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Film Scratches: Channeling Visions Through Machinery – Robot Pavlov Sputnik (2014)

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Film Scratches focuses on the world of experimental and avant-garde film, especially as practiced by individual artists. It features a mixture of reviews, interviews, and essays.

A Review by David Finkelstein.

Robot Pavlov Sputnik is a complex and gorgeous eight-minute animation by Oliver Hockenhull. The video derives inspiration (and a main layer of its imagery) from Norman McLaren’s 1971 film Synchromy, an early landmark experiment in simultaneously generating music and geometric animated forms electronically. Hockenhull combines McLaren’s film with a 1950s film about robots, a film about Pavlov, and animated versions of the Sputnik launch, as well as his own original footage. Lisa Walker’s beautiful score combines the tribal feeling of wooden flutes and percussion with sputtering, mysterious electronica.

RobotPavlovSideThe result is a deliciously rich and varied landscape of colors and forms, with stripes of soft pastel lavenders and blues, rich reds and yellows, and rapidly changing forms of rounded rectangles, circles, and floating spheres. At many times, the video has the look of a beautiful gouache painting on textured wood. At other times, it is if Klee and Kandinsky joined forces to animate their paintings at dizzying speed.

Hockenhull writes that he used data from the images and sounds of the McLaren film to generate some of the rhythms and colors in the film, and the robot, Sputnik, and Pavlov imagery all speak to the danger as well as the power of automated, machine-driven action. Synchromy was an attempt to electronically join sound and image in a simple way that was innovative for its time. In Hockenhull’s homage, sound and images influence each other in a much more sophisticated manner, using interwoven and strange loops. Machines become a device for channeling remarkable visions.

David Finkelstein is a filmmaker, musician, and critic. For more information on Film Scratches, or to submit an experimental film for review, contact lakeivan@earthlink.net.

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