Thursday, 1 May 2008

Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski "Madame Tutli-Putli"

Oscar nominated Madame Tutli-Putli has rightly been much praised for its pioneering and awesome technology. Much has been written on the matter so I will concentrate in this analysis on its merits as a movie. Set in the first half of the twentieth century, we first meet up with Madame Tutli-Putli at a station platform shrouded in mist, as the camera pans over her worldly goods, lined up in great quantity at a lonely station platform - phonograph, beachball, brown leather cases of every description. Her life revealed. The lady herself is bent double under the weight, and her troubles. A persistent moth is swept away from her face. When the train arrives it flashes past in a terrifying sequence from which we are surprised to see Madame Tutli-Putli emerge peering out from the carriage. Her fellow passengers are disinterested and preoccupied save for one coarse individual who makes his interest graphically and obscenely clear. Where she is going or the reasons for her trans-Canadian journey are never revealed. One senses loss, break-up or some other domestic crisis. Her journey is to prove a difficult, terrifying one: a combination of Hitchcock for the unexplained dangers and Alien for the off-worldly interruptions that go well beyond just about anything one has previously experienced in a puppet, stop-frame movie. The publicity speaks of an "existential journey" and "metaphysical adventure". I'm a little wary of such terms though in essence they are apt. The world is hostile and without explanation, the nature of the dangers experienced by the woman never clear, and one is unable to decide what is real or imagined. The woman falls into a sleep from which she may or may not have emerged as the movie progresses. Events at one point are cast in a green hue as the unseen workmen wind up mechanisms or worse, unseen wearers of boots discard a gooey substance that may be mud, may be worse, the flames ignited in the night-time undergrowth by the speeding train may be a metaphysical hell. Her flight from I know not what horrors is gripping all the more so for the lack of explanation. Is the horrifying "operation" real? She follows a moth heading for the light and that symbol is not the most optimistic. Directors Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski and their Montreal company, Clyde Henry, excel. Strengths of the film are the minute, painstakingly realised detail of the sets. Despite a stated wish to steer away from the technical components of the movie, the key to its spell-binding power is in the facial expression of the central character herself. It is disconcerting to see liquid, expressive eyes in a puppet. The special effects led by Jason Walker matching the performance of real, human eyes to synchronise with the storyline, situation and character is something totally new. (Susanna’s Sketchbook has an interesting account of how actress Laurie Maher obtained the role that underpins the puppet and fxguide has a clip, Wunderbar, named after and showing the new technique devised to add human qualities to puppets. You may also be interested in the Jason Walker example of a special effect in which one sees a before and after comparison of the puppet, or Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski explaining their labours on YouTube.) But it is I stress again Madame herself that haunts one's memory, her expressive eyes, hinting at a turbulent past, a real beauty at first sight, a closer inspection revealing beauty certainly though fading with bags under her eyes. Her terror becomes our terror, so gripping is the drama. It is produced by three-time Academy Award winner Marcy Page with supremely fitting music by Jean-Frédéric Messier that captures tension and pathos. The movie may be viewed in two parts: Madame Tutli-Putli Part 1 and Madame Tutli-Putli Part 2, though I strongly recommend you splash out on the DVD version from NFB to appreciate the tour de force. The movie would have won an Oscar in most other years I guess if February's nominations were not set against the equally sublime Peter and the Wolf and Suzie Templeton. I have waxed lyrical about that movie and to say today's choice loses nothing in comparison is high praise indeed.

1 comment:

Shuhada Sidik said...

i just watched this short animation and came up to your blog! nice review!