. But instead of telling you things that you already know, I will tell you some things that you might not know about his films. For example, in "Neighbors" he sent an anti- war message using comic devices. Like Chaplin did in "The Great Dictator", or like Kubrick did in "Dr Strangelove". And to do something like this one must have the character of a genius, because it is very difficult to join two opposite elements and make them work together. Also, when I watched "Pas de Deux" or "Narcissus"; I remember experiencing something that a few movies could make me feel. I am talking about that kind of experience when the body is static, and the only thing that is "moving", is the mind. I am talking, of course, about the feeling of escaping time and space. And this happens only when the film is not made by an ordinary filmmaker, but an exceptional one. I must add here, that the same experience I had when I watched "The Passion of Joan of Arc", "Ivan Grozny" or "Orpheus".
In conclusion, I have to say that I consider Norman McLaren one of the most prolific filmmakers of the last century, and I believe that his works rank with Eisenstein's films or Cocteau's works.
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