info I contact
advertising
editorial schedule
acknowledgements
join the realtime email list
become a friend of realtime on facebook
follow realtime on twitter
donate

magazine  archive  features  rt profiler  realtimedance  mediaartarchive

contents

  
The Illusion of Life II: More Essays on Animation The Illusion of Life II: More Essays on Animation
THERE IS ONLY ONE DECENT WAY TO APPROACH THIS BOOK: YOU HAVE TO WEIGH IT IN YOUR HAND (IT’S HEAVY), TURN IT ON THE SIDE AND GAUGE ITS WIDTH (IT’S THICK), AND THEN YOU HAVE TO FLIP TO THE NUMBER ON THE LAST PAGE (HOLY SHIT, IT’S 576). 576 PAGES? HAS THERE EVER BEFORE BEEN AN AUSTRALIAN-MADE BOOK OF HIGHBROW FILM THEORY AND ANALYSIS THAT HAS GOT TO 576 PAGES?

It is hard—indeed, impossible—to separate this book from the personality of its editor, Alan Cholodenko. The book began—a whole 12 years ago—as the proceedings of The Life of Illusion, “Australia’s second international conference on animation”, just as its predecessor, The Illusion of Life: Essays on Animation, derived from the first conference in 1988 (but with a mere three year gap before publication). Cholodenko has a large presence in the new book, as he did in the original: his 86-page Introduction is a mini-book unto itself, and he brings up the rear with another contribution (“Speculations on the Animatic”) that clocks up another 44 pages.

Cholodenko indeed seems to have been born for this destined rendezvous with animation. The topic brings with it extremes—of the lowest culture mixed with the highest theory—that are exactly his own extremes. Neither the cruddiest TV cartoon nor the most abstruse Derridean play on words occasion any defensiveness in him. Therefore, he is exactly the right man for the job.

Reading The Illusion of Life II prompted many vivid memories for me. Particularly of when I was 17 years old, commuting between Melbourne’s once-beloved International Bookshop (the Red Menace) to buy copies of the new journal Camera Obscura, and the camera stores where one could still buy rolls of Super 8 film. In those days, one could also still buy Warner Bros cartoons on Super 8 (even Standard 8) rolls in tiny little packets: thus started a homegrown, amateur apprenticeship in ‘textual analysis’, winding some Chuck Jones Daffy Duck reel through a precarious Super 8 viewer and noticing the remarkable difference between one frame and the next—decomposing movements into their individual frames in order to better appreciate the magic of their continuous projection.

As it happened, there was, right to hand, an essay in Camera Obscura (no 2, Fall 1977) that was about exactly this experience of still frames in a strip of animated celluloid—and it also served as an indelible introduction to the farthest and wildest reaches of French theory. The piece in question is Thierry Kuntzel’s Le Défilement—and let us pause to pay tribute to this great critic and video artist who died earlier this year.

Defilement refers to the passage of the film strip through a projector: the mechanism that clinches movement, and indeed the ‘illusion of life’ itself. Kuntzel’s article (first published in 1973) is about getting an arty Canadian animation (Peter Foldes’ Appetite of a Bird) down to its frames, and once fixed in this way, Kuntzel notices, ‘between the frames’ as it were, several strange metamorphoses that are almost indiscernible to the naked eye once the strip is ‘defiled’: in particular, some remarkably peculiar hermaphroditic sex organs. (The analysis looks forward to Edward Colless’ superb reverie located “between the legs of the Little Mermaid” in the book under review.)

My free association leaps to a much older essay, but one I tracked down only recently. In 1952, a year after the scandalous premiere at Cannes of his avant-garde masterpiece Treatise on Slime and Eternity, Isidore Isou wrote an ambitious text in Ion magazine titled “Aesthetics of Cinema.” Isou was the ringleader of the Lettrists, and Lettrism is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most significant strands in the history of experimental animation. There are actually many good reasons to connect Isou with Cholodenko: not only did both men cross paths with Orson Welles (these encounters are on film), and not only are both given to a certain (shall we say) boastfulness (Isou could write, in his early 20s, that “by the age of 19 I had already established the bases of a new mode of knowledge and a new form of culture”); but Isou, too, managed to edit publications in which he gave himself an awful lot of room (as in the case of the “Aesthetics”, 146 pages).

But listen to Isou: in 1952, he was already predicting that the future of cinema was “post-photographic”—and we thought Bazin’s photo-ontology was the only game in the town of Paris back then! Moreover, in Isou’s account, cinema—passing, like all the arts, from the era of ‘amplic’ expansion to its self-destructive ‘chiseling’ phase—had only one meaningful ‘unit’: the single frame, preferably scratched out, written on, flipped upside down...The guy was a born animator.

The contributors to The Illusion to Life II are, consciously or otherwise, the rightful heirs to Isou’s legacy. They cover many bases in this book: anime (essays by Kosei Ono, Pauline Moore, Bill Routt, Jane Goodall, Fred Patten), digital technologies benevolent and scary (David Ellison, Patrick Crogan), American animation slick and independent (Rex Butler, Freida Riggs, Rick Thompson, Annemarie Jonson).

Actually, there is a heavy philosophic justifiction for the 12 years it took to get this book together and out—and it is to be found ‘between the frames’ of two of its finest essays. For William Schaffer, animation can be considered a “control-image” (après Deleuze): it’s all about the social techne of defining, mapping, determining, controlling a movement. On the other hand, here’s a passing definition from Philip Brophy’s “Apocalyptic Echoes in Anime”: filmic animation is “the hysterical unleashing of dynamic movement resulting from the wilful animation of the inanimate.”

You can just picture Alan Cholodenko labouring on the 86th page of his Introduction: wanting to put an amen to it, needing to secure the very latest (and hopefully the last) reference to his topic, praying for a control-image of his domain...But he can’t: he has helped to unleash (hysterically) a movement, and there is no stopping that dynamism. A book that unleashes movement: I can think of no higher praise for The Illusion of Life II.


This speech by Adrian Martin launched The Illusion of Life II: More Essays on Animation, at the Society for Animation Studies’ Animated Dialogues Conference, Monash University and VCA, Melbourne, June 17-19.

The Illusion of Life II: More Essays on Animation, Alan Cholodenko ed, Power Publications, Sydney 2007, ISBN 978 0909952 34 1, power.publications@arts.usyd.edu.au or tel (61 2) 9351 6904

RealTime issue #80 Aug-Sept 2007 pg. 33

© Adrian Martin; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Back to top