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Archive for the ‘Lalouxpalooza’ Category

By Bob Clark

In honor of Jean “Moebius” Giraud’s recent passing, this piece is rerun.

The wonderful thing about science fiction set in outer space is the sheer size of it all. Though the cosmos isn’t exactly as infinite as hyperbole would suggest, it’s certainly almost inconceivably vast, far too far and wide for any single traveler to circumnavigate, even with the highest of technologies and the longest of lifespans. It is also too large for any single imagination to conquer definitively– more than any other setting for speculative sagas both grounded in professional rigour and unbound in flights of fancy, the night skies of outer space have been and remain the most reliably florid landscape for enterprising storytellers to weave tales of adventure and excitement the likes of which have little earthly comparison, and unlike so many of our own terrestrial locales for such mythic spin, it’s an environment big enough for everyone to share. After a while, nearly all of the locales we tell stories in around our own provincial planet grow stale from the influence of a handful or so storytellers and artists from whose shadow even the greatest masters can never fully escape. Westerns will always carry a debt to John Ford, Noirs will always bear the tell-tale fingerprints of Lang and German Expressionism, and literary fantasy will forever carry a debt to the hallmark tomes of Tolkien and all the Arthurian tradition that came before it. But space? Ah, there’s a canvas so wide and deep it all but puts to shame even the most accomplished contributions to its legacy beyond the stars. It’s a tapestry with room enough for a diverse assembly of creators to start at whatever fringes they choose and develop their weave in full, sometimes never quite overlapping with their brethren in all but the most superficial of family resemblances.

Jules Verne can take us to the moon on page, and Kubrick to the lunar monolith, beyond Jupiter and even infinity without owing too large an IOU to the French master. George Lucas can take us through hyperspace to a galaxy far, far away and never even have to worry about paying a toll for crossing through Buck Roger’s or Flash Gordon’s territories. Hideaki Anno can send teenage-piloted robots out into the universe or world-threatening alien monstrosities down to Earth without it crossing the same tracks as Leiji Matsumoto’s express lanes. Simply put, space is a big enough territory for all of the sci-fi masters of our world or any other to share, and as such there’s a quaint charm to the idea that the myriad worlds of all these creators might be shared, in some metafictional sleight of hand. As such, one wonders where exactly the worlds of director Rene Laloux’s features would be situated in the cosmos, owing so much as they do to their respective co-writers and artistic designers. Last week’s La Planete Sauvage would not be what it is without the sketchy illustrative style of Roland Topur, and next week’s Gandahar would be hard to imagine without the crisper designs of Phillipe Caza. Of all his feature collaborations, however, none are more affected by the presence of his co-conspirator than 1982’s Les Maitres Du Temps (“Time Masters”), where celebrated French comic-book artist Jean Giraud brought his inimitable sensibilities to the big-screen and in full, living animation for the first time. Though throughout the course of this film we may criss-cross from one celestial body to the next in the breadth of the Laloux galaxy, from start to finish our feet remain firmly rooted on Planet Moebius.

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By Bob Clark

As we move into the final stretch of Rene Laloux’s creative output on film, we run into a few little snags in terms of appreciating them in available video. Though his final feature, 1988’s Gandahar, is thankfully available both in R2 DVD and in various online destinations with a helpful set of English subtitles, there doesn’t appear to be as much in the way to help those wishing to view his last shorts from around the same time, How Wang-Fo Was Saved, or The Prisoner, all three made with the assistance of his final collaborating art-designer, Phillipe Caza. In the case of the first short, we at least have the short-story from author Marguerite Yourcenar to provide a basic formula of the story, and the actions onscreen make everything pretty clear even without that assistance. An almost supernaturally talented painter in the Orient is called to the court of a stern, heartless Emperor distrustful of the power of art, who sentences him to death. The painter’s assistant, Wang-Fo, attempts to fight back against the cruel ruler and is beheaded. As a last request, the artist is allowed to paint a final landscape, to which he is magically transported, sparing him from death, to a world in which his loyal assistant remains alive and well.

