Monday, 28 April 2008

Alison De Vere "The Black Dog"

When Alison De Vere died in 2001 we lost a huge talent in the world of animation. Today’s post is about her masterpiece, The Black Dog, made in 1987. Alongside her Café Bar and Mr Pascal, featured on the The Animation Blog, her work has an intensity and depth about it that marks it out from others. I would place her firmly beside yesterday’s Caroline Leaf as a giant of the medium. Triggered by real experience of depression, represented here by the dog of the title, the movie begins with the awakening of a young woman from her sleep by a fearsome black dog, her guide and mentor for the duration of the film. The girl is taken from her crumbled home to a bleak landscape of rocks and mountains. Attracted by the sound of raucous music, the young woman climbs towards Fata, a boutique, restaurant and club. She meets the first of creatures from the ancient world who allows her to try on pairs of shoes, until the discards litter the carpet. A full beauty make-over follows. Any pretence that this is for the good of the girl's soul is dispensed with when the creature enters the backroom where caged birds coo at each other. A pair of white doves are disturbed, their love duet rudely interrupted with the killing of one for its feathers, a fate that befalls all the caged white mink who are killed for their fur, joining the fish in the tank killed for dinner. The girl, wined and dined, dressed up to the nines, exists at the expense of the dead. Meanwhile the dog howls and eventually calls her away. Misunderstanding the message she throws the animal a bone on which he promptly urinates. For the girl it is party time and she gives herself up to the high tempo music and such excesses as are available in this hedonistic world. From hereon in the action becomes ever more firmly rooted in mythology, surrealism and symbolism. She is rescued from drowning, mummified, entombed, only to emerge from a drain in a modern city where Death is a pavement vendor and her guide still the dog though now handsomely clad in a suit. She confronts the good things of life: musicians, Shakespeare, sculptors, a painter in the sky whose drawings come alive as a white bird and a library full of riches. She carries in her arms a rolled up document from the library that looks suspiciously like a baby. Leaving the library we see the three are perched high on a pyramid above the clouds. The package is revealed to be what one suspected and the girl has to walk a precarious balancing act in the clouds. The three become a family as the mood lightens and we hear a child's laughter and light guitar music. The events turn full circle. Mixing ancient myth with the modern world (Anubis and the River Styx separating our world from Hades) Alison's complex work is not always easy to follow in all its machinations though the broad thrust is there: the choices in life, the distractions, dangers, rewards. Like her other works featured here Alison produces parables for today's society, woman in particular. Life is a difficult journey she informs us, but there is a better way of life. In this sense the beautifully designed and drawn short could have been produced today. It is ageless.


Anonymous said...

Strange that this should be posted the day after I see the film. And it is a masterpiece.

I find it strange that other works like Tale of Tales gather far more attention; I came across Alice de Vere by chance in the book Cartoons: one hundred years of cinema animation.

maisie said...

trying to find this on dvd, can anyone help?

Anonymous said...

You can find it on the 3 dvd set Animating the Unconscious put out by British Animation Awards a few years ago.

Ian Lumsden said...

Thank you for that. I always support the BAA in the blog. Their website address for DVDs is via

Jane Pilling works tireless ly for the organisation. It is her collection. One source of info is via