(United Kingdom 1998 11min)
Director Ruth Lingford; Writer Sarah Maitland; Music Andy Cowton; Voice Acting Pablo Duarte, Mildred Lee, Corinne Strickett
by Stephen Russell-Gebbett
Although animation, colourful and free, is most attractive to young eyes it plays host to all subjects and all audiences.
There are many animators who take advantage of the association of animation with children or childlike things with disingenuous mischief. They daub their macabre designs across the page as a challenge to our preconceptions. Ruth Lingford’s Pleasures of War is a refreshing balm to these types of stunts. It is a serious work that uses rather than abuses its medium.
It comes as a great surprise that this tale of lust and a lust for war, of death and the little death, in stark black and white with strong shapes of heady primary colour, was drawn on an everyday desktop computer. Can something as potent as this have been made with tools that seem cold and detached from the artist? Absolutely.
Pleasures of War is based on the (apocryphal) Biblical story of Judith and Holofernes. Holofernes was an invading general whose forces were defeated by Judith, who seduced him and beheaded whilst in the throes of passion. As such Judith has been taken up in some quarters as an icon of aggressive, emboldened femininity, uninhibited sexually and traditionally masculine in her violent determination. She has featured in works by Gustav Klimt, Goya, Caravaggio and Michelangelo depicted with a sword in her hand and, oftentimes, a grin on her lips.
The magnetism of the tale, the fluid nature of death and sex, runs rampant in Pleasures of War. But there is more than fervour in the clanking, clashing music and the magnificent visual sense. Horror, in a boy’s wounded voice-over (“they promised us milk but there is blood in our mouths”) and suffering in ghostly footage of real wars overlaid as if erupting through its fictional skin. The compositions are fabulous. Plangent faces, melting liquid desires within dry geometric shapes, yellow standards and red arrowtips, holocausts and hollow abysses of nothingness. Judith flings a yellow cloak over her shoulders in whose folds are seen massed ranks of (almost certainly) Jews. She takes it all on her shoulders and drinks in her duty to all victims, turning yellow herself in the process.
The title, Pleasures of War, is both ironic and utterly straight. The consummation brings joy through the death of oppression. There is much pain to be overcome and much perverse pleasure in its dissolution. The conquest, in fact, leaves us with less than we had before. Freer, but not quite as alive. Though Judith thrusts Holofernes’ severed head into the sky to a tumultuous sound, a red pall blots onto the screen and those same huddled crowds are seen within. She does it for all the oppressed and the persecuted but the battle is never won.
Is this what it means to be human? Death and Sex. On repeat.
The film opens with a wheel rolling across the screen (whose rim is made of emaciated, naked bodies) and ends with another wheel. War is a cycle and the tale at the heart of Pleasures of War is another milestone on the road.
Why do children like cartoons so much? Is it the impossibilities, the colour, the exciting differences to real life, the distortions of time and space? Does it speak directly to their imagination? Ruth Lingford’s Pleasures of War speaks directly to ours. The camera stalks down corridors and circles its characters, searching for the light and getting lost in the shadows. It injects itself into our minds with all the force of centuries of intense, fiery rapture.