Founded in 1939 under the aegis of Scotsman John Grierson
, pioneering theorist and practitioner of the documentary form, the National Film Board
was initially put in the service of war propaganda. Two years later, the addition to its ranks of Grierson's countryman Norman McLaren
would instigate the NFB's second elemental thrust: technically adventurous, audaciously whimsical animation. These two interwoven threads have permeated the Film Board's productions ever since, giving us formally innovative works that nonetheless edify. NFB films are fun, entertaining, and favor the dramatic over the didactic.
We present, drawn from the shelves of Oddball Archives, what can only pretend at a cross-section of NFB's voluminous output: explorations from the subatomic to the outer reaches of space, with a dose of human-scale drama and sheer flights of fancy.
|Pas de deux
(1968) by Norman McLaren 13 min. BW 16mm|
Set against a black ground, two graceful dancers become pure embodiments of light. Using optical superimposition, McLaren multiplies the figures, transforming live action into his own brand of kinetics. Beautifully choreographed and shot, hauntingly scored (featuring the United Folk Orchestra of Romania
), hypnotic and unforgettable.
(1968) by Eva Szasz 8 min. Color 16mm|
A fantastic, "continuous" voyage from a rowboat on the Ottawa river, upward and outward to a grand view of galactic flotsam, then back inwards through a rivulet of blood in the tip of a mosquito's proboscis, to examine an atomic nucleus. Remade a decade later by Charles
and Ray Eames
(Powers of Ten
) with narration (and its jumping-off point moved to Chicago), then again as an Imax movie (Cosmic Voyage
) with Morgan Freeman
, Cosmic Zoom
is where it all began.
(1941) by Norman McLaren 3 min. Color 16mm|
Assorted lines, blobs, hearts, and squiggles frolic and make whoopee in a mad dance of abstraction. Set to boogie music by Albert Ammons
|The Summer We Moved to Elm Street
(1967) by Patricia Watson 29 min. Color 16mm|
The suburban sunshine evoked by the title is a bright counterpoint to the reality of a 9-year old's chaotic family life. Its understated, cinematic approach to the subject of domestic dysfunction has an arthouse coming-of-age film feel, giving the underlying message heartbreaking immediacy. The naturalistic performance by the lead moppet, a Canadian distaff Antoine Doinel
, bolsters the documentary tone.
|Begone Dull Care
(1949) by Norman McLaren & Evelyn Lambart 8 min. Color 16mm|
McLaren takes a step back from figuration and says "Hello, abstract expressionism!" The Oscar Peterson Trio
provides the musical substrate according to whose moods McLaren and Lambart paint and scratch onto film a roiling display of corpuscular emotion. May dull care ne'er return.
(1960) by Roman Kroitor & Colin Low 29 min. BW 16mm|
The science may be rudimentary and out-of-date in spots, but the expressionistic style makes this "Astro-Noir" a timeless ride through the solar system. With its exuberantly portentous narration, one can only imagine what '60's third graders thought of the invitation to imagine themselves as Gods. The breathtaking cosmic vistas, simulated by NFB B-unit visionary Colin Low a year before man even set foot in space, would prove a major influence on the visuals of Stanley Kubrick