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.