Sunday, March 4, 2012


Back in the late 90s, I caught a glimpse of a fascinating old animation while flipping channels in my cramped, one bedroom apartment in Berkeley, California.  The short film was being aired on the local public access channel during a classical music show, due to its use of Mussorgsky's "Night on Bald Mountain" as its score.  It possessed the look of ancient film stock mixed with a technique I'd never seen before; a shadow-filled, fluidly morphing style that, while crude at times, pointed to the stuff of nightmares more effectively than the realistically rendered animation of the now.  Basically, it rocked my world for a few minutes...and then it was over.

Because I'd come in halfway through the film, all I had to go on were the two names I'd quickly jotted from the credits: Alexander Alexeieff and Claire Parker.  Keep in mind, this was before YouTube or Wikipedia existed and, though IMDb was around, film information on the web was often incomplete and untrustworthy.  Still, I was able to glean a few details from a web search: the short was named Une nuit sur le mont chauve (A Night on Bald Mountain), the animators were married and the mesmerizing technique devised by them was called pinscreen animation; a form of stop-animation that uses a far more complex version of those pin art toys you might remember from childhood.

Almost seven years later, the Unseen Cinema box set was released and I had the chance to see Alexeieff and Parker's work for the second time.  It's still mindbogglingly effective in its overall singularity; I've had the chance to see other films by them but, while those were quite impressive, Une nuit sur le mont chauve seems to be the crown jewel of their career together.

So let's get on with it: here is Alexander Alexeieff and Claire Parker's 1933 masterpiece Une nuit sur le mont chauve:

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