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John Grierson and animated film

Most probably the greatest utopia in the history of film, National Film Board of Canada, is a realization of a dream of probably the greatest utopist of film, John Grierson. There was nothing in the world that he hated more than bureaucracy, meetings and sitting in an office, and still he spent his life holding political and organizational office. He implemented his ideas with icy determination and strong belief in their rightness. He was accused of being a dictator, but at the same time adored by literally everybody he had ever worked with. Among the people who made films produced by Grierson, we can find some of the most brilliant film artists. He was an advocate of democracy who thought that a lot could be learnt from Hitler and Goebels, as incredibly skilled mass manipulators. He respected Lenin, and particularly Trocki, though he was never a communist. Grierson was an internationalist all his life, but always deeply rooted in a gigantic civilization tradition of the British Isles and the ocean of the English language. As a narrator and a writer he distinguished himself by a destructive polemic gift and an extraordinary sense of analytic thinking. He was a lecturer, he wrote lucid film reviews; he was absolutely the first critic who respected westerns and gangster movies, he immediately spotted Hitchcockís talent, he did not doubt Fordís greatness and Eisensteinís genius. He was a top intellectual who considered the intellect meaningless if it wasnít useful for the society, and the basic concept of what we regard as documentary film is based on his theoretical and practical activities. A lot has been written and published on this topic. A basic concept of what has become a creative animated film is also based on his theoretical and practical activities, but almost nothing has been written or published on that topic. So, the author of this study attempts to shed some light upon this dimension of his work.
In his critical essays Grierson expressed respect for humor, caricature, but he rarely spoke about animation, and still, though he was an ardent representative of realism in film, he founded animation studios in all the institutions he worked for, where individual and experimental animation was promoted. A very important experimenter and animator form New Zeland, Len Lye, worked for Grierson, also already famous documentary film maker Flaherty, a genius animator Norman McLaren and many others. The author explains the roots of Griersonís concept of realism, the ways he fitted into different social and political contexts (Great Britain, multicultural Canada...), and poetics and style of animated films produced by Grierson. Animation has become an international media, thanks to the influence of NFB and Canadian production in general, form the production level to ideas and messages that are usually sent forth through the media. Internationalism is immanent to animation, and prejudice, racism, fascism, fundamentalism, intolerance and other diseases and deviations of a modern world have never been at home in the world of animation, which is to a greater extent a consequence of the fact that animation has developed on the basis of Griersonís ideas and philosophy. We do not have to agree with all his ideas, most of them were proved to be utopist or naïve, but his opinion that the film makes sense only if it represents a certain point of view, questions social circumstances and searches for images that not only reflect the reality of time in which the film has been made, but actively affect social changes, has established its significance within animation, especially in the concept of animated documentary where Griersonís formula of creative treatment of reality has been applied. This concept proved to be very productive for Canadian as well as, for example, British animation not only from the 1930ies, when it was developing under Grierson immediate management and influence, but also in modern time. The great growth of British animation in the 1980ies in the production of Channel 4 clearly indicates that the application of Griersonís models an concepts is not limited to Canada only (e. g. Erica Russell, Joanne Quinn and Nick Park). Finally, from the aspect of animation itself, maybe the most important effect of Griersonís influence within the development of the media is the fact that it hasnít been possible to ignore animation for a ling time, in a way Siegfried Dracauer did in the introduction of his Theory of Film.

Midhat Ajanoviś

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