Creature Comforts was originally a 1989 British humorous animated short film about how animals feel about living in a zoo, featuring the voices of the British public “spoken” by the animals. It was created by Nick Park and Aardman Animations. The film later became the basis of a series of television advertisements for the UK Electricity Board, and in 2003 a television series in the same style was released. An American version of the series was also made.
VanDerBeek’s 1963 film Breathdeath is full of animated collages satirizing gender roles and politics. There’s also an arresting staged scene — a woman sits on a bed nuzzling a figure made from an empty shirt and trousers, topped by a television set showing men’s faces; she looks into the camera while “I Put a Spell on You” wails on the soundtrack.
Stan VanDerBeek is a legendary name in the history of experimental film. A restless adventurer who began making experimental animated films in the 1950s, VanDerBeek filmed happenings, designed windows for Tiffany’s and worked with John Cage and Claes Oldenburg.
He also explored the artistic possibilities of new technologies of his time: video, computers, even the fax machine. He was artist-in-residence at Bell Labs and at NASA.
Now, a survey of VanDerBeek’s work is on display at the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston.
VanDerBeek made dozens of these collage films in the 1950s and early ’60s, using altered clippings from magazines and newspapers to create whimsical but pointed commentary. The films look like they must be the primary inspiration for Terry Gilliam’s Monty Python animated sequences, which appeared a few years later.
But VanDerBeek did not start out as a filmmaker. He attended Black Mountain College in North Carolina to study visual art. There he met people who were transforming art: composer John Cage, choreographer Merce Cunningham, painter Robert Rauschenberg. But painting wasn’t enough for VanDerBeek.
Frank and Caroline Mouris developed the technique of collage animation in their Academy Award-winning film “Frank Film”.
The harsh, grimy atmosphere of decay, the ominous quality of chiaroscuro, the