THIS animated program is a celebration of the material world and the mysteries contained in everyday landscapes. Fuzzy modernism is a guiding principle for the films chosen – a concept taken from Soviet animation and woven across other national traditions and multiple 2D styles. From the fuzzy and woolly to the ambiguous and confused, these films embrace subjects and styles that exemplify the metamorphic potential of the world of objects: string, felt, metal, paper, glass, and of course, celluloid. Each film in its own way emphasizes our interdependence with the natural world and the furry creatures therein.
Karel Zeman’s Inspiration (1949) opens the program with a radiant look inside the natural world for images of ethereal beauty: within the sphere of ordinary raindrops exists a frail empire of repurposed objects and a dreamer with purpose. Vladimir Degtyarev’s How to Grow Up (1967) begins with similar effect: a tiny universe all its own opens beyond a wall of water, and we enter the realm of childhood through a window labeled “baby.” This soft and brightly festive land is home to a little kitten tired of who she is. She wants to grow but finds that the bewitching forest outside leads her back home again. The mother of Czech animation, Hermina Tyrlova, embodies a fluffy avant-garde with Snowman (1966), creating poetry with the soft flexibility of yarn as creatures transform and adapt in a landscape of discovery. Tadeusz Wilkosz’s Mouse Tricks (1959) continues in this whimsical vein with the story of mice (made of deliciously rustic felt) who aspire to the finer things in life. An archetypal animated battle between cat and mouse takes place amidst an abstract expressionist background, which confirms that these midcentury rodents are in the vanguard.
Jerzy Kotowski’s Danger! (1963) cuts through the material softness that defines the rest of the program with a post apocalyptic cosmic landscape inhabited by metal animals in survivalist mode. There is an existential standoff between chicken and egg, and even the razor sharp blade of a rooster’s tail is unable to cut short the rebirth of life sailing down from the skies in an ark. Rein Raamat’s Firebird (1974), the program’s lone rigorously two-dimensional film, also imagines a world in the future far removed from the natural. Yet here as well, colors, shapes and textures persist. The firebird transforms the black and white celluloid world of rectangles into flowing lines and anarchic personalities, including a black cat unraveling the world around him.
Best known for his beloved Russian version of Winnie the Pooh, Fyodor Khitruk’s Little Stomper (1964) is an earlier version of a little bear who is just as friendly but even more curious. Featuring simple yet stylish cutouts, this work plays with the softness of form as warmth awakening in the cold winter. Like the other Soviet films in this program, Grigori Lomidze’s The Story of Vlas (1959) uses a charming tale to teach us how to live an exemplary life. Based on the poem by Vladimir Mayakovsky, the film focuses on Vlas, a lazy boy who becomes a drunk and dies. The film combines puppetry, silhouettes, stop motion, constructivist cutouts and cel animation to emphasize the value of an education, and phases into documentary-style photographs at the end. The uncanny puppetry contrasts with the social realism of the photographs, showcasing an imaginative realm that resonates with play, despite the moral of the story.
While Tomoyasu Murata’s Forest This Flower Bloom (2014) is the outlier in this program – both geographically and chronologically — it was the inspiration for the rest. A Noh puppet introduces the film and appears again in the center as a hand-drawn storyteller of the past. The film’s many textures, both furry and slick, create an uncertain future transformed by war and brilliantly expressed through fuzzy mise-en-scene.