“Animations” is the exhibition at the MAN Museum dedicated to Norman McLaren (Stirling 1914 – Montreal 1987), pioneer of experimental animation and cult author of 20th century avant-garde cinema. Curated by Lorenzo Giusti and Elena Volpato, director of the Artist Film and Video Collection at the Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art in Turin (lender of the videos), the exhibition presents 14 of the most important animation works by the Scottish director (later a naturalized Canadian) dating from 1940 to 1983.
McLaren began his career at the age of nineteen realizing Seven Till Five (1933), a short film in which he describes a day in the life of an art school. Animation techniques emerged two years later in Camera Makes Whopee! (1935) presented at an amateur festival in Scotland where he was noticed by John Grierson, the father of British documentary film. After the Spanish Civil War in 1936, in which McLaren participated as a cameraman, he made four films, including Love on the Wing with images drawn directly on film. He moved to New York in 1939 and continued to experiment with painting directly onto celluloid until 1941 when he came into contact with the National Film Board of Canada whose support enabled him to carry out works that were fundamental for the development of film animation. He experimented many techniques from painting on celluloid to the animation of paper cut-outs to cartoons, pixillation (with the inclusion of real actors in animated sequences), stop motion, and digital techniques.
Along with such works as Boogie Doodle (1940), Begone Dull Care (1949) or A Phantasy (1952), on display at MAN is also the famous short Neighbours (1952 ), which won McLaren numerous awards including an Oscar for best Documentary. The film, in which real people are used to create animated effects, describes the fratricidal struggle between two neighbors to possess the blooming flower growing on their respective property lines.
Among the other works in the show, Blinkity Blank (1955) is a short film portraying the conflict of a bird with its cage with images engraved directly on film, while in Chairy Tale (1957), an animation of objects and people to music by Ravi Shankar, the conflict is between a man and his chair. Le Merle (1958) is a short based on an old French-Canadian song which tells the story of a blackbird who, as the song’s verses advance, loses body parts that are continually recomposed in new images.
Among the works from the 1960s are Lines-Horizontal (1961) and Mosaic (1965), the second and third of a series of three short films produced in collaboration with Evelin Lambart. New York Lightboard Record (1961) shows the reaction of New Yorkers as they look at a brightly lit Times Square billboard; Pas de Deux (1967) is a black and white video featuring dancers Margaret Mercier and Vincent Warren in which the intertwining of music and dance recreates an almost stroboscopic visual effect thanks to the use of slow-motion techniques.
Representing McLaren’s later production, the award-winning Synchromy (1971), in which music and images interact in perfect sync, exploits the potential of information technology and new optical techniques , Animated Motion 5 (1978), made in collaboration with Grant Munro, and Narcissus, a short musical from 1983, the last film made for the National Film Board of Canada.