ponedjeljak, 3. lipnja 2013.

Raoul Servais - Taxandria (1994) & Paul Delvaux - La Rue du Tramway (1938)


Filmski igrano-animirani antiutopijski svijet (u kojem je zabranjeno vrijeme) nadahnut (oživljenim) nadrealističkim slikama Paula Delvauxa i tekstom Alaina Robbe-Grilleta.


Taxandria, or Raoul Servais meets Paul Delvaux

La Rue du Tramway (1938) by Paul Delvaux.
Taxandria (1994) is a feature-length fantasy film by Belgian animator Raoul Servais that’s received little attention outside his native country, possibly because it failed in the marketplace and has been deemed too weird or uncommercial to export. You only have to compare the export version of Harry Kümel’s Malpertuis with his original cut to see how inventive Belgian films are treated by US distributors.
Servais had previously made an acclaimed animated short, Harpya, using a combination of live actors and painted backgrounds. Taxandria elaborates on this process (called Servaisgraphy by its inventor) using settings designed by one of my favourite comic artists François Schuiten, creator (with Benoît Peeters) of Les Cités ObscuresTaxandria intrigues for a third reason, the inspiration of Surrealist master Paul Delvaux whose paintings served as the origin of the project. And it also contains a remarkable detail in the screenplay credit for Alain Robbe-Grillet, a man better known for making Last Year at Marienbad with Alain Resnais, and the kind of fierce intellectual one imagines would usually run a mile from this kind of extravagant whimsy.
From the Servais website biography:
After Harpya, another project was haunting his imagination. We know he worked with Magritte and we know how he admires surrealism in general. But the painter who for a long time had fascinated him most (and who lived next door in St. Idesbald) was Paul Delvaux. His oneiric ghost-towns populated by pale naked women, absent-minded scholars and vacant men, all dressed up, the abandoned railway-stations and trains without destination—all attracted Servais’ attention. He sets off to try out some shots inspired by Delvaux’ paintings in “Servaisgraphy” and is rather pleased with the result. Servais talks it over with the eighty-year-old painter, who accepts the idea to see his universe become part of an animation film. Servais writes a first draft of the plot, which is definitely meant to become a full-length feature film rather than a short film. Supported by a writing and pre-production grant of the Flemish Community, he goes in search of a producer, because the project turns out to be long and complex—and therefore expensive. The time Servais made a Goldframe on his own account has long gone. Since 1983, a heavy story-board tells the story of a land called Taxandria (the name actually exists: it is the name of a province of Gaulish Belgium). Taxandria is, of course, an imaginary country, much like The Nebelux in Operation X-70, one of these anti-utopias that are timeless in literature.
A lighthouse guardian leads a young prince towards an imaginary world, Taxandria, where the boy learns about the power of love and the value of liberty.
A totalitarian regime has forbidden time: time watches have been confiscated, photo cameras are illegal as they freeze a point in time. A typical Servais theme: a power is oppressed by a constraint that denies what is best in the individual, and therefore has to be twisted in various ways, to establish an entirely artificial world, that has rules that may question some of the rules of our world at this side of the mirror.
Servais’ producer wasn’t convinced that Delvaux’s paintings could support a whole film so Schuiten was brought in to develop these and reconfigure them to suit the screen, the result being a curious hybrid of both artists’ styles with Delvaux’s vertically flat tableaux mutating into Schuiten’s lofty and fantastic architecture. The drift away from the painted world evidently left Servais unsatisfied since his next film, Nocturnal Butterflies, is another short that more fully realises Delvaux’s twilight realm of large-eyed, bare-breasted women in antiquated settings.
Taxandria seems to be unavailable on DVD but Servais’ short films—including Harpya and Nocturnal Butterflies—have been collected on Raoul Servais—The Complete Collection of Short Films, a Region 2 release from Boomerang Pictures (Belgium) / Doriane Films (France).
More screenshots from Taxandria, and information about the rest of his films, at Raoul Servais’ website.

