Sunday, May 1, 2016

Sledgehammer (1986)

Screen capture from Rhino DVD
WHO: Nick Park, Peter Lord, Richard Starzak and the Brothers Quay animated this under the direction of Steven J. Johnson.

WHAT: I'm pretty sure I've never written about a music video on this blog before, but why not break the mold today with the video that turns up on nearly every list of the greatest music videos of all time, and that as recently as 2011 still reigned as the most-played video ever on MTV (and I'm guessing it would remain so if someone updated the tally today).

My family never paid for MTV when I was growing up, however, so I didn't see Sledgehammer until November 1989, when we had a month-long free cable-box trial that coincided with MTV's countdown of the Top 100 videos of the 1980s. I actually saw and was blown away by Johnson's other Peter Gabriel video Big Time first thanks to a friend who lent me a VHS he'd recorded it onto at one point. So when I saw Sledgehammer out of order from most of the rest of my generation it couldn't quite match the reputation I'd expected for it after more than three years of build-up.

But going back and watching the pair on the DVD Peter Gabriel: Play The Videos, it's clear that Sledgehammer is the more thoroughly creative and impressive piece. It involves so many varying techniques, from the opening manipulation of scientific footage, to Norman McLaren-esque pixilation, to Jan Svankmajer-esque stop motion, to things I'm not quite sure how to describe (the ice-sculpture sequence, for instance). Johnson developed a technique for lipsynch animation that had apparently never been tried before. And the shoot involved the musician far more thoroughly in its creation, particularly in capturing the white clouds in a blue sky frame-by-frame repainted over his face. And it integrates the creative sensibilities of some of my favorite animators despite their diversity: the sequence created for the second iteration of the chorus, in which the singer is covered over by a confining wooden structure from the Street of Crocodiles universe and then emerges as an oh-so-Aardman clay figure (complete with hammer-hands) that then goes through a series of quick transformations leading up to the famous "chicken dance", is one of my favorite half-minutes of animation of all time.

WHERE/WHEN: Sledgehammer screens as part of a program happening at 5PM today, at the Castro Theatre, presented by the San Francisco International Film Festival.

WHY: I don't know if the Sledgehammer video, obviously made-for-television, has ever been shown on a cinema screen as large as the Castro's before, but it certainly gets me excited just thinking about it. It screens as part of a score of films, videos, advertisements and episodes displaying the full range of short-form creativity at the Aardman studios. Yes, the wonderful Oscar-winners Creature Comforts and The Wrong Trousers will be among them, but so will the bizarre and disturbing The Pearce Sisters and a good number of early rarities. Oh, and Aardman co-founder Peter Lord will be on hand to receive an award from the festival and talk about his company's impact on the international moving image scene (most recently with the feature-length Oscar nominee Shaun the Sheep Movie).

The Castro is the only major SFIFF venue I haven't yet talked about this year. It's not only by far the largest 2016 festival venue, it's also the only one that has now been in use by SFIFF on an annual basis for more than two years. In fact the festival has been using the theatre since the early eighties, at least (does any long-time festgoer want to chime in and tell me if its use goes back to the 1970s or earlier?) Which is why seeing High Rise with an absolutely rabid audience of J.G. Ballard fans there last night, my first Castro event at this year's SFIFF, felt like such a heartening, traditional San Francisco event, even if I'm not quite sure what I think of the film twelve hours later. (I hope to see it again sometime, preferably after reading the book this time.) If you haven't been to the Castro for a SFIFF event yet you have a few more chances, including today's Aardman tribute and a 2PM showing of queer cinema classic The Watermelon Woman with director Cheryl Dunye in person, tomorrow's showing of Carl Dreyer's Vampyr with a live improvised music score by members of Mercury Rev and the Cocteau Twins (I'm skeptical of this one but may have to see it for myself anyway), and Thursday night's closing film The Bandit, a documentary about the making of the famous Burt Reynolds star vehicle directed by the man behind The Overnighters.

HOW: All the Aardman shorts including Sledgehammer are expected to screen digitally.

OTHER SFIFF OPTIONS: Unfortunately forking The Watermelon Woman's sole festival screening, today is the first screening of Kirsten Johnson's highly-buzzed Cameraperson at the Victoria (Tuesday's Alamo Drafthouse showing has long been at RUSH status). Today is also the final showing of any of the Drafthouse Dark Wave selections, the Iran-set horror movie Under the Shadow, screening 10PM at the New Mission.

NON-SFIFF OPTION: It's the final day to see 35mm prints of A Streetcar Named Desire and On the Waterfront at the Stanford Theatre. This Friday (the day after the SFIFF ends) the Palo Alto venue begins a 9-week centennial tribute to Olivia de Havilland.

No comments:

Post a Comment