The Oxford History of World Cinema

By Geoffrey Nowell-Smith | Go to book overview

Animation in the Post-Industrial Era


By 1960 cartoon shorts were no longer screened as part of the regular programme in cinemas, and studio animation units were closed or producing exclusively for television. For independent animators the major distribution focus became the film festival, which could make films known to an international audience of entrepreneurs and connoisseurs who in turn might arrange for them to be screened on television, or in cinemas as part of package programmes. At first animation had to vie with live-action features at general film festivals like Cannes'or Venice, but after the creation of ASIFA (the International Association for Animated Film) in 1960, festivals specializing in animation began in Annecy, Zagreb, Ottawa, Hiroshima, and a number of other locations, allowing independent animators from around the world to meet yearly and share their films.


A small number of experimental animators had already enjoyed an alternative community for some decades, as a part of experimental art film. The presence of Oskar Fischinger in Los Angeles encouraged the brothers John and James Whitney to turn from music and painting to the creation of abstract animation, with hard-edged geometric imagery synchronized to astonishing 'electronic' music drawn directly on the film strip by a series of finely calibrated pendulums ( Five Film Exercises, 1943-4). In 1946 the San Francisco Museum of Art held the first of some dozen Art in Cinema festivals which screened classic avant-garde films of the 1920s (Buñuel, Man Ray, Cocteau) beside new works by Maya Deren, Fischinger, and the Whitneys. This encouraged two other young painters, Jordan Belson and Harry Smith, to take up abstract animation; Belson favoured dynamic polymorphous colour manifestations ( Allures, 1961; Samadhi, 1967; Light, 1973) while Smith tended toward geometric forms, at first handpainted on the film strip (Film No. 1 and 2, 1947-9) then later composed by the superimposition of pre-animated melodic units in a live, multiple-projector performance which was then refilmed from the screen (Film No. 7, 1931).

Fischinger, James Whitney, Belson, and Smith were all devoted to mystical, spiritual ideals. Smith combined his abstract imagery with sacred representational figures cut out from nineteenth-century lithographs and animated in intricate synchronization to the music of Thelonius Monk and Dizzy Gillespie (Film No. 10 and No. 11, 1955). While these four artists formed the core of a ' California School of Color Music', by 1957 Art in Cinema festivals had shown abstract films by seventeen other west coast and nine east coast artists. The 1949 Experimental Film Festival in Brussels not only awarded Fischinger the Grand Prize, but also recognized the Whitney brothers' Film Exercises as best use of sound. After the Second World War, John Whitney turned more to technological experimentation and became a pioneer of computer graphics, while James Whitney (like Jordan Belson) continued producing hand-made animations of great beauty and spiritual grandeur ( Yantra, 1955; Lapis, 1963; Wu Ming, 1976; Kang Jing Xiang, 1982).

Other abstract animation artists flourished in various locations. The New Zealander Len Lye created the 1928 Tusalava (drawings and cut-outs) in London and the 1958 Free Radicals (scratched directly on black film) in New York. He made ten other abstract films in between, while working for the British GPO unit (A Colour Box painted on film in 1933, and Trade Tattoo, optically printed live action and abstraction together, 1937) or supporting himself with painting, sculpture, and commercials. In Ohio and New York, painter Dwinell Grant made nine abstract films (including Themis, 1940; Stereoscopic Composition, 1945; Composition 6 'Dream Fantasies', 1985) while supporting himself by designing for the theatre and animating medical films. Hy Hirsh lived off still photography while making clever oscilloscope patterns synchronize with infectious Caribbean and African music (the 3-D Come Closer, 1952). He then turned to spectacular optical printing of live-action and animated footage (as Lye had done in Trade Tattoo), for Gyromorphosis and Autumn Spectrum ( 1958), Scratch Pad ( 1960), and La Couleur de la forme ( 1961).

This tradition of abstract animation continues unbroken to the present, with artists like Jules Engel who (in addition to commercial work at Disney, UPA, and an Academy Award nomination for the 1963 Icarus Montgolfier Wright) has created some thirty abstract animations. These range from refined computer graphics ( Silence, 1968) to dynamic studies in kineticism ( Rumble, 1975) and handdrawn parallels to his canvas paintings ( Villa Rospigliosi, 1988), and are all infused with a fine conceptual wit. Computer artists Larry Cuba ( Two Space, 1978) and David Brody ( Beethoven Machinery, 1989) control the complex potential of their technology to produce a subtle visual music, while artists like Sara Petty ( Preludes in Magical Time, 1987) and Dennis Pies ( Luma Nocturna, 1974) continue to render thousands of delicate drawings for each film.

