Saturday, 19 July 2008

Chris Landreth "Bingo"

Bingo directed in 1995 by Chris Landreth was one of the first films I saw that used Maya in its creation. I was blown away by the possibilities of animation. (Click on the last image above to see the full effect, certainly in a single frame.) The movie was based on a theatrical performance staged in Chicago two years earlier, Disregard This Play by Greg Kotis and played by the Neo-Futurist Theater Company. Indeed Chris' animation commences with a live clip of the play. My own background is in drama and in my time I have been involved with several plays in the existentialist mode - what Chris refers to in this context as "psychological realism". The animated version, I would guess, wins hands down. It concerns a guy seated in what amounts to a circus ring being told repeatedly that he is Bingo the clown, and denying it equally vociferously. On a darkened stage with the studio audience gathered around, theatrical displays of angst can be a tad tiresome I find – though perhaps not in my early days of absurdist drama. Here the ring is filled with assorted, rather stagy, characters including the Money Guy and a cartwheeling woman who shouts a lot. Indeed all the characters shout at Bingo. In the theatre, for this style of drama, I can't quite suspend that state of disbelief: in the animated version the director distorts faces out of proportion or perspective, so that the participants leer like Stephen King’sIt”; additionally the circus ring can be filled with circulating machines like a madcap French circus I saw once. Animation has expanded the possibilities of drama in this example. Given that some university departments are turning out undergraduate movies using Maya that astound one as to their quality, this early use of the software still amazes. The central, "normal" figure is naturalistic throughout and the girl with the balloons .... well, never trust girls with balloons and clown make-up, certainly not with Stephen King in mind. Chris is best known for his Academy Award winning Ryan Larkin. He's another of those guys with a background in higher education outside animation, in his case a degree in Applied Mechanics from the University of Illinois in 1986. This earlier work is always watchable and maintains a theatricality that is most affecting. Tomorrow however it's away from the avant-garde and onto the unashamedly populist. I can't quite bring myself to label this as a classic though "pioneering" or "ground-breaking" might best suit.

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