In this darkly poetic animation, the Polish filmmaker Piotr Dumala offers a highly personal interpretation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's classic novel, Crime and Punishment. "My film is like a dream," Dumala said in 2007. "It is as if someone has read Crime and Punishment and then had a dream about it."
Dumala's version takes place only at night. The story is told expressionistically, without dialogue and with an altered flow of time. The complex and multi-layered novel is pared down to a few central characters and events: In the Russian city of Saint Petersburg, a young man named Raskolnikov lies in his dark room brooding over a bloody crime. He murders an old woman with whom he had pawned his watch. When her younger sister comes home unexpectedly, he murders her too. He confesses to a saintly young woman named Sonya. The sinister eavesdropper Svidrigailov knows of Raskolnikov's love for Sonya, and of his sins. In the end Svidrigailov takes a pistol and "goes to America" by killing himself.
Dumala completed his half-hour film of Crime and Punishment (Zbrodnia i Kara) in 2000, after three years of work. He has a unique method: He takes a white plaster panel and coats the surface with glue. He then paints over it with a dark color and lets it dry. He uses a knife and sandpaper to engrave his image, creating a hatching effect that gives it a feeling of texture. To add darkness to a light area, he adds more paint with a brush.
It's a form of "destructive animation." Each image exists only long enough to be photographed and then painted over to create a sense of movement. It's a process that sometimes makes Dumala sad. "I think sometimes when I do a drawing in my film, I want to keep it," he told Melissa Chimovitz of Animation World Network in 1997, "but I must destroy it because this is the technique I use. I must destroy every frame to put in its place another one, the next one, to have movement. This way, sometimes I think it is too much suffering, to destroy all the time what I am doing."
Here’s a good story for a cold December night: Franz Kafka’s cryptic, hallucinatory tale of “A Country Doctor.”
Written in Prague during the icy winter of 1916-1917, Kafka’s story unfolds in one long paragraph like a fevered nightmare. “I was in great perplexity,” says the narrator, an old doctor, as he sets out in a blizzard at night on an urgent but vague mission. But he can’t go anywhere. His horse, worn out by the winter, has just died and his servant girl is going door to door pleading for help. A surreal sequence of events follow.
“A Country Doctor” is permeated with the qualities John Updike found so compelling in Kafka: “a sensation of anxiety and shame whose center cannot be located and therefore cannot be placated; a sense of an infinite difficulty within things, impeding every step; a sensitivity acute beyond usefulness, as if the nervous system, flayed of its old hide of social usage and religious belief, must record every touch as pain.”
In 2007 the award-winning Japanese animator Koji Yamamura made a 21-minute film (see above) which captures some of the strangeness and beauty of Kafka’s story. It seems somehow appropriate that the dreamlike narrative has been transmuted into a form and language unknown to Kafka.
In 1999, Aleksandr Petrov won the Academy Award for Short Film (among other awards) for a film that follows the plot line of Ernest Hemingway’s classic novella, The Old Man and the Sea (1952). As noted here, Petrov’s technique involves painting pastels on glass, and he and his son painted a total of 29,000 images. Rather incredible. Above, we present the 20 minute short.
Long before Oscar Wilde became a literary celebrity for his most famous work—The Picture of Dorian Gray and plays like Salome and The Importance of Being Earnest—he was a bit of a reality star. Wilde traveled the UK and the United States (as portrayed by Stephen Fry here) as a representative of the popular philosophy of “aestheticism,” an urbane nineteenth-century movement against Victorian prudery and the dry moral calculus of utilitarianism and its associations with industrial culture. Aesthetes such as Wilde sought to elevate good taste and the pursuit of beauty alone as a guiding principle of art and life. Wilde expressed the ideas in several well-known epigrams, such as the wryly redundant, “In all unimportant matters, style, not sincerity, is the essential. In all important matters, style, not sincerity, is the essential.”
Wilde was ridiculed for the many of the same reasons he was feted—his flamboyant public persona and devotion to aestheticism, which satirists caricatured as a kind of decadent navel-gazing. But careful readers of Wilde’s diverse canon of poetry, prose, and drama will know of his critical looks at solipsism and superficiality. Some of his best works as a moralist are his children’s stories, such as the 1888 book of fairy stories The Happy Prince and Other Tales. In the title story, a prince is transformed into a glittering statue on a pedestal high above a city, where residents look up to him as an example of human perfection. But the prince, we learn, spends his time weeping in compassion for the poverty and suffering he sees below him. Made in 1974 by Canadian company Potterton Productions, and featuring the voices of British actors Christopher Plummer and Glynis Johns, the animated short film above is a faithful rendering of Wilde’s story.
In 1971, Potterton produced an earlier animated short film based on another story from the Happy Prince collection. A Christian allegory, The Selfish Giant (above) tells the tale of a cranky giant who walls off his garden to keep children out. The plight of one little boy changes the giant’s disposition. The film was nominated for an Oscar for best animated short in 1972. Potterton also produced a short film of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid,” and studio head Gerald Potterton would go on in 1981 to direct the cult stoner film Heavy Metal. An interesting irony of the Wilde animations above: both films, and a third called The Remarkable Rocket, were co-produced with Reader’s Digest, the magazine that represents the hard-headed practicality and sentimental, sexually repressive Victorian values (in American dress) that Wilde disdained.