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Norman McLaren: The Master's Edition

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McLaren BoxCelebrating its 65th anniversary, the National Film Board Of
Canada (NFB)
has centered its celebrations on its main figure, Norman McLaren, with the edtition of his complete works in a pack comprised of 7 DVDs and a booklet. Keep reading...

Introduction

 

It isn't at all strange that the NFB has chosen its 65th anniversary to be the McLaren Year. NFB's and Norman McLaren's history have been completely related since its begginingsJohn Grierson. McLaren came to the call of documentarian John Grierson, for whom he had worked previously at the General Post Office Film Unit, to join him at the newly formed NFB. Soon after his incorporation , Grierson asked McLaren the formation of an animation unit, which would be formed in later years by Evelyn Lambart (1942), Jean-Paul Ladouceur (1942), René Jodoin (1943), Grant Munro (1944) and Robert Verrall (1945). Until his death in 1987 McLaren remained at the NFB as its main figure in animation. You may find more details about the McLaren Year's activities here .

McLaren was born in Scotland in 1914. He initiated his art studies at the Glasgow School of FIne Arts in 1932. There he began to get interested in cinema, and through the Glasgow Film Society he discovered the works of  Eisenstein and Pudovkin, whose editing techniques are recognizable in his first works, and then Oskar Fischinger. The first two works of McLaren , Seven Till Five (1933) and Camera makes Whoopee (1935) are very formalist. It is wothyof note the second one, in which McLaren makes already use, although briefly, of animation and even pixilation, a technique that he would develop later.

Camera makes Whoopee

Camera makes Whoopee

I was through the Scottish Amateur FIlm Festival, in which McLaren won the Best FIlm Award for Colour Cocktail (1935), that McLaren got to know Grierson, who was a member of the jury. Grierson invited McLaren to join the GPO Film Unit in which he made educational movies as Book Bargain or News for the Navy. In the GPO he worked and learned with Alberto Cavalcanti and Evelyn Cherry, although the influence of these in his work is almost zero. The most significant movie of McLaren in this period i is Love on the wing (1938), an abstract animation heavily influenced by Emile Cohl.

Love on the wing

Love on the wing

In 1936, McLaren travels to Madrid as cameraman of Ivor Montagu during his shooting of Defence of Madrid.  The horrors of war that he saw  and the warlike prevailing ambience, impelled him in 1939 to emigrate to New York. McLaren in New York survives with difficulty, making sporadic works here and there. Two of his principal films of this period, Dots and Loops (1940) and in which he makes both  the animation and the sound drawing directly on the film, are made to be sold to the Guggenheim museum. He makes also in this period Stars and stripes and Boogie Doodle, that were published later by the NFB.

Boogie Doodle

Boogie Doodle

In 1941 he receives a telephone call from John Grierson asking him to meet at his hotel. There Grierson speaks to him about his work at the NFB (at that time National Film Council) and invites him to join. The rest is history...

{mospagebreak title=Contents & Analysis}

Pack Contents

Norman McLaren: The Master's Edition (or L'Integrale in its french version) contains seven dual layer DVDs in individual digipack boxes (made of carton, not plastic), plus a bilingual booklet (english & french). The seven digipacks and th booklet come in a hard carton serigraphed box.

Norman McLaren: The Master's Edition

Norman McLaren: The Master's Edition

It's evident the care that the NFB has put in the edition of NMTME. Every digipack has its individual cover, and opens in a triptych with the table of contents in English and French and the DVD, also illustrated individually. The DVDs are in NTSC format and are region free, so they can be played in the majority of medium class players. A PAL edition has not been announced and it is not likely that we'll see one.

DVD menu

DVD menu

Every DVD has a main section, " Films ", that has all the official works of McLaren contained in the DVD, and another one, " Themes ", which is subdvided according to the thematic studies included in every DVD. Every subsection is preceded of a small documentary about 3 minutes length on the highlighted topic, and contains all the films, tests, unfinished works and documentaries related to the topic. Only through the thematic sections we will have access to the extra content, so that is the recommended option to enjoy every DVD. As the films of McLaren fall in several thematic sections, they appear several times through the DVDs.

Hell unlimited

Hell unlimited

Every segment is preceded of a menu in which there are technical notes on the film (year , length and techniques used), comments by McLaren and sometimes audio fragments from interviews.

The booklet, in english and french, contains an essay of Donald McWilliams, the director of Creative Process (not included in this edition but that it is in Norman McLaren The Collector's Edition) and consultant of NMTME. There is also, a complete folmography and a guide to the DVDs' contents, alphabetically organized and by subject

Begone Dull Care

Begone Dull Care

However, one of the first things you'll notice (and that you can see in this article's screen captures) is the underscan or lesser resolution, with the inevitable window-boxing. According to Masters of Cinema , it must be an attempt of compensating the tendency of certain TV sets to overscan the image. For example, in this reviewer's Sony Bravia, the "optimized" mode eliminates the upper and lower black bars almost completely. But we have as a result the films at a lower resolution than standard.

A phantasy on a nineteenth century painting

A phantasy on a nineteenth century painting

Data

Release date June 5th 2006
Contents 7 DVDs DL Digipack and booklet
Distribution Les films du Paradoxe / NFB
Region 0 (Region free)
Format NTSC
Video 4:3
Audio Dolby Digital 5:1
Colour Colour & B/W
Subtitles English & French
Length 420 min.

