I took a bit of time out from the astrophysics this week to head over to the Barbican for the “Watch Me Move” exhibition: more than a hundred years of film and video animation. From an 1880s hand-coloured “Pierrot” and Winsor McCay’s 1911 animated version of his newspaper comic Little Nemo, to Toy Story and superheroes, most of the works took advantage of the medium to depict an unreality reflecting, but not bound by, the same laws as our everyday world.
The highlight was an amazing late-1970s soviet-era film, “Tale of Tales”, beautiful and tragic, a half-hour exploration of memory, childhood, even war. It’s made its way to YouTube in four parts. Here’s the first:
There was Ballet Mécanique, a visually gorgeous kaleidoscopic film from Fernand Léger which mirrored his painting, showing its inspirations in the modern mechanical and optical world. And the Warner Brothers cartoon stable was well-represented by Chuck Jones’ metafictional “Duck Amuck”, with a benighted Daffy tortured through the fourth wall by a malicious animator (who of course turns out to be Bugs Bunny).
I had just recently seen another amazing bit of animation, the fifteen-minute history of the Universe (made in collaboration with quite a few of my astrophysicist colleagues) embedded within Terrence Malick’s ambitious and beautiful Tree of Life, meditating, like the “Tale of Tales”, on life and death, the weight of history, the reverberations of loss.
All of this brought to mind a much sillier, dimly-remembered, old cartoon, a black and white Felix the Cat journeying to the stars. A quick search turned up “Astronomeous”, a wonderful bit of pop-surrealism from 1928: