Monday, September 03, 2007

A Colour Box

1935, UK, directed by Len Lye

I was unfamiliar with Len Lye until I read a fascinating piece by Kristin Thompson earlier this year, but was subsequently fortunate enough to see one of his better-known works (in a DVD transfer, but on a satisfyingly large wall-size projection screen), made for Britain's General Post Office Film Unit. In these days of "hard sell" advertising, it's hard to believe that the GPO thought that Lye's methods might be a useful part of their campaign to promote a new parcel post rate, but the film's surprising success cast the GPO in the most positive of lights (as noted in Roger Horrocks's Len Lye: A Biography). Lye's work at this time involved painting directly on, and scratching, pieces of film (a method he refined by using discards from Ealing Studios), and this short has wonderfully clever patterns in sometimes outlandish colour schemes; the work of painting the strips of film for A Colour Box apparently took just five days, which is remarkable given the complexity of what appears onscreen, not to mention the small scale on which Lye worked, given the size of film frames. Set to a piece of music from Martinique, it's an extremely witty piece of work, using the jaunty musical accompaniment as a template for wild experiments in shape and movement.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States