Conclusion

The edition of the complete works of McLaren is exemplary. The care put in the restoration of every film, and that it is possible to see not only in the documentary about the restoration process included in the last DVD but simply comparing the images included in the other documentaries with the films in the DVDs is impressive. It has a small defect, though, and it is the films' underscan (not present in the documentaries) that will affect you dependind on the video equipment you posess. Nonetheless, this is without doubt the definitive edition we were waiting for and for an affordable price. An A for the NFB.

 

{mospagebreak title=Appendix A: Content details}

Appendix A : Content details

 

DVD 1

DVD 1 Beginnings
7 till 5 (m)
Camera makes whoopee (m)
Book bargain
Mony a pickle (c)
News for the Navy
The obedient flame
Love on the wing

McLaren and space
Blinkity Blank
C'est l'aviron
Window on Canada no.29 excerpt 1 (a)
Spheres (c)
The corridor (u)
Barrell zoom (t/m)
Love on the wing

Painting with light
La poulette grise
La poulette grise - test (t/m)
Là-haut sur ces montagnes
Là-haut sur ces montagnes - test (t/m)
Window on Canada no.29 excerpt 2 (a)
McLaren at play (t/m)
Out-of-focus cloudscape (t/m)
Spheres (c)
A phantasy
A little phantasy on a nineteenth century painting
Blurr test (t/m)
Blinkity blank
The flicker film (u)
The seasons (u)
Little negro (u/m)
C'est l'aviron

 

DVD 2

DVD 2 The art of motion
Begone dull care
Blinkity blank
Lines horizontal
Lines vertical
Mosaic
The making of Mosaic (t/m)
Boogie doodle
Short and suite
Serenal
Doors (u/m)
Hen hop
Fiddle-de-dee
Dots
Hoppity Hop
Loops
Mail early
Mail early for Christmas
Chaplin test (t/m)
NBC Valentine greeting
New York lightboard (m)
New York lightboard record (m)
Stars and stripes
Birdlings (t/m)

Evelyn Lambart
Begone dull care
Le merle
Lines horizontal
Lines vertical
Mosaic

Surrealism
The head test (u)
A little phantasy on a nineteenth century painting
A phantasy
Tanguy landscape test (t)
Surrealistic hand drawing (u/m)
Pen drawings (t/m)
Blinkity blank
Serenal
The hypnosis film (t/m)
Begone dull care
Mail Early
Hen hop
Boogie doodle
Fiddle-de-dee
Dots
Hoppity Hop
Loops
Stars and stripes
NBC Valentine greeting
Short and suite

Maurice Blackburn
A phantasy
Blinkity Blank
Lines vertical
La poulette grise

 

DVD 3

DVD 3 Dance
Spook sport (c)
July 4th 1941 (a/m)
On the farm (t/m)
Neighbours
Two bagatelles
A chairy tale
Bounce film (t/m)
Six and seven-eights (u)
Norman McLaren's opening speech
Canon
Canon test (t/m)
Christmas cracker (c)
Polychrome fantasy (m)
Pas de deux
Pas de deux test (t/m)
Ballet adagio
Narcissus
Narcissus test (t/m)

Vincent Warren
Pas de deux
Narcissus
Narcissus test (t/m)
Pas de deux test (t/m)

Grant Munro
Neighbours
Two bagatelles
On the farm (t/m)
Six and seven-eights (u)
Canon
Canon test (t/m)
Christmas cracker (c)
Christmas cracker - Norman McLaren's contribution (t/c/m)

 

DVD 4

DVD 4 War and peace
Has anybody seen Canada? A history of canadian movies 1939-1953 Outtakes (t/a)
Hell unlimited (c/m)
Snakes (u/m)
The wook (c)
Keep your mouth shut
V for victory
5 for 4
Dollar dance
Neighbours
A chairy tale
A chairy tale alternate ending (t)
A chairy tale tests and aouttakes (t/m)
Window on Canada no 29 exceprt 3 (a)

 

DVD 5

DVD 5 The animator as musician
Synchromy
Test a for Synchromy (t)
Test b for Synchromy (t)
WOrkshop experiments in animated studio (t)
Loops
Neighbours
Blinkity blank
Le merle rehearses (u)
Scherzo
Canon
Pen point percussion (a)
Animated sound test (t)
Korean Alphabet (c)
Synthetic music experiments (t)

Animated motion
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

 

DVD 6

DVD 6 Paper cut-outs
Le merle
Le merle tests and outtakes (t/m)
Dans un petit bois (u)
Rythmetic
1-2-3 (u/m)
Alouette
Le perdriole (u/m)
Spheres (c)

René Jodoin
Alouette
Spheres (c)
A summer day in Ottawa in 1949... (t/m)

About McLaren
Experimental film - excerpt (a)
McLaren on McLaren (a)
The eye hears, the ear sees (a)

 

DVD 7

DVD 7 About McLaren
Cinéma de notre temps (a)
McLaren par Justra - Cinéma canadien, SRC 1961 (a)
Pinscreen (a)
Pinscreen tests (t/m)

The digital restoration process

(t) test
(u) unfinished
(c) collaboration
(m) mute
(a) documentary

 

{mospagebreak title=Appendix B: How to get it}

Appendix B: How to get it

Neighbours

Neighbours

The edition reviewed here is the one published in France in June the 5th by Le films du Paradoxe, owing to the Annecy Animation Festival, for about 97 €. It is available at the following online shops:

- Chalet Films (recommended)

- Heeza

- FNAC

- Alapage

The USA/Canada edition is due out this fall, probably towards the end of October and there should be no significant differences with the "european" edition.  It has an estimated cost of about 100 $.

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