Sunday, 17 August 2008

Wendy Tilby "Strings" (Cordes)

Sunday Classic Animation:
"Strings" (Cordes)
Wendy Tilby

Strings is the second in my Sunday Classic Animation series; it is also by a Canadian woman, Wendy Tilby. She made it in 1991, her first film for Canada's NFB. It is about strangers whose path crosses but never meaningfully communicate, despite in this scenario living directly above each other. The opening says everything. Together in the escalator they each press their allotted key, the elderly man to the second floor, the woman to the third. No words or glances are exchanged. Inside the woman's apartment is a large scale model of the Titanic and she has a neatly folded package which contains the fourth funnel. Whilst she glues the piece and sets up the new rigging she runs the bath. Downstairs the man's guests emerge from a cab. He is to host a get-together for his string quartet. He prepares a meal of five fish set out beside each other. Upstairs the lady has two goldfish. Downstairs the man's cat looks at the fish as its master lets in his guests. A drop of water, the first of quite a trickle, drops onto the fish. She luxuriates amongst the suds, he plays below until the water from above requires his attention. Together at last, still no words are spoken as he carries out repairs. It is a movie exploring separate lives that cross but remain separate, private. Apart from the sound of the musicians, there is no dialogue, only the sound effects of feet on stairs, the squirting of glue, dripping tap, taxi. Humour in its understated way abounds. A toe is dipped into the water, water is dripped down the lamp cord, the lady retains her modesty when interrupted from her bathtub. All the time the visual aspects appeal. One has close-ups of the faces, an almost imperceptible raise of the eyebrow, gentle disrobing, collapsing chandelier. Wendy's technique is to use watercolour mixed with gliscerine on glass, constantly reworking the material, advancing the animation in a fluid motion that, however time-consuming to produce, is sumptuous in its final effect. Add to this an astonishing eyes for detail, often bizarre. Take the fish on the plate. Part of the fun is seeing their fate. And will the cat get one? (It doesn't.) And the solitary cuff link left in the lady's room. What is to be its fate? And why the shoe? Such a clever title too: the parallel cables connecting the lift, the strings of the rigging, the cable of the chandelier, the strings that bind together the characters in this classy mix - bind together but remaining parallel.
Biography: Strings was nominated for an Academy Award. It was Wendy's second major film, her first Table of Contents has also been featured here and possesses a not dissimilar theme. Wendy graduated from the University of Victoria before attending the Emily Carr Institute of Art. She has taught at Concordia University in Montreal and more recently at Harvard University. Her When the Day Breaks (also featured here) with Amanda Forbis was also Oscar nominated in 1999. I should also point to her quite wonderful work for United Airlines that I covered in the Animation Blog last year.

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