“The Event” (dir. Julia Pott, 2012, 3:10)
British animator Julia Pott has become a staple of film festivals over the past several years, garnering attention and awards for shorts like “My First Crush” and “Howard,” which use lumpy humanoid animals to enact real-life stories of romance, from the giddy feelings of first love to the way love can fade into exhaustion. For “The Event”—commissioned by the UK’s Channel 4, and included in this year’s Sundance Film Festival program—Pott adapts a Tom Chivers poem that tells the story of the end of the world backward, through the eyes of a couple dealing with the apocalyptic minutiae. “The Event” layers live-action backgrounds with Pott’s usual critters, and occasionally adds documentary-like jitter to the image, adding to the atmosphere of panic and mayhem. Throughout, Pott plays up the nightmarishness that Chivers only alludes to, turning mundane activities like parking cars and going shopping into journeys through a collapsing hellscape.
Yet “The Event” is also anchored by the human connection that defined Pott’s first films, which all express a remarkable maturity for someone who just graduated from The Royal College Of Art in 2011. In just over three minutes in “The Event,” Pott turns Chivers’ sparse text into the story of two people who are keeping their personal universe alive by clinging to each other, while realizing that it’s only a matter of time before they experience a loss even more devastating than the destruction of property. Though Pott didn’t supply the words, “The Event” functions well as a companion piece to her extraordinary “Belly,” another surreal short about how the bonds between people can be strong enough to strangle.
“The Very Eye Of Night” (dir. Maya Deren, 1958, 15:02)
The Ukraine-born Maya Deren was nurtured in the Greenwich Village art scene of the 1940s, but found her voice as an artist when she moved to Los Angeles, where she combined her interests in photography, modern dance, mythology, and cultural anthropology into experimental films that helped redefine what cinema could be. Fifteen years after Deren made her pioneering 1943 avant-garde short “Meshes Of The Afternoon,” she collaborated with modern-dance choreographer Anthony Tudor and her own future husband, composer Teiji Ito, on “The Very Eye Of Night,” an exercise in translating the artistry of dance to cinema without merely pointing a camera at a stage. Beginning with an animation of yang swallowing yin—resembling the closing of an eyelid—“The Very Eye Of Night” shows Tudor’s troupe dancing as negatively exposed images, superimposed over a starry backdrop.
The opening credits identify the dancers as the names of ancient gods and constellations, but whereas Deren’s better-known films invited interpretation through their heavy use of symbolism, the lesser-heralded “Eye” is far more abstract, mostly reveling in motion for motion’s sake. The short took Deren years to complete and release, and after its first première, she was quoted as saying, “There truly seems no place to go from here.” Deren started other projects after “The Very Eye Of Night,” but finished none before she died in 1961 of a brain hemorrhage, at age 44. And while other filmmakers—narrative and non-narrative alike—later developed some of Deren’s ideas to even greater effect, it’s still impressive to see the way Deren abandons the usual vertical and horizontal moorings of the motion-picture frame here, and instead tries to match the grace of Tudor’s dancers by sending them spinning through the sky.