The British artist Robert Darroll (now resident in Germany) created, by intricate layers of hand-painted images, a trilogy of films Lung ('Dragon', 1983), Feng Huang ('Phoenix', 1987), and Stone Lion ( 1990), based on his


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The Oxford History of World Cinema
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Contributors ix
  • Contents xi
  • Special Features xv
  • List of Colour Illustrations xvii
  • General Introduction xix
  • 1 - Silent Cinema 1895-1930 1
  • Origins and Survival 6
  • Early Cinema 13
  • Transitional Cinema 23
  • The Hollywood Studio System 43
  • The World-Wide Spread of Cinema 53
  • The First World War and the Crisis in Europe 62
  • Tricks and Animation 71
  • Comedy 78
  • Documentary 86
  • Cinema and the Avant-Garde 95
  • Serials 105
  • French Silent Cinema 112
  • Italy- Spectacle and Melodrama 123
  • British Cinema from Hepworth to Hitchcock 130
  • Germany- The Weimar Years 136
  • The Scandinavian Style 151
  • Pre-Revolutionary Russia 159
  • The Soviet Union and the Russian émigrés 162
  • Yiddish Cinema in Europe 174
  • Japan- Before the Great Kanto Earthquake 177
  • Music and the Silent Film 183
  • The Heyday of the Silents 192
  • 2 - Sound Cinema 1930-1960 205
  • The Introduction of Sound 211
  • Hollywood- The Triumph of the Studio System 220
  • Censorship and Self-Regulation 235
  • The Sound of Music 248
  • Technology and Innovation 259
  • Animation 267
  • Cinema and Genre 276
  • The Western 286
  • The Musical 294
  • Crime Movies 304
  • The Fantastic 312
  • Documentary 322
  • Socialism, Fascism, and Democracy 333
  • The Popular Art of French Cinema 344
  • Italy from Fascism to Neo-Realism 353
  • Britain at the End of Empire 361
  • Germany- Nazism and after 374
  • East Central Europe before the Second World War 383
  • Soviet Film under Stalin 389
  • Indian Cinema- Origins to Independence 398
  • China before 1949 409
  • The Classical Cinema in Japan 413
  • The Emergence of Australian Film 422
  • Cinema in Latin America 427
  • After the War 436
  • Transformation of the Hollywood System 443
  • Independents and Mavericks 451
  • 3 - The Modern Cinema 1960-1995 461
  • Television and the Film Industry 466
  • The New Hollywood 475
  • New Technologies 483
  • Sex and Sensation 490
  • The Black Presence in American Cinema 497
  • Exploitation and the Mainstream 509
  • Dreams and Nightmares in the Hollywood Blockbuster 516
  • Cinéma-Vérité and the New Documentary 527
  • Avant-Garde Film- The Second Wave 537
  • Animation in the Post-Industrial Era 551
  • Modern Film Music 558
  • Art Cinema 567
  • New Directions in French Cinema 576
  • Italy- Auteurs and after 586
  • Spain after Franco 596
  • British Cinema- The Search for Identity 604
  • The New German Cinema 614
  • East Germany- The Defa Story 627
  • Changing States in East Central Europe 632
  • Russia after the Thaw 640
  • Cinema in the Soviet Republics 651
  • Turkish Cinema 656
  • The Arab World 661
  • The Cinemas of Sub-Saharan Africa 667
  • Iranian Cinema 672
  • India- Filming the Nation 678
  • Indonesian Cinema 690
  • China after the Revolution 693
  • Popular Cinema in Hong Kong 704
  • Taiwanese New Cinema 711
  • The Modernization of Japanese Film 714
  • New Australian Cinema 722
  • New Zealand Cinema 731
  • Canadian Cinema/Cinéma Canadien 731
  • New Cinemas in Latin America 740
  • New Concepts of Cinema 750
  • The Resurgence of Cinema 759
  • Index 785
  • List of Picture Sources 823


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