Boss Bitch

I have been thinking about ideas for my final film. The key idea I have is centered around a homosexual relationship. So I’ve been looking at animation that works with LGBT and gender positive themes. I came across the work of Winona Regan and the film she made for Super Deluxe called “Boss Bitch”.

This piece functions as a music video for PTAF’s song ‘Boss Ass Bitch’. In my opinion is emblematic of Fourth-wave feminist work, with strong pop culture references, a rich colour palette, and a clear vocalization of the fight against discrimination and for representation in the workplace.

I believe the establishment of the internet has a lot to do with what this work says and how this video has disseminated “Many commentators argue that the internet itself has enabled a shift from ‘third-wave’ to ‘fourth-wave’ feminism. What is certain is that the internet has created a ‘call-out’ culture, in which sexism or misogyny can be ‘called out’ and challenged.”

What I enjoy seeing in this piece is the diversity in the women represented. “One of the key issues for contemporary feminism is intersectionality – the  idea that different axes of oppression intersect, producing complex and often contradictory results.” You see women of colour and varying age groups, as mothers and as professional women in this animation. “the experiences of working-class black and white women in the US are insurmountably different – yet each belongs to the category ‘woman’.”

'FEMINISM: A FOURTH WAVE?', Insight Plus, Available at: https://www.psa.ac.uk/insight-plus/feminism-fourth-wave (Accessed: 14 November 2018).

Rikki Tikki Tavi

I recently rewatched Rikki Tikki Tavi (1975) based on the original short story by Rudyard Kipling as part of the Jungle Book series (1894) and it made me think about how and what we choose the animate.

Although Chuck Jones is a masterful animator, this is something I cannot deny, and his work on the Mongoose must be commended and enjoyed, I find it curious his decision to adapt a story. Kipling is a contentious figure at best, and his abhorrent colonialist attitudes even for his time have long been argued and debated about. And given that there is no shortage of writers in the English language that have or are accomplished storytellers, or masterful writers from India that write in English no less. I find it strange that Jones chooses to dig up old wounds. The animation team attempts to bypass this by erasing all Indigenous people from the animation, similar to what Madagascar (2005) or The Lion King (1994) chooses to do. Choosing instead to divorce the story from its time and place in all but the title and initial shots and the credits, using Indian-esk music in the background to build suspense.

Rotoscoped

I have been curious about Rotoscoping, a labour intensive but often underestimated process. This technique was created by Max Fleischer in 1912 using a machine that served as a projector that screened a film with real actors doing what the artist needed for the animation, they were traced frame by frame over celluloid resulting in a more fluid and realistic result. This would be later used in Disney’s Snow White, Superman and the music video “Take on Me” by A-HA (The single wasn’t a success until it was released along with the video).

For this post, I looked at Jason Archer’s work, as an example of what rotoscoping can achieve in a music video. Archer is a director and animator best known for his work in “A Scanner Darkly” an adaptation of Philip K Dick book, featuring a star-studded cast, namely Keanu Reeves,  Robert Downey, Jr., and Woody Harrelson. A ‘Grand Theft Auto’ aesthetic and a frustrated Director creates an interesting confluence. The animators use Rotoshop, a vector software that interpolates the in-betweens automatically.

Archer being Texan has a pronounced hispanic influence and has been criticized for the political opinions he expresses through his work and murals. This drew the attention of Molotov, a Mexican band, who hired him to create the music video for “Frijolero” a song that is, ironically, against the United States. This video earned him a Grammy and an MTV Video of the Year Award and was a great success in Latin America.
 

The animation is objectively really crude and simple. He implements a blocky colour scheme and is more about the content of the lyrics and expressing an idea than about having very detailed movement. Everything is bold, sexualised and strongly suggests sympathy towards immigrants crossing the border.
Although personally, I don’t really like the style I enjoy the symbolism behind the simplistic design. The colours are suggestive of political parties, the stencil look mirrors the Mexican police with its bottle green branding (In the past they would wear green and, then they would GO away or the cream palette that would resemble the uniform they use nowadays), often called Gringos.
 
I will attempt Rotoscoping in the future because it will help me understand camera angles and I find it interesting as a Graphic Designer.
 
La Franco, Robert (2006). "Trouble in Toontown". Wired magazine. Archived from https://web.archive.org/web/20081027181824/http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.03/scanner.html, on October 27, 2008. Retrieved July 31, 2007.

"A Scanner Darkly Production Notes". MovieGrande. 2006. Archived from the original on February 14, 2012. Retrieved 4 November 2013.  

Torres, Natalia (2013). "Molotov, la bomba loca" [Molotov, the crazy bomb].  

