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GOCRITIC! Animafest Zagreb 2019

GoCritic! Shorts Review: Cinema for the Ear

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- As Animafest Zagreb does not only screen animated films, but also music videos, we covered this selection as well

Nowadays, music videos are predominantly watched on online platforms. Fortunately, Animest Zagreb pays attention to the relation between music and cinema as well, with the Cinema for the Ear programme. Since music videos can be more than just an illustration of a song, they do deserve to be shown on the big screen. But how do music and animation get along with each other?

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On the one hand, animation can be used to illustrate the lyrics of the song, either literally or in a more abstract way. Singer-songwriter Tom Rosenthal’s pop song Fenn, animated by UK's Sarina Nihei, is an example of a music video in which the animation visually reproduces the lyrics. When the lyrics “Your flight is delayed / You should learn Italian / Find a girl with a golden medallion”, we actually see the main character of the music video sitting in an airplane, arriving at an airport where an Italian flag appears. Then, a girl with a golden medallion looks out of a car´s window. The animated objects are vividly hand-drawn and set against a white background. The concept is simple, but the result is fun to watch. This is one of the more common approaches to animated music videos.

In the clip the Moth Studio (UK) produced for Focus, a melancholy piano number by the singer-songwriter Sigrid, the message of the song is represented in a more abstract way. Colourful computer-animated geometric figures floating around what at the end of the video appears to be a brain, a heart and a stomach, express the confusing state the hero is in. In an abstract way, the animation visualises the lyrics “Don't let me crawl to you, 'cause I'm not that kind of girl / I will not degrade myself even if it means that we are not a we / I don´t know what I want / I don´t know what I need”. In contrast with Fenn, the animation used in Focus doesn’t literally illustrate the lyrics, but expresses the emotions of the music very well.

Animation has another function in the videos for TATRAN’s White Lies and Richard Reed Parry’s River of Death/On the Ground. In both (mostly) instrumental songs, the technique rather provides an interpretation to the music. White Lies, a (probably computer-) animated film by Israel's Shahaf Ram,  in which pink and purple objects dominate against a white background, contains many references to consumerism, mass media and propaganda. Logos of Nike and McDonalds appear, as well as Disney’s Mickey Mouse and Dumbo, works of the famous street artist Banksy, Instagram posts and even Adolf Hitler. Considering the experimental electronic music and the title of the song, the animated music video seems to criticise the effect of mass-media on modern life.

Richard Reed Parry’s River of Death and On the Ground are both electronic indie songs with ethno overtones, illustrated by the Canadian animator Caleb Wood. Both the songs and the 10-minute animated video that accompanies them are inspired by a trip Parry made to Japan. According to the description of the song on YouTube, Parry came across a sign directing travellers to a “River of Death” while he was hiking in Japan. It is said to be a “pre-Buddhist mythological concept of a place where parents go to mourn dead children, a body of water understood to be a liminal space between life and an afterlife.” This idea is visualised via a rather dark, mysterious and gloomy computer animation. Fluorescent yellow, gelatinous objects, indicating the parents' memories of the dead children, float through an ancient mountain landscape, heading to a place where they can get together. The animation depicts the place where the memories of children who passed away can be collected and saved, although it can also be interpreted in other ways.

While the aforementioned music videos were fully animated, other video clips of the Animation for the Ear selection were a mix of this technique and live-action. In Cabadzi & Blier’s Polaroid, for example, animation is used in a very subtle way. While the video is mostly live-action, Maxime Bruneel (France) added drawn elements in the form of colourful posters hanging on the walls of buildings in the industrial environment where the video was filmed. The characters in the posters move: some dance, others smoke, fight, kiss or swim. The placards try to perk up the very grey environment where you might come back some day, as the lyrics of the hip hop song say (“Faudra bien qu’il revienne un jour”) - although is hard to imagine why anyone would want to.

Esmark’s Husby Klit is an example of how animation can be used in a more artistic way. According to the YouTube description of the video, the animation for this music video is based on “a live performance in which a modular video synthesizer generates mental spaces between floating and overwriting realities,” and was designed and produced by the German projection- and installation artist Robert Seidel. The video can be described as a moving painting, but what the black-and-white images exactly depict is not clear, nor meant to be. It could be trees shaking in the wind, waves in the sea or an erupting volcano - interpretation is up to the viewer. However, the combination of the abstract floating images and the dark repetitive electronic music does create quite a hypnotising effect.

Cinema for the Ear explored the diversity of the field of the animated music video and proves that paying special attention to this type of animation is really worth it.

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