For a short, it’s surprisingly well rendered, with the same full breath of fluid animation that Laloux exhibited in his previous feature, Les Maitres du Temps, and would soon put into practice in his next and final feature. Furthermore, his pairing with Caza on this film looks forward to the far more florid partnership they shared on Gandahar, and helps put some of its eccentricities into better context. As the first of the director’s films since Les Escargots to take place in some odd kind of reality (a hazy, mythographic version of Asia from the imagination of the West) and not some far-off alien planet, we get to see Laloux’s sensibilities brought back to the grounding instincts of terrestrial locales and civilizations, reigned in however slightly by the subtle limitations of representing peoples and places that have actually existed, in some shape or form. Most of all, however, it offers a beautifully personalized depiction of the director’s brand of artistry, creating whole and wholly enchanting environments out of nothing but pen, ink and subtle motion, as well as a defining mission statement on the power of art to evoke and sustain life, even in tyranny. For an animator whose work routinely explored worlds dominated by one form of dystopia after another (Fantastic Planet‘s transcendental Draags, Time Masters‘ various all-powerful political and psychic bodies), the kind of despotism on display in How Wang-Fo Was Saved is not only the most realistic of all his dictatorships, but also the most grounded in human motivations, which helps make the artist’s victory over the Emperor that much more satisfying.

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By Bob Clark

More and more nowadays, it seems as though one of the most common ways to be introduced to a great movie is by another one altogether. It’s nothing new, exactly– there’s plenty of films that famously pay homage to great works and influences past, sometimes through borrowing elements of narrative (Star Wars from The Hidden Fortress, Reservoir Dogs from City on Fire) or visual substance (For a Few Dollars More from Yojimbo, sometimes almost shot-for-shot). Occasionally, screenwriters and directors go so far as to drop the names of the films they’re pickpocketing from in dialogue directly, leaving so many pop-culture reference laden soundtracks in their wake (without which the combined works of Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarantino and Joss Whedon would be about enough to fill a Post-It note). Perhaps most interesting are the moments on film where characters get to enjoy the experience of going to the movies themselves, or in our modern media-age simply take the time out to sit down and watch one on television. Godard made the experience of sitting in an audience and watching a film a centerpiece of Vivre Sa Vie, as Anna Karina’s streetwalker tearfully attends a screening of Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc, only an hour or so before we will be forced to bear witness to her character’s equally tragic end. That moment, like the best of all moviegoing-within-a-movie moments, used a film from the past to comment on the substance of the film we ourselves are watching in the present, creating a bridge of cinematic memory for those well versed in its history, or at the very least unveiling the film for new eyes that have never heard of it before (or ears that have never seen it).

One such experience for me came in the 2000 release of Tarsem Singh’s The Cell, a rather unfairly underrated little genrebender that combined the hallucinatory alternate reality games of The Matrix with the hardcore serial-killer proceduralisms of Se7en, pitting FBI manhunters and dream-diving scientists in a race against time to rescue the last remaining kidnapped victim of a notorious murderer by delving into the nightmarish landscapes of his mind. Not a great movie, by any means, but an impressive visual smorgasbord that at the very least took wonderful advantage of the potential for a story set in a series of sci-fi dreamscapes better than the vanilla corporate-espionage of Inception ever bothered. With surreal imagery owing equal parts to music-videos (Singh’s previous calling-card) and modern artists like Damien Hirst, it’s a film that goes out of its way to impress its viewers with as much visual ingenuity as possible, but never sacrificing in the way of taut dramatic pacing (even if the screenplay itself screams of one cliche after another so well-worn you could discover oil in the footprint it leaves behind). And yet, for all its cool imagery, the film manages to upstage itself early on with a brief moment where our subliminally-adventurous heroine (a pretty, but distracting Jennifer Lopez) does some late-night channel surfing and stumbles across a broadcast of Rene Laloux’s feature debut, La Planete Sauvage, better known in English as “Fantastic Planet”.

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By Bob Clark

For the next month we’re going to see something a little different in the Saturday Anime line-up. First of all, we’re not actually going to see any anime, per-se. Granted, I’ve used this space to review other animated works that don’t technically qualify as such before, not coming from Japan in any creative capacity whatsoever. Still, somewhere in works like Peter Chung’s Aeon Flux and Firebreather or even in Lucas & Filoni’s The Clone Wars there’s a perceptible trace lineage of anime’s influence to be found, just as surely as the works of Ford or Kurosawa can be seen guiding the hands of Sergio Leone in any of his films (call them, as well as something like Avatar: The Last Airbender, “spaghetti anime”, for lack of a better term). For what I have in mind for the next four weeks, however, there can be no comparison made, as we’ll be looking at animation hailing from the other end of the globe, across another pond altogether, and corresponding to all its own sets of cultural norms and personal idiosyncrasies that, when compared to most other animated works hailing from the West or anywhere else, one could be forgiven for thinking they come from another planet altogether. They might as well, in the case of a man like Rene Laloux.

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