SHORT AND SUITE (1975 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, January 1975 (Vol. 42, No. 492). — J.R.

Short and Suite


Canada, 1959 Directors: Norman McLaren, Evelyn Lambert

Dist—BFI. p.c–National Film Board of Canada. visuals–Norman

McLaren, Evelyn Lambert. In color. sp. effects–Arnold Schieman.

m–Eldon Rathburn. performed by–The Buff Estes Group. 450 ft.

5 mins. (35 and 16mm.).

A characteristically bright, giggly and pithy animated short in

the McLaren manner, Short and Suite would probably be better still

if it had more inspired music to work with. Begone Dull Care (1948-

49), thanks to the ebullience and effervescence of Oscar Peterson’s

piano, was closer to a duel than a gloss on a ‘text’; this more modest

foray into synchronized, syncopated doodling plays with and against

a less improvised, less distinctive form of jazz, which is certainly

enhanced and highlighted by the visuals, but is not exactly transcended

by them. Beginning with pink and blue splotches to illustrate the bass

notes, and then clean white lines to match those played by the piano,

the design resolves itself into shifting parallel lines as the clarinet

comes in. Sometimes the lines wiggle or pulsate in strict

accordance with the music (one line reflecting the melody, the

other the rhythm), sometimes they curl into other shapes that

suggest the equivalent of a separate melodic line. The most whimsical

effect comes after an out-of-tempo passage, when the resumption of a

‘walking-bass’ is timed to coincide with the ‘explosion’ of a straight

vertical line into a torrent of scattering fragments. The overall

ambience is closer to the range of a clever commentary than a

definitive statement. Not a great film, then, but like so many other

examples of McLaren’s work, an uncommonly sharp and witty one

that happily turns the very act of drawing into a kind of dance, a

response to music that — in this case — is even more infectious than

the music which inspired it.


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