2018 Updates

2018 in Review: November

This month: ashes in space, caricatures, a haunted webcam model, animated shorts, and more.

Historical Curiosities and Mind-bending Shorts at an Animation Festival

“The festival presents new works but also brings out older animated shorts, both from veteran animators and from obscure figures. And they dig deep; one short is from a 1987 public television documentary about William Carlos Williams, animated by Maureen Selwood to illustrate the process behind the poem “This Is Just To Say.” Other historical curiosities include 1985’s Calculated Movements, an early computer-animated film by Larry Cuba which turns a simple visual program into an elaborately choreographed dance of abstract visual objects, and Mary Beams’s 1976 film Paul Revere Is Here, which plays audio of real-life visitors to Boston’s Paul Revere statue over an animated silhouette of the landmark.

“I don’t want to say I specifically didn’t want to do some of the things that had been done previously in war comics, but I generally feel that a lot of older war comics sit in a kind of narrow bandwidth. They have a specific look, a specific story arc, and the same kind of dilemmas. They are good and I really enjoy them, and I really don’t want to disparage them at all. But at the same time, I was really trying to think, ‘What can we do that is different from that? What can we do that is not Sgt. Rock, or something along those lines? Can we make some of these feel more appurtenant for the comics market of today, rather than one of the ‘50s or ‘60s?’ I certainly still like all those comics and feel there’s still a place for them, but that’s only one seat at the table. There are more ways to tell these stories. I am interested in making sure that old-school approach still stays at the table, but that we also populate it with other people.”

An Unforgettable Movie Collects Recently Discovered Color Footage of World War II

“The restoration of Wyler’s footage is impeccable. We don’t generally think of this time in color — most movies and newsreels of the period were in black and white. Color is for the postwar world. But The Cold Blue isn’t exactly showing us what things “really” looked like. No real sky looks the kind of saturated blue that it does in 16mm. Watching the documentary feels like drifting into a daydream while listening to these anecdotes, or being able to see their memories.”

A Graphic Artist Observes How Germany Is Not as Safe as It Promised to Be for Refugees

“The book is full of illuminating asides like this. Drawing connections between the plight of modern migrants in Europe and those of 100 years ago or more, Fitzgerald consults from period sources like Joseph Roth’s The Wandering Jews and What I Saw: Reports from Berlin 1920–1933. In these works, Roth recorded a situation for the Jews of Germany chillingly similar to that of Middle Eastern and African migrants there now. Other sources include Christopher Isherwood’s memoirs on his time in Berlin and documentation on the unintended ecological side effects of the strict borders enforced during the Cold War.”

“The movie ultimately taps into an even deeper fear, though. The runaway Lola is an uncanny imitation of reality. She’s an entity without interiority, acting solely the way Alice did when she was playing the role, like an AI with a faulty script. Lola’s fans don’t notice anything amiss. Cam asks what you would do if the self you presented to the internet was its own independent being. The climax has Alice confront the gulf between her as a self-actualized human and the inherent vacancy of Lola, setting up a mirror, monitor, and webcam to create an endless series of reflections. The hall of mirrors confrontation is a well-worn thriller trope, and this is a novel spin on it, bringing dynamism to a scene that’s playing out over the web.”

“Playing out like a pagan spin on Bergman, The Juniper Tree is focused on the nuances of the interactions between its tiny cast. It sheds a less archetypical, more human light on fairy tale tropes. Here, the stepmother isn’t wicked but doing what she sees as necessary for herself and her sister to survive in a harsh world. Jóhann recognizes that Katla is using him, but her spells prevent him from sending her away, in a metaphor for how infatuation and perceived obligations can override one’s common sense. Margit sees visions of her dead mother, but whether she’s truly seeing a ghost or working through her own grief is ambiguous.”

“Patterned heavily after theater, the game plays out over a series of conversations, with the player taking control of numerous characters across each scene and selecting from a wide array of dialogue options. The idea is not so much to change the direction of the story (although this is possible, in little ways), but to determine the mood of each scene. This game hands you a set, a script, and some actors, and turns you into the director. How the show proceeds is in your hands.”

“Yes, it’s about a cam girl, but at the end of the day it could be about a Twitch streamer or an Instagram star. It could easily be anyone who makes their living online. I think that camming is the furthest you could push this expression of visual identity, because it is Alice’s job and her sexuality and her passion and her friends and her social life and all of that. But we all have these digital identities that we curate. Even if you try to be as real as possible on your Instagram, you’re still picking and choosing what you’re showing people about your life. And I think there is an inherent anxiety there, where if you start to derive your validation from this persona that you’ve built for yourself, it can be unhealthy.”

“Text games have thrived, even as the century has turned and game-making tools have become more sophisticated. With software like Twine, it’s easier than ever for creators to experiment with both the freedom and the restrictions of text without visuals. In this format, only the creator’s imagination limits what kinds of stories can be told, but the methods of player input are much more limited.”

“ENOCH melds multiple religious beliefs about the afterlife with the possibilities of immortality offered by technological process. Strachan has fashioned from 24-carat gold a canopic jar, like those used to enshrine organs for entombment in ancient Egypt. The jar bears a bust of Lawrence, and was blessed by a priest at a Shinto shrine in Fukuoka, Japan, officially designating it as a vessel for Lawrence’s soul. The name “Enoch” refers to a figure in the Abrahamic religions who did not experience bodily death, but was instead taken directly into the afterlife by God.”

“This is the first appearance of a maze motif that recurs throughout the cartoons and lends The Labyrinth its name. Steinberg loved to build elaborate edifices from this one basic element, and that idea sums up his approach to drawing. He would experiment with how much he could suggest with as little visual input as possible, but could just as easily make elaborately drawn and shaded images (the book wonderfully juxtaposes similarly themed pictures that juxtapose these approaches in little diptychs). In one cartoon, a whole family is depicted as different overlapping squares. A boy and girl ride an imaginary horse and duck, which are drawn as dotted lines. A pair of figures are expressed only with blocks of shading without lines, their whole look legible through carefully darkened cheekbones and folds in clothing.”

Tracing the Lives of 10 Jewish Children Who Escaped Nazi-occupied Territories

“The installation consists of 10 displays, each dedicated to a different Kindertransport child. It details their lives before the war, their experiences with antisemitism in the ’30s, how they were transported out of their home countries, and their lives afterward. The 10 subjects include both future famous figures, like architect and sculptor Frank Meisler and sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer, and regular people like Charles Susskind, an electrical engineering professor. Some personal artifacts — a briefcase, postcards sent back home, a set of pens — are on display. The children could take precious little with them, and often this would end up being all they had left of home, their families claimed by the Nazi death machine. The simplicity of the exhibit emphasizes this loneliness.”

By Dan Schindel

Born and raised in Maryland and currently based in New York, Dan Schindel is an associate editor at Hyperallergic, freelance culture writer, and available for any copy-editing/proofreading needs you may have. This website was originally a blog called Days of Docs, and chronicled his attempt to watch and review a documentary every single day for a whole year. He was mostly successful at this, and now he knows everything. He puts this knowledge to use by writing about movies, TV, games, books, comics, art, and more.