Adaptation of Art

While visiting home over the summer I had the fortune of taking part in a two day workshop by a traditional Patachitra artist. Patachitra is a traditional folk art form from West Bengal, India.

Patachitra Workshop Results

This has helped set of a series of events for me in looking at how an art form can be adapted to tell a story. Tara books is a publishing house in India that is know for employing folk artists and asking them to use their art form to tell modern stories. The most well known of these is ‘The London Jungle Book’ by Bhajju Shyam (2004), where the traditional Gond artist was brought to London and asked to interpret the city through his art.

Page from The London Jungle Book (2004)

Similarly Patachitra art has been adapted in ‘I see the promised land’ (2010) that uses the art form to tell the story of Dr King and the civil rights movement in the United States.

Cover of I see the Promised Land (2004)

‘Abuela Grillo’ and Capitalism

Abuela Grillo is a thoughtful tale about water privatisation and environmental exploitation in Bolivia. Alluding to the water wars in Cochabamba in 2000, it tells the story of “Grandmother Grasshopper” who can bring relieving rain to the arid mountains of the Andes by singing rain hymns in a typical cutesy combination of Quechua and Spanish:

“Ch’illchimullaypuni, ch’illchi paritay
Siempre tienes que llover, suave lluviecita
Yaku, yaku, yakituy, agua, agua, mi agüita”
(You always have to rain, soft rain, my little water…)

 

However, one day Abuela Grillo sang so much that her whole village is flooded. Angry about the chaos, her grandchildren ask her to leave her village. And so she wanders through the mountains to La Paz, passing dreamy landscapes, windy roads that remind one of Bolivia’s notorious “Carratera de la Muerte” (Death Road) and a llama with its llama headed shepherd. the big sinister city, where two villains force her to sing for them so that they can bottle and sell the water that she generates. Meanwhile, her grandchildren realise that the heatwave that hits their land has been caused by their grandmother’s absence and set out to look for Abuela Grillo to bring back fertility.

The Cochabamba water wars, also narrated more directly in the 2010 drama “También la Lluvia” (Even the rain) by Icíar Bollaín[1], took place in 2000 when peaceful protest against water privatisation turned violent and eventually to the reversal of the privatisation. This animated short-film, based on a autochthonous tale of the Ayoreo community,[2] touches on the topic in an emotional and unconventional way.

The short is a collaboration between eight young Bolivian animators and the Animation Workshop of Denmark, one of Europe’s most important and influential animation schools. The soundtrack was composed and performed by Ludmila Carpio, a well-known Bolivian singer.

[1] https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1422032/

[2] http://www.theclinic.cl/2013/10/24/corto-en-su-casa-la-abuela-grillo/

Understanding ‘The Problem with Apu’ Through My Own Experiences

I recently heard about the controversy surrounding the TruTV documentary ‘The Problem with Apu’ that berates animated character from ‘The Simpsons’ cartoon series. I am here to chime into the growing chorus of voices. I see two problems with the character that I will talk about from my personal perspective, firstly the lack of South-Asian representation in western media and secondly my own experiences with traveling to a new place and why this is not represented with Apu.

Firstly like any good reaction to a case of cultural appropriation I should divulge my personal history and background. I am South Asian, having grown up primarily in New Delhi, India. Fathered by primarily Punjabi parents with a religious lineage that mixes Hinduism, Sikhism, Sufism and Buddhism. Yes I know that’s far too many religions, but this comes with how progressive Indians treat religion nowadays, like sticking your hand into a jar of m&ms and picking and choosing the flavours that work for you. I am decidedly agnostic or sometimes atheist. I’d consider myself in the upper middle income group in my country, although my grandparents spent most of their lives in poverty after arriving in India from what became Pakistan during the partition of the subcontinent.

I am telling you all this because the experience of being South Asian is as diverse as can be expected from a fourth of humanity and I cannot claim to speak for all of them as much as you cannot have someone speak definitively for Estonians, Greeks, French, Americans and Argentinian people collectively. Therein lies the problem with Apu.

Growing up in the 90s and the early naughts in India I had the choice of Bollywood, Tollywood, the various regional cinemas, the plethora of Indian channels and K-serials to look for representation. And then with western shows there was only one representation that was definitely known, Apu. To find out that the name comes from ‘The Apu Trilogy’ by Satyajit Ray, a masterwork of poignant filmmaking and a symbol of pride for many Indians, is an awkward feeling.

The lack of representation was something I only came to terms with when visiting the bridge over the river Kwai in Thailand. Having a father that loves war films I was well aware of the American Oscar winning film about the building of the bridge. What was news to me was that most of the people that died in the building of the Kwai bridge and the Burmese railroad were Tamil and Malay bonded labourers and POWs. Then the realisation that British India sent a million people to fight in the First World War and nearly two million in the second, the first decisive victory for the allies being at the hands of South Asian troops, they fought in the battle of the Somme and at Dunkirk and yet we don’t see a single well known world war film that shows troops from the subcontinent.

The lack of representation of people of color in Hollywood as a whole has been a hotly contested topic in the last few years. The #OscarSoWhite campaign highlighted the lack of representation of African-Americans in the country’s premier film awards. The American live-action adaptation and subsequent white-washing of the Japanese Anime ‘Ghost in the Shell’ has garnered considerable backlash. Similarly ‘The Problem with Apu’ points out the number of South-Asian Americans that are visible in the media is growing but is still only a handful.

I will now talk about my own experiences with being an immigrant. I have spent a significant portion of the last few years shuffling between India, the United States and Europe and that has meant contending with how different shifting societies see me.

On the one-side there is the middle-class bubble that I have grown up in, and although this is expanding it still makes up a sliver of the region’s population. India only really started to develop a middle-class in the 80s and early 90s as the country started liberalizing and shook off its protectionist policies. This Nouveau riche is frugal and contained, not yet ready to share in its spoils with those below them. Now the rising wave of religious nationalism threatens to engulf the country. I am diametrically opposed to this having grown up in (possibly the last generation) of Nehruvian secularism. These forces for me have meant managing expectations, nudging the relationships I want to keep from home to be more progressive or cutting people out if I think the exercise is futile.

Then there are the lands I find myself in that are dealing with their own waves of nationalism and search for identity. That has meant being ok with being sent to the back room and questioned excessively at airports, or being told to ‘go back to my country’ by strangers on the streets in New York or London, or more subtle things like people avoiding sitting next to you in the subway or tube. I am a brown guy with a beard after all.

Although I cannot claim to grasp the varied experiences of first generation immigrants traveling from ‘east’ to ‘west’, I can imagine what that might be like from my own. The graphic novel ‘The Arrival’ by Shaun Tan in my opinion best encapsulates the struggle for belonging many immigrants contend with. I grew up watching the Simpsons in the 90s and loved it, but I don’t think it or Apu are an appropriate medium to capture this experience.

The way you look at me, through your male gaze?

“Come mi guardi tu” (The way you look at me) is a dreamy,  tranquil love song by the Italian indie rock band Tre Allegri Ragazzi Morti (Three cheerful dead boys). As many of their songs, it has been accompanied by an animated music video by Michele Bernardi, who has directed and illustrated various clips for bands from the Italian indie scene.

In “Come mi guardi tu”, Tre Allegri Ragazzi Morti’s lead singer Davide Toffolo sings about the love and comfort he feels when being with his partner:

“Come mi baci tu
Non lo fa nessuna
Che sia sotto il sole o sotto la luna
Come mi abbracci tu
Non l’ha mai fatto nessuna
Come m’hai visto tu
Non m’ha mai visto nessuna”

(The way you kiss me
Nobody else has kissed me before
Whether under the sun or beneath the moon
The way you hug me
Nobody else has ever hugged me
The way you looked at me
Nobody else has ever looked at me)

The way the animator looks at the female protagonist is less unique, though. In fact, Bernardi’s animation at first sight seems to be yet another example of the “male gaze”, a visual representation that depicts women as an object of heterosexual male desire. This key concept of feminist film theory was introduced by scholar and filmmaker Laura Mulvey in her 1975 essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”.

During the beginning of the music video, the woman is shown belly dancing in the deep sea surrounded by floating, glowing jellyfish. We then see the protagonist riding a motorcycle through urban landscapes and forests to an abandoned beach where she takes off her clothes and jumps into the water. She dives deeper and deeper, again surrounded by glowing jellyfish, until we see her naked body tucked together in a fetal position in the womb of a giant jellyfish with glaring purple eyes.

Though somewhat objectified one should also consider that the protagonist is portrayed as an independent, determined woman as we follow her on her surrealistic journey to the deep sea.  Besides, she is confidently riding a motorcycle—a stereotypical male object.

Nonetheless, it would be interesting to see how a female animator would have illustrated the scene or how Bernardi would have interpreted the song if the admired protagonist had been male.

http://theslideprojector.com/pdffiles/art6/visualpleasureandnarrativecinema.pdf

‘Isle of Dogs’ and Orientalism

I recently attended the ‘Isle of Dogs’ premiere here in London with a Q&A by some of the animators that worked on the film here at the 3 Mills studio and also went to see some of the puppets on display at an exhibition.

Although, I have for the most part had a great love for Wes Anderson’s work and ‘Isle of Dogs’ was seamlessly animated and executed I had a familiar feeling when talking to my Japanese classmate I had seen the film with about what she thought about it. She mentioned how the main protagonist’s Japanese was virtually unintelligible for her and that she didn’t know how she felt about the film as she didn’t relate to any of it.

The reduction and exoticisation of non western cultures is nothing new. This was a by product of colonialism as European societies expanded out and attempted to find means for justify their occupation of the Americas, Africa or Asia. With India as arriving colonists discovered that North Indian languages had deep rooted connections to their own, they were met with a conundrum. How could these ‘uncivilized’ people be the same as us? It presented a roadblock to the process of ‘other-ing’ and so the Aryan invasion theory was developed. This eventually became the flawed dogma behind Hitler and the second world war. Jain symbol of the Swastic appropriated so far out of context that it cannot be connected to its original meaning today.

With Japanese society much of its relationship to the ‘West’ was formed by the Second World War. The legacy of allied war propaganda was inexerably wrapped in with animation in its formative years. Although many racist ideas have eroded over time, many others became cannon.

Over time western interpretations of the ‘East’ have become simplistic stereotypes. The poor and savage Indians can be seen in the ‘Jungle Book’, the blood thirsty Middle-east can be seen in ‘Arabian Nights’ and the exotic and strange orient can be seen in ‘Isle of Dogs’.

Also, the ‘white-savior complex’ is alive and well in ‘Isle of Dogs’, where a white supporting character who in the end is key to stepping in and saving the day, leaving the protagonist to stand on the side and look on. This would not be a strange element in the film’s narrative were it not a theme that shows up again and again in western film history.

I would have hoped for a more nuanced story and characters from one of the most revered filmmakers of our time but was unfortunately left wanting.

55 years of Mainzelmännchen

Since the lauch of the Second German Television (Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen – ZDF) in 1963, the Mainzelmännchen have appeared daily on German TV screens. Up until today, they have starred in more than 55,000 (!) episodes, each between 3–6 seconds long.

The Mainzelmännchen, which take their name from the channel’s headquarters in Mainz and the Heinzelmännchen tale about little house gnomes that do all the work of others during the night, appear at the beginning of TV ads as a law requires .

Over time they developed into six distinct characters: the lazy Anton, the industrious Berti (green shirt), the musical Conni (blue cap), the clever Det (glasses), the mischievous Edi and the athletic Fritzchen. Given that they have been on air since the early 1960s, the characters also saw a series of makeovers. While their initially melon-shaped heads that reminded me of a teenage version of Stewie Griffin from Family Guy have become rounder and rounder, they have kept their distinct hats. They seem to occupy a similar place in German society as the Cabbage Patch Kids did in the United States. Given that they have lasted for so long they have come to reflect the aspirations of each successive generation in Germany. I’m curious to see if and how the characters will develop further in the future and if they will continue to be drawn by hand as they still are today.

https://www.zdf.de/mainzelmaennchen/50-jahre-mainzelmaennchen-im-zdf-104.html

http://www.spiegel.de/kultur/tv/zdf-mainzelmaennchen-erfinder-wolf-gerlach-ist-gestorben-a-866813.html

http://germangirlinamerica.com/cartoon-men-on-german-tv/

Expressions and Eggs

Danger & Eggs

On the heels of finishing the facial animation exercise I came across a series on amazon called ‘Danger and Eggs’. The show follows two protagonists, the hyperactive daughter of a local daredevil and a overly careful giant anthropomorphic egg. Their opposite personalities bring them naturally into conflict, through which their friendship endures.

Philip's Expressions
Philip’s Expressions

What sold this show for me was the unique expressions of Philip the egg. The character’s simple design is brought to life by his expressions. The big white shell of Philip becomes a canvas where his entire face shrinks and grows. In a subtler way these are almost reminiscent of ‘The Ren and Stimpy Show’, although this show pushed the boundaries of what is air-able on television a lot more and played more with body gestures and composition. You can tell that Danger and Eggs is made on a far more modest budget and made to be far more pallettable by larger audiences, in contrast the Ren and Stimpy masterpiece ‘Ren’s Invention’ took a year to produce. (Komorowski, 2013)

The show is still promising and its main characters are memorable, that I believe it is worth a watch.

  • Komorowski, T. (2013). Sick little monkeys: the unauthorized Ren & Stimpy Story. Albany, GA: BearManor Media.