On Film

Watch Me Move

For a slice of on-screen nostalgia, I strongly recommend a visit to Watch Me Move: The Animation Show at the Barbican Centre. The exhibition showcases short films and clips from feature lengths spanning the history of film, and ranging from family-friendly familiars to the experimental, to the downright disturbing!

The numerous screens and projections are the prime focus in the minimal space. Here are some of my favourite film shorts from the exhibition…

The Serpentine Dance (1899) - The Lumière Brothers

The Serpentine Dance (1899) – The Lumière Brothers

This short is one of the first films ever made. It was shot in black and white, and then hand-coloured frame by frame to create beautiful colour transitions that complement the fluidity of the dancer’s graceful movements, injecting vibrancy and spirit into the dance.

Duck Amuck (1950s)

Duck Amuck (1950s)

In this cartoon, the ill-humoured Daffy Duck is mocked by his creator, who humiliates the character by sketching unfortunate situations for him and threatening his very existence with the rubber on the end of his pencil. These actions provoke the most indignant squawks you are ever likely to hear from a duck. In the closing scene, the shot pans out to reveal that it is none other than Bugs Bunny who is responsible for Daffy’s suffering.

Le Nez (The Nose; 1963)

Le Nez (The Nose; 1963)

This film by husband and wife team Alexeieff and Parker is based on Russian writer Nikolai Gogol’s tale of a young man who loses his nose. The story of the desperate search and the need to conceal the missing facial protrusion is not quite as impressive as the animation itself; the directors used a black canvas full of pins and pushed these in to greater and lesser degrees to create changing shades of grey.

Dimensions of Dialogue (1982) - Jan Svankmajer

Dimensions of Dialogue (1982) – Jan Svankmajer

I’d unknowingly watched one of Svankmajer’s films before seeing Dimensions of Dialogue, as a good friend of mine presented me with Little Otik a few years back. This feature-length film is based on a Czech fairy tale about a tree trunk carved into the form of a baby and adopted by a family, who then struggle with the creature’s insatiable appetite for human beings. Clearly, this director has a penchant for the bizarre, and Dimensions is no exception. This short film is very clever in its portrayal of two-person interaction, and beautiful in its own way. On this note, I feel I can only do it justice by describing it in more depth.

The film begins with the confrontation of two heads: one crafted out of vegetables and one constructed from kitchenware. One devours the other and vomits out a hybrid of the two; this demented rock-paper-scissors-esque sequence continues until two bald human heads remain.

In the second ‘dialogue’, a man and woman made out of clay become intertwined and melded together in a passionate embrace. A clay sex scene ensues, in which they become one indistinguishable entity but for the odd fleeting emergence of a face, hand or other body part. After the figures have separated again, a small lump of clay appears between them. The clay baby is rejected by both and prompts them to become increasingly angry, to the point that they begin to claw chunks out of each other’s faces!

The final scene shows two heads engaging with one another through the medium of everyday objects. They start with complementary pairs, such as a pencil and pencil sharpener, or a toothbrush and toothpaste. Yet before long, the heads fall out of accord and the toothbrush is met by the sharpener, the pencil by the toothpaste, etc. The tension climaxes with the implosion of the two.


Watch Me Move has reaffirmed my belief that animation is not just, or even chiefly, for kids. The relatively boundless creativity for which it allows is great for expressing adult subject material as well as ‘Disney emotions’ (which, looking back, aren’t all that child-specific in the first place – the witch in Snow White frightens me today as much as she did when I was four). So pop along to the Barbican Centre to sample the wonderful world of animation, which seems to err between the surreal and something much closer to home.


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