October 13th, 2017 – Donald Crafton

Please join us for the opening Mass Culture Workshop (2017-18) this Friday, October 13th at 11 am in Cobb 311. We are looking forward to starting with a wonderful tribute to Hannah Frank by Donald Crafton, Professor of Film, Television, and Theatre (Emeritus), University of Notre Dame. His paper is titled “Pentimenti: Painterly Traces in the Films of Georges Schwizgebel.”

Georges Schwizgebel, L’Homme sans ombre, (c) 2004 National Film Board of Canada

No paper will be pre-circulated.

Refreshments will be provided.

Look forward to seeing you.

Yours in Mass Cult,
Jenisha and Panpan


Hannah Frank, in her Ph. D. dissertation and the book that she was preparing before her untimely death, was pioneering a new way of exploring cinema by applying frame-based analysis to theatrical animation, that is, to classic Hollywood cartoons. Her efforts were aimed at breaking through the enduring familiarity of these works by revealing the micro-events, blemishes, errors and corrections that the filmmakers assumed to have been masked by the films’ passage through the projector at 24 fps. She insisted that animation was never cameraless, and that the animated image was just as indexical as any other cinematized image. Each frame is a photograph of an object in its real-world environment, whether as a mise-en-scene with humans, or puppets on a stage, or stacks of paper and cels on an animation stand. She contended that, “all animation—whether produced by a single artist, such as [Robert] Breer or [Ken] Jacobs, or at a major production studio, such as Universal or Warner Bros.—amounts to ‘single-frame cinematography.’” Quoting Eisenstein, she insisted on “a definition that ‘logically implies that animation and montage are equivalent, that they represent the same basic operation.’ And while most cartoons aim to soften the discontinuity between frames through the careful frame-by-frame reconstruction of animal and human locomotion, they sometimes deviate from that tendency—and quite radically” (dissertation, 40).

This presentation is a demonstration of and inquiry into the analytic methods proposed by Frank. The subject is Swiss filmmaker Georges Schwizgebel (b. 1944). Schwizgebel’s work lends itself to this approach, not because they are commercial, neo-Hollywoodian cartoons, but on the contrary because they are hermetic, very dense visually, and crafted in extremely fine detail. In particular, he uses thick layers of paint, called impasto, for both the figures and the backgrounds, both of which often are repainted for every exposure. When in motion, this technique creates very complicated and ambiguous relationships between figure and ground, with the moving characters seeming to battle their way through a solid atmosphere of paint. Other techniques include creating dizzying movements that simulate a camera flying over landscapes and through spaces, often marked with deep shadows. Schwizgebel also refines the classic animation technique of cycling, that is, re-photographing the drawings or cels in a series to generate rhythmic, pulsing movement. For examples of his films, see Jeu and L’Homme sans ombre.

The talk will concentrate on the filmmaker’s most recent work, The Battle of San Marco (2017). It is constructed with a spiraling-out “camera” movement that confronts the indigenous spatial issues within Paolo Ucello’s renaissance depiction of a furious battlefield. When viewed frame-by-frame, we can see the tensions between still and moving imagery, “mathematic” perspective and intuitive spatial representation, and an implicit battle between the painting’s foreground and background. Furthermore, various pentimenti, that is, traces of underlying painting, reveal surprising additions by the animator that only appear when focusing on narrow areas of the picture and watching it in slow motion. Schwizgebel’s technique also creates temporal pentimenti, as the new layers of paint pile upon the previous ones to generate what Frank might have called “discontinuities between frames” that are partly intentional, partly accidental, yet always disruptive of the smooth flow of classic animation.

Donald Crafton is the Joseph and Elizabeth Robbie Professor of Film, Television, and Theatre (Emeritus) at University of Notre Dame. He is the author of books on early French filmmaker Emile Cohl, on the transition from silent cinema to the talkies, and two landmark monographs on animation: Before Mickey: The Animated Film, 1898-1928, and Shadow of a Mouse: Performance, Belief, and World-Making in Animation. He is co-editor of The Moving Image, the journal of the Association of Moving Image Archivists.In 2001, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences named him an inaugural Academy Film Scholar.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *