Who? Those who have no idea who Norman McLaren is won’t be so nonplussed after the briefest glimpse of his work.
Frequently working by drawing directly onto the film stock itself (as in Boogie Doodle), this Scottish-born wizard experimenter is the creator of an instantly recognisable style of animation, frequently set to jazz or electronic music, which now seems to define the meeting point between high and popular arts in the 1940s and 50s. Blobs splash and explode, red against pulsating yellow. Lines oscillate, coalesce, fly apart. An orange hen rotates as it vibrates against a green background, a fluid expression both of chicken-ness and of the possibilities of the line itself – “At last” as Picasso said “something new in the art of drawing”. And McLaren’s fluid style is reminiscent of Picasso, so maybe the old goat’s praise was slightly more self-serving than it at first appears.
But there’s no denying McLaren’s talent, his dedication to technique always in the service of his art. And not just drawn animation either. His stop-motion works – like 1952’s Oscar-winning short Neighbours – are virtuoso technical and artistic triumphs too. How strange that their influence in the UK for a long while has been most evident in children’s TV – from Vision On to the Chuckle Brothers. Lucky children.
© Steve Morrissey 2007
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