(France 1934 9 min)
Directors Anthony Gross, Hector Hoppin
by Stephen Russell-Gebbett
They, every inch the good time gals, bounce and sway with fresh white smiles. He, top to toe the dapper chap, pursues them. Oh no, it’s not like that at all. He just wants to give them back one of their shoes. La Joie de Vivre is a frolic, a race to the next adventure, a bike chase, a chaste romancing of life itself.
Over these nine minutes, that feel like only a couple, you get the impression that the girls don’t want to be caught because that would mean the end of the fun. When he does eventually catch up with them it is on their terms. Eventually they just flow and fall into each other’s company.
Until then, they hide behind bushes, in bushes or become bushes, their skirts morphing into voluminous voluptuous petals. It is as if the girls are at one with the world. They are able to manipulate it at will and Hoppin and Gross more than once have them play with the illusion of 3D in 2D space. They even float about a power station, zapped by lightning and captured in a flash.
In another life they would be lounging in a Bauhaus hall, advertising the Orient Express or the World’s Fair or taking part in a Fauvist, Cubist dream. For now they have complete unadulterated freedom. Maybe a freedom from Men too. This is a freedom that was very much on the contemporary political agenda, a freedom that is itself sensual and sexual : pulling levers, chugging trains and intimate tandems.
The film is both a paean to the simple joys of the old ways and a headlong rush into a new world of technology and change. It’s funny but the image that springs to mind is of salt and pepper, liberally sprinkled.
La Joie de Vivre has an alluring Deco style with crisp and smart blacks, greys and whites. Despite the flamboyant imagination of this marvellous short film it is never too much. Too much animation (hand-drawn shorts especially) is drunk on the possibilities of this malleable form, and indulges in the empty transformation of colours and shapes. These can be incontinent show-reels of uninhibited experimentation. They abuse the medium because they have nothing to say, only to show – show what can be done.
La Joie de Vivre is a flight of fancy and a well-dressed confection but it also makes us feel it. Maybe too it makes us want to dance, like them, for joy.
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Anthony Gross (to be CBE), Half-Hungarian British, was first and foremost an engraver and watercolour painter, and an acclaimed one. He became attracted to the work of Hector Hoppin, a wealthy American photographer, and so they went on a brief foray through the animated world similar to that of their heroines. The Fox Hunt (1936) would follow Joie de Vivre. They would both go there separate ways soon after, with Gross accompanying the D-Day landings with his sketchbook and depicting scenes of war that would be exhibited across Europe.
Taking into account these experiences and his wide range of talent, one can perhaps understand why he had quickly become disillusioned with the medium of animation.
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Joie de Vivre is a film that brings to mind what came before and what came after. In that spirit here are a couple of images that convey a flavour of the film (which is embedded below), though they are not from it.
The following are works by Anthony Gross before and after the release of La Joie de Vivre:
Finally a couple of images from the work of Anthony Gross’ grandson, also named Anthony Gross. He is an animator/ computer game maker/ sculptor. An artistic family legacy.