Well, I made a promise to myself that I would restart this blog over the next few months, partly to help myself get into the critical writing mood, and partly because I’m still rather proud of the name I came up with for this thing, and don’t want it to go to waste thanks to my own lack of activity.
The source of much of the forth-coming content is going to be animated shorts. A mix of the best, worst, and averagely passable that a combination of Vimeo, YouTube, and my recently acquired Jan Svankmajer boxed set can provide, likely with some other stuff lobbed in as and when I fancy it.
So where do se start off? Well aside from my writing and viewing plans, my other summer activity is to begin the more-exciting-than-a-weekend-with-Batman task that is researching and outlining my dissertation topic: late 19th Century illustrator Aubrey Beardsley (the topic was chosen willingly of course, I’m just terribly adverse to the academic research bit).
So guess what I then randomly stumbled upon an animated short about?
After Beardsley – Chris James (1982)
Oh sweet fate.
Produced by a minuscule team and a little bit of Arts Council funding in Hammersmith in 1981 After Beardsley is a curiosity of a film; partly a reverential look at the artist’s work and lasting influence, partly a critical look at the late 20th century cultural and political landscape.
The opening sequence of the short is really more of a reader for the uninitiated viewer, there is a very brief history, before a 3 and-a-half minute slide show of all of the images which will be referenced in the course of the animation itself. Understandable why it’s there, though I would have put the illustration slides on the end, rather than the beginning, but I’m just nit picking, so we’ll move onto the main show.
The film kicks in proper with a very impressive animated transition from the famous “gargoyle” photograph, into a variation on the Salome illustration The Dancer's Reward. (3:20 on the videos below) Leading to the title, and a synopsis of the film itself. The YouTube quality makes this a tad squinty to read, but the film does a good enough job of relaying it’s own narrative without it.
I’ll avoid getting into a point by point of the film from here on, the actual runtime of the animation (without the opening, and credits) is probably only about 8 minutes in total, but to be brief; the plot leads us (metaphorically) and Beardsley (less so) on a brisk walk from his death in 1898, though the history of the 20th century – using the evolution of transport as a neat shorthand for this passage of time. On reaching the current era the pace slows, and we are taken through a series of vignettes based on Beardsley illustrations, their imagery retooled with modern urban vistas (specifically New York) and faces.
Bob Dylan as a satyr
(very beginning of the third video below)
It ends with what I can only really describe as a somewhat melodramatic climax, which I’ll leave you to view for yourself if you’re interested. But it’s definitely worth a look, the animation is minimal but very smooth, and many of the pastiche drawings are seamlessly executed.