Monday 24 September 2018

The Road to Pordenone - Barrie Pattison prowls around the current offering in Paris and discovers the great animator Raoul Servais

Well I don't drink wine or eat cheese and I just bathe in gloom at the thought of Napoleon's tomb so what do I do here?

A good example came up a few nights back. Buried in the small type in L'Officiel des Spectacles (I really miss Pariscope) was a reference to a Forum des Images night with Raoul Servais, the great Belgian animator of the sixties and seventies.

Raoul Servais
It wasn't in the spread sheet program but I rolled up anyway and sure enough there was ninety-year old Servais fronting a program of his shorts - Chromophobia (1965) and his extraordinary Goldframe (1969) and Harpy (1979) included - along with the 1994 feature Taxandria.

A product of his time, along with Manuel Otero, Les Cineastes and Why Do You Smile Mona Lisa? he was one of the wave of animators which introduced art school and magazine illustration sophistication to movies in an era when the toons were always the best of festival shorts.

Servais told us the way had not been smooth. A stint with the surrealist painter Paul Delvaux hadn't worked out when Servais decided the master was petit-bourgeois. There was no training in animation in Belgium and only one course in all Europe. He disowns his first cartoon for its crude track.

Taxandria, which I'd never heard of, proved as described, a Euro-Pudding with a script in re-voiced English by Alain Robbe-Grillet no less. It's only classy element was the central performance by Armin Mueller-Stahl but the animated sequences, where the seagull flies from live action into the drawn frame, using the technique developed for Harpy, have arresting images. The panel of mascara'd clerks in tall black hats, ripping the juvenile's diploma into an increasing sea of fragments, belongs in a more substantial project.

The man from the Centre Wallonie Bruxelles wound things up before I got a chance to ask if Servais watched Pixar and Brad Bird. Then the audience, which struck me as curious rather than reverent, made their way off into the Paris night.

I had the feeling I'd been through this before - the British Council flew out the admirable Phil Mulloy to introduce his Cowboys toons at the Bondi Pavilion after which he went off with the organisers to have dinner, which was just as well as twenty of the twenty five people who turned up didn't make it back from their drinks at the interval.

The passion for films which I knew in the sixties here has sunk or submerged. I had to spell S-E-R-V-A-I-S for one of my film freak friends who'd never heard of him. I got the impression that the great man was used to that.

But there is still an audience for class movies here. Black Klansman is gaining momentum and Michel Audiard's Romanian Spanish Western with Hollywood stars The Sisters Brothers has just opened big. Move over Stagecoach, Whispering Smith, The Magnificent Seven and The Wild Bunch. Remembering the miserable release Blackthorn (Mateo Gil, Spain/Bolivia/UK/France, 2011) achieved in Australia, let's not hold our breath for that one though.

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