THE BEST OF NORMAN McLAREN SPEC D: Norman McLaren. Canada. 80 min. Friday, September 8, 4:45 PM ISABEL BADER THEATRE Rating: NNNNN Rating: NNNNN
Wow. This roundup of 11 of the best shorts by the National Film Board veteran is still jaw-droppingly impressive decades after his death.
Head of the NFB's animation unit in 1941, McLaren had a huge range. Technically, he used gloriously innovative ways to make films - in several he drew or painted directly onto the film stock, dispensing with a camera. His optical multiplication technique for his famous dance film, Pas De Deux, is still one of the most elegant and mesmerizing bits of movement on film. And some of his abstract works, like Lines - Horizontal, take experimenting with form and texture to their absolute limits.
What's most evident to a modern-day viewer is how incredibly inclusive his works remain. Many come with playful titles in a dozen or more languages, and of course his best pieces - always infused with humour - speak to anyone.
The use of music is key. The Oscar Peterson Trio's work on Begone Dull Care is like a mini-concerto or symphony, completely integrated with the visuals. And it's so cool to hear Ravi Shankar's music (not the most obvious choice) underscoring the slapstick of 1957's A Chairy Tale.
McLaren's best-known work is probably the Oscar-winning Neighbours, made more than half a century ago. How appropriate to watch this parable about the inanities of war today.
If you miss seeing these films on the big screen, the NFB has released a comprehensive seven-disc set of all McLaren's works, including his early films made in the UK and the U.S.