I have wanted Phil to come and show work ever since he visited us at the Dog & Duck in June 2010 during a massive rainstorm and so I was delighted when he agreed to come again. I expected a fascinating evening of scatological mayhem and social comment: what we got was something even more profound.
He started by telling us how he started as a live-action filmmaker and came to animation late, when he saw the success that Aardman was enjoying in the early 90s.
Although he kicked off the screening with Intolerance (1999), Phil focussed mainly on his Christies films (2006-present) and told us that for all the Christies shorts and feature films he uses a set of 120 drawings which he made eight years ago – although he admitted he often makes this figure up. If you watch the video I shot of him introducing The Christies: Dead But Not Buried at LIAF 2011, you will hear him say it was 108 drawings:
Of his working method and outlook, he said he wanted to work continually and not be beholden to anyone. He can make the Christies films at home for nothing – apart from his time – and this frees him from the need always to be raising finance in order to make a project. Their minimal animation gives the Christies a visual and emotional remoteness, requiring the viewer has to work harder; the very opposite, he explained, of the Pixar films in which all of the work is done for you. Their mask-like profiles and synthesised voices make for a greater suspension of disbelief and even empathy for the characters. On the one hand, we can all too easily believe that Mr Christie is a suburban Nazi; and on the other, sincerely pity him for having been kept as a sex slave in a cupboard in Tunbridge Wells.
The Christies films Phil showed were:
The House Painter
Mr. Christie’s Sex Manual
The Sex Slave Of Tunbridge Wells (a London Animation Club exclusive)
You can see all of these films at philmulloy.tv. I cannot give individual links as the embedded videos are invisible on Vimeo and not on YouTube.
Phil then showed a selection of his recent Sleepwalker films, which are intended for gallery exhibition as triptychs. They are experimental films which comprise live-action video of a variety of locations, with a 3D animated man planted in the foreground of the frame. This human figure came free with the animation software Poser, yet Phil consciously messes up the figure to avoid the seamless perfection to which that 3D motion graphics artists generally aspire. This search for glitches, like the crudeness of the Christies drawings, illustrates Phil’s comment that “when things don’t work, they can make something which is intrinsic to the medium.”
The Sleepwalker films are deeply unsettling visions in black and white. Despite being undeniably cinematic, they contain no plot or resolution as such and the relevance of the figure is decidedly unclear. Phil says the presence of the figure serves to create a dramatic tension in the films and indeed, without the figure, the films would merely be back-projections of different locations; and with the figure they are visions of a nightmare space. As he says, “films in which I don’t know what is going on are more interesting than those in which I do. Resolving the narrative is a let down.”
The Sleepwalker films he showed were:
Bird Of Paradise
Once again, you can see them at philmulloy.tv.
He then closed the evening with one old film and one very new one.
The old film was Sex Life Of A Chair (1997): scarcely-animated chairs perform a variety of sexual acts while the title of each is read out by an unseen German narrator, whose voice gets lower and lower with each successive word, to the point that it becomes inaudible. Once again, a conventional interpretation is impossible and somehow the film resonates far beyond its simple comic premise.
The new film was Preparing To Fly (which is not available online), in which an instantly recognisable Phil Mulloy character appears four-fold on the white screen, swooping and swirling like four dancers in an evil Busby Berkeley routine. Gradually the figures recede into the distance until they appear to be little more than flies on the horizon: an appropriate scene with which to finish the evening.
Many thanks to Phil for a fascinating and very thought-provoking talk. I hope to put a video of it online soon.
Thanks also to Captain Zip for filming the event, to Dana Dill Tasker for taking photos (you can see them here) and to newcomer Jon Fitzsimmons who told us of his plan to develop his children’s book “The Prince, The Fairy And The Fouly” into an animated film.
We return in a month with Edwin Rostron. See you then.