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Thoughts on Animation and Robert Breer, R.I.P. 2011/08/22

Posted by nydawg in Archives, Digital Archives, Intellectual Property.
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Robert Breer

A few years ago, when I was studying film at the University of Rochester, I was reading Movie Journal by film critic/filmmaker Jonas Mekas, and was intrigued by various mentions of underground filmmaker/ animator Robert Breer.   The one piece I can still remember reading was from 1969 when Mekas announced that Breer was winner of the Max Ernst Prize for the film that “best corresponds to the avant-garde spirit” for his film 69 at the Oberhausen Film Festival.   The prize was the sculpture “La Femme” created and donated by Ernst himself!

Later, I happened to view a collection of his short films on a DVD (or was it VHS?) titled “Five and Dime Animator“, and I was hooked.  The man was a true visionary who found a simple way to create low-budget animated films.  His secret?  He used 4×6 index cards and snapped “frame-by-frame photographs of hand-drawn images”!  As I saw more and more of his stuff, I wanted to tell everyone about him and share  his films (on video).

After moving to New York, I attended a screening of his films at the Anthology Film Archives, and actually saw him stop the show, run up the aisle towards the projectionist frantically waving his arms and shouting “Stop!  It’s at the wrong speed!”  I was recounting this story to some friends and was happily surprised to learn that one of my oldest and closest friends actually studied with him (she calls him Bob Breer) at Cooper Union!  He profoundly affected the way I think about animation, but the man was also an artist.

So a few years ago (2002? or 2003?), I heard about a Robert Breer gallery opening, and I set out to attend.  At first, I didn’t know what was happening, but there were some of his paintings on the wall– which I examined closely– and little sculptures on the floor.  As I looked at the paintings, something in the room seemed bizarre.   I circled around, and started to look closely at one of the sculptures.  That’s when I realized what was happening: every sculpture was slowly moving across the floor of the gallery!  These were Robert Breer’s floats.  I had no idea, but it changed my idea of sculpture and animation.  At the time, I called them moving sculptures, but with his recent death, I now know that he called them “floats” and others called them “kinetic sculptures.”  Whatever they are called, I think they are incredible.

Robert Breer's Floats

As an archivist, I look at animation (and life)  in a similar way.   People are always moving and changing, and since there is no possibility of preserving or documenting every configuration of every part of every movement, we are left to catalog and describe whatever is most important.   In animation, an archivist is responsible for arranging and describing assets so different stakeholders will be able to find specific high-quality images for different purposes.  Since it would be impossible for anyone to describe every frame of every animated film (at 30 frames per second [NTSC] or 25 fps [PAL]), are are left to select and appraise the “significant” design files, usually backgrounds, characters and props.   Though this may not give a full and complete description, it provides an efficient way  to re-use images across time and space for a variety of purposes.   In other words, Breer’s films will be cataloged as films, but each index card could be preserved and described at the item-level without too much [useless] detail.

Anyway, I was sad to hear that Bob Breer died last week.   He really changed my perception about art, sculpture, function and even archival description!  Sure, minimalist animation does not require large budgets, but an artist with a vision and limited funds, can certainly create moving works.

Disney and Dali

One more thought about mixing animation and art.  A few years back, MOMA showed Destino, a long-rumored unfinished animated collaboration between Walt Disney and Salvador Dali.  Since I’ve always been a big fan of Luis Bunuel’s Un Chien Andalou (co-directed by Dali), I was intrigued, to say the least, about a surrealist artist collaborating with Disney within the Hollywood system.  That day, I watched the 6 minute film five times in a row!  Fortunately, Open Culture recently posted a version of Destino, available for your viewing pleasure (or horror)!  “The clip runs 6+ minutes and features music written by Mexican songwriter Armando Dominguez and performed by Dora Luz.”

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Comments»

1. Thoughts on Animation and Robert Breer, R.I.P. (via nydawg New York Digital Archivists Working Group) « redbeancookie - 2011/08/22

[…] 22 Aug A few years ago, when I was studying film at the University of Rochester, I was reading Movie Journal by film critic/filmmaker Jonas Mekas, and was intrigued by various mentions of underground filmmaker/animator Robert Breer.   The one piece I can still remember reading was from 1969 when Mekas announced that Breer was winner of the Max Ernst Prize for th … Read More […]

nydawg - 2011/09/22

Thanks for the repost or is it a pingback?!

2. Sue Havens - 2011/08/23

I was truly and subtlely affected by seeing Bob Breer’s films at Cooper. As a student there, discussions were serious, and at times lofty! Seeing one of his simple index card flip machine (with dots) struck me as a beautiful simple, almost poigniantly elegant way to make something. Kind of re’oriented me in a way that I believe is still with me as an artist.

Sue Havens - 2011/08/23

Thanks for posting, DK ! …and I, too, was riveted by those Dali films.


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