Sunday Classic Animation
Caroline Leaf (1990)
Caroline Leaf's technique in this first of the Animation Blog's Sunday Classic Animations is to etch her images onto exposed and tinted 70 mm film. Her first frames in Two Sisters are etched in a rich blue emulsion as a lone swimmer makes his way to an island in the "wide blue sea where people hide away". The next frames are engraved onto black as we meet the two reclusive sisters, Marie and Viola Ge. In the dark, to the background sound of a ticking clock, family cat and the clicking of Viola's typewriter, the pair converse. Marie is clearly the dominant sister. The entry of the stranger fresh from the sea throws the women into panic. It becomes apparent that the elder sister has protected the disfigured Viola from the outside world and fights to continue that protection from the man who is in fact her sister's greatest fan. For Viola has a gift to compensate for her disfigurement and the meeting changes the dynamics of the pair so much so that harsh words are spoken and the fragile harmony of the island is threatened. The arrival of the stranger is more of a threat to Marie than he is to Viola. Using as visual themes light and dark, this richly allegorical tale has dialogue composed by Grant Heisler, in a way that resonates with symbol and inference. The voices of Kathleen Fee, Michael Rudder and Jane Woods complement the metaphor of the script by delivering the cadences and rhythms of their lines beautifully. Judith Gruber-Stitzer's music adds a mystical quality. Caroline is a consummate artist (I have written previously of her work sketching her images into sand on glass). In this movie the artwork has an allusive quality to match the gradual unravelling of the women's situation, as the swimmer's fingers stretch towards us from the blue or Viola's fingers white against the keyboard, her lifeline, and gift to the world. However it is the tensions revealed between the two woman that is the essence of the film. I am reminded of two works: first John Steinbeck's great novel, Of Mice and Men, in which the symbiosis of Lennie and George's relationship is both painful and touching; second, Luis Cook's The Pearce Sisters, reviewed elsewhere on the blog, though not at all gruesome as is the 2007 movie. The denouement of Two Sisters is optimistic and warm as doors and windows are opened and light. at least in part, is allowed in.
Biography: Caroline Leaf is simply one of the giants of animation. She was a student at Radcliffe College, Harvard University in the late 1960s, returning there to teach animation twenty or so years later. She has worked extensively for the National Film Board of Canada, was named as second of all time animators for her The Street (also reviewed here) by the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1984 and since 2005 has been a tutor at London's National Film and Television School. Her website is http://www.carolineleaf.com/ and a copy of the DVD can be obtained by following the links there.