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Sunday, 5 August 2007

Wendy Tilby & Amanda Forbis "When the Day Breaks"

Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis created a strangely disturbing movie, albeit with comic touches, in their 1999 Oscar nominated "When the Day Breaks". Produced for the National Film Board of Canada it tells the tale of two individuals who set about their normal, everyday lives, briefly and unwittingly meet, only to have their lives broken by a terrible event. To say that the people are in fact animals suggests a diminution of the emotional impact though this is not the case. Such is the attention to detail and an absorption with everyday objects and actions that the characters quickly appear and are accepted as human. The techniques used to create such effective animation are worth considering here. Wendy filmed Amanda wearing masks. The results were transfered to video tape, frames selected and added to painstakingly by hand, and then filmed again. The effect is of juddering, flickering film with fuzzy images and a foggy background, all in shades of grey with just a hint of ochre, say, for cheese or a lemon; or the merest hint of pink for Ruby's nose - she is afterall a pig. The scenes are beautifully realised, whether it be Ruby pouring milk into her coffee before raising the blind to let in the sun, or the traffic accident and the aftermath of confusion and pandemonium. We zoom into incidental images the significance of which we feel we know but would find it difficult to articulate: the kettle plugged into the socket, the figure of the driver of the night train. One beautiful sequence of images has a man (or goat, not that it matters) shaving, he washes his razor in the tap, we follow the water on its journey through a myriad of pipes before it emerges underneath the very broken grate we observed earlier during the road accident and from thence to the apartment of the pedestrian involved in that same incident. Thus is a theme of the animation revealed, that we are all connected and affected by the tragedies of life as well as the ordinariness of day-to-day living itself. In fact it is through these mundane acts that we can survive trauma. The two women worked for four years on this project and it shows. You can purchase the DVD in compilation form here alongside other movies from the Toronto International Film Festival. Google Video has more than one copy posted though with such a faultless movie as this I very much prefer the best quality version on DVD. Finally, and it's an oversight to leave it so late in the article, I must applaud the music in the style of the 1930s or '40s written by Judith Gruber-Stitzer with lyrics by Wendy and Amanda. The two songs are sensational in that they fit the movie so wonderfully well.

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