Harpya (1979)

Why Watch? Peculiar, dreamlike and perfect for a Friday. This short film won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1979, most likely after the entire jury was slipped acid tabs.
Raoul Servais‘ mustachioed story blends Belle Epoque with Vaudeville style to create the top layer of antique bliss, but the real magic comes from front projection techniques and a black velvet background. The effect is mesmerizing. Movement isn’t fluid, but it doesn’t feel as jerky as early stop-motion, so it lives in a middle ground that perpetually confuses the eye.
There’s also the fantastical nature of the tale itself — one where a man finds a bare-breasted Harpy in a fountain and takes her home only to find that she’s incredibly hungry. Partially horror and partially a surreal trip with pommes frites on the side, it’s the kind of metaphorical movie you can only watch with an eyebrow raised high.
What Will It Cost? About 8 minutes. - www.filmschoolrejects.com/


Raoul Servais (born 1 May 1928) a Belgian filmmaker. One of my favorite recent purchases is Servais' L'Intégrale des courts métrages anthology from France. In addition to the ten short films in the collection, there are also extracts from all of his remaining films (including his one feature film, Taxandria), a near feature length documentary, an interview with Servais, as well as a commentary track on Night Butterflies where he discusses his aesthetic homage to Belgian artist Paul Delvaux through his portraiture of enigmatic women wearing allusive (or elusive) masks. Stylistically evolving from avant-garde art movement inspired animation, to monochromatic, rough hewn pen and ink styled animations reminiscent of op-ed political cartoons, to his more recent films that transect the bounds of live-action and animation, Servais' films are magical, pensive, and provocative alchemy of passion, conscience, and inspired - and inspiring - creativity.

The False Note, 1963
Raoul Servais - The False Note (1966) - YouTube
Wryly subtitled as an "old twentieth century legend" fable set "in the days when some people still knew what it was to go hungry", The False Note is the dialogue-less tale of a down on his luck organ grinder whose out of tune portable barrel organ produces a cacophonous, errant false note at the end of an evocative, downbeat serenade that invariably sets the once attentive audience into a hostile and uncharitable mood. Wandering through the streets of a cosmopolitan city rife with images of consumerism, the doleful hero encounters first hand the melancholy of obsolescence, as the rudimentary music emanating from his hand-cranked barrel organ is rebuffed in favor of the novel technologies of an amplified jukebox and the mesmerizing, peripatetic lights of a pinball machine, until he finds a momentary kindred spirit in a carousel horse enshrouded with cobwebs at an abandoned carnival. Raoul Servais' impressive animation is something of a Pablo Picasso drawing study crossed with the silent expressiveness of Marcel Marceau, replete with a richness of imagery that not only juxtaposes the theme of the false note against iconic images of currency, but also the innate inhumanity of a rootless, disposable society.  
Chromophobia, 1966
Servais achieved international acclaim with his ground-breaking, anti-militarist fable on repression, perseverance, and the indomitability of the human spirit,Chromophobia, a compact, yet articulate parable of an aggressive, chromophobic army that marches into an idyllic kingdom and systematically terrorizes the population by erasing all traces of color within its periphery, until a little girl unexpectedly cultivates a lone, resilient red flower in her garden. Evoking the instinctual compositions of a more geometric Joan Miró, the film is particularly remarkable in Servais' illustration of resonant, iconic symbolism: a balloon that is converted into a ball and chain mirrors the town's spiritual captivity, the transformation of trees into gallows represents the corrupted interrelation between life and unnatural death in times of war, flowers emerging from the barrel of a rifle reflects a restoration of peace and gesture of renewed humanity.  
Sirène, 1968
  1. In hindsight, Sirène can be seen as Servais' transitional composition from his early, more conventional animated art films to the rawer, more visceral works that would define his early 1970s oeuvre. A somber, surrealist tale that fuses prehistoric and modern, reality and myth, the film revisits the double entendre of The False Note in its prefigurative sound of an emergency siren that accompanies the title sequence. Opening to a curious encounter between two competing cranes as they attempt to take possession of an unloaded crate with disastrous results, this image of primitive territoriality would subsequently be repeated (with even more horrifying consequences) in a King Solomon-styled arbitration between a medical and a zoological institution after a mermaid is found on the docks of a phantom shipyard. In contrast to the cheerful caricatures of his earlier films, the dour, ghostly images of Sirène recall the gothic figurations of Edward Gorey in its cautionary fable on the myopia of humanity in the "civilized" quest for equitable justice. 
Goldframe, 1969
Raoul Servais - Goldframe ( 1969 ) - YouTube
  1. www.youtube.com/watch?v=tREwmJpReYY

Goldframe is the first film to emerge in what would be Servais' more elemental period, a film that derives implicit irony in its deconstructed, monochromatic, pen and ink illustration of a bombastic, larger than life Hollywood studio executive who demands, at all cost, to be the first to have the technology for a 270mm film. Turning up in a projection room that is outfitted with an undersized (and self-aggrandizing) director's chair to watch, not the rushes of the latest film, but his own shadow cast by his hand-selected spotlight, the film culminates with Goldframe's empty, narcissistic mano a mano posturing challenge against his own shadow, and in the process, creates an acerbic commentary on egoism and the obsessive pursuit of one upsmanship.  
To Speak or Not to Speak, 1970
Raoul Servais - To Speak or not To Speak (1970) - YouTube
  1. www.youtube.com/watch?v=aTzdWZEG2NE

The Vietnam War undoubtedly fuels Servais' anti-militarist, anti-authoritarian sentiment in To Speak or Not to Speak, as a roving reporter asking the loaded question, "What's your opinion about the actual political situation?" serves as a springboard for a critical examination on social conformity, consumerism, and bohemianism... the questions answered with inarticulate disfluencies that quickly overrun the speaker's thought bubble, become entangled with such empty confusion that a spider web forms within it, or resort to tried and true mantras. Perhaps the most incisive - and prescient - episode in the film is the re-appearance of the reporter as an embedded war correspondent who plays it safe with fluff opinion pieces that skirt around the consequences of war before being confronted by its grim reality. Rather than obliquely addressing the social inertia and petty self-interest that enabled the protraction of war, Servais directly engages issues of censorship, political doublespeak, and the corruption of information in the dissemination of news as propaganda.  
Operation X-70, 1971
The specter of the Vietnam War - and particularly, the U.S. government's controversial use of chemical weapons - also casts a somber pall over Servais' next film,Operation X-70. The film opens with a slideshow projection of a clandestine scientific experiment (that stylistically evokes Chris Marker's La Jetée) presenting the laboratory results of a new, non-lethal chemical weapon that places the Asiatic subjects in a lethargic, euphoric state in order to "help them to rediscover their deep, religious nature". Immediately winning the endorsement of the country's gas-mask hooded religious leader (dressed in a not-too-subtle Klansman-like ensemble) who extols the virtues of X-70 as a clean weapon that doesn't kill and is, therefore, "in accordance with our Christian civilization", the chemical weapon is soon dispatched for bombardment of its Pacific targets, until an aircraft's malfunctioning navigational system sends its payload on an unexpected international course. Winner of the Jury Prize for Short Film at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival, Operation X-70 is a sobering, trenchant, and immediately relevant examination of cultural arrogance, religious fanaticism, and racism. Exposing the intrinsic inhumanity and hypocrisy of deploying "humane weapons" (such as targeted, non-civilian, collateral damage air strikes) in the waging of war, Servais boldly - and defiantly - engages the social conscience in confronting moral issues of escalating aggression, humane treatment, privilege, and righteousness.  
Pegasus, 1973

Raoul Servais - Pegasus - YouTube

  1. www.youtube.com/watch?v=elCTwU3B7Iw

Returning to the more traditionally rooted animated art films of early works such as A False Note and Chromophobia, Servais channels the rough stroke expressionism of Vincent van Gogh to create one of his most artfully rendered films, Pegasus, the tale of an aging blacksmith who whiles away his empty days trying to swat an errant fly with a forging hammer, until the appearance of industrial farm machinery in the village leads him to create a false god in the shape of an iron horse in a desperate attempt to stop the encroachment of technology. A cautionary fable on idolatry and psychological self-imprisonment, the film also represents a counterpoint to the inhumanity of technology gone amok in Operation X-70, where resistance to change, willful ignorance, and failure to adapt to new ideas become a figurative regression into the Dark Ages of self-created imprisonment, blind worship, and obsolete rituals.  
Harpya, 1979
Although Servais has explored emotional and psychological horror within a framework of exploring social conditions and the effects of war in his previous work, his first foray into the genre is with the phantasmagoric, surreal fusion of live action and animation film, Harpya, a film that was awarded the Palm d'or for Short Film at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival. Subverting the damsel in distress tale, the film follows the fate of a well-intentioned passerby who comes to the aid of a woman apparently being strangled by a man in the cover of darkness - and who, in turn, turns out to be, not a woman, but a half woman, half bird of prey mythological harpy. Devouring everything inside his home, the harpy soon imprisons him to a life of resigned servility (in a gruesome act that foretells the mutilated captivity ofBoxing Helena) until the lulling sound of a phonograph offers him a chance at escape. A radical departure from the humanist mythological fable of SirèneHarpya's psychologically dark and grotesque imagery instead shares greater thematic affinity with the autonomous shadows of Goldframe and induced chemical mutations ofOperation X-70 to create a disturbing cautionary tale on the perils of intervention and the implicit violation of natural order.   
Atraksion, 2001
On a parched and desolate landscape, a group of shackled prisoners walk in eternal limbo around a borderless prison yard until one day when an inmate spots a ray of light emanating from beyond the view of a steep and treacherous mountain and decides to climb towards its source in the naïve hope that liberation awaits at the end of the trail. Returning to the distilled, monochromatic palette of Goldframe and Operation X-70Atraksion represents Servais' introduction to digital post-processing. Adapting the allegorical flight of Icarus into a modern day metaphor for self-imprisonment (a theme that also pervades the vaguely mythological Pegasus), Servais implicitly (and incisively) embraces the virtues of new technology through the prisoners' realization of a transformative paradigm shift, to create a metaphoric, yet personal tale of re-invention, creativity, experimentation, and artistic fearlessness. - muse-thedivineart.blogspot.com/

Paul Delvaux:

Paul Delvaux’s stuff of dreams

Once you see the paintings of Paul Delvaux you are unlikely to forget them. The dreamlike mood and quaint atmosphere is unique and hypnotic. But where does the mysterious power of his art come from? The exhibition “Paul Delvaux: Dream Odyssey” at the Museum of Modern Art Saitama (MOMAS) offers some clues.
The show is on its own odyssey, touring six museums in Japan, with MOMAS as the fourth. It is also the second time at a venue close to Tokyo — last year it was at the Fuchu Art Museum on the Western outskirts of the city.
We can deduce from this that Delvaux or the particular works on this tour don’t quite merit a show at a more central and prestigious venue. This is borne out by a closer look at the work and the artist.
Although the exhibition boasts 80 works, a large proportion of these are merely sketches, doodles and studies. The finished paintings included in the show are well worth seeing, but they don’t quite seem to be his best work. And even if they were, Delvaux still wouldn’t quite merit a show at a top museum, as he falls just under “great painter” status.
Delvaux’s technique is limited; his motifs repetitive and unadventurous; and his art-historical relevance limited. He is often cited as part of the Surrealist movement, along with fellow Belgian René Magritte. On the surface this seems plausible, as one of the aspects the Surrealists were most interested in was dreaming, and there is no denying the dreamlike qualities of Delvaux’s work. But his art also lacks the experimental and exploratory dynamic of Surrealism.
Delvaux’s art is more about the ritualistic rearranging of the same limited elements: classical backdrops, doe-eyed maidens and the occasional train. In a sense he is rather like Marc Chagall. Early on, both artists discovered their artistic comfort zones, and spent the rest of their careers ensconced there.
This exhibition does a good job examining how he stumbled upon his iconic style. Early sub-realist sketches and sub-impressionist paintings reveal a tentative interest in the motifs that were later to become dominant.
An important early influence was the Greek-born Italian painter Giorgio de Chirico, who first painted surreal, neo-classical cityscapes with oddly aligned shadows; but whereas De Chirico peopled his paintings with faceless mannequins, Delvaux found a more pleasing focus in the naked damsels who sleepwalk through his paintings.
Their presence also serves to emphasize the absence of the male. It is this lack that leads us to search for it in a cod-Freudian way in the landscape, architecture and finally, and most convincingly, in the phallic symbol of the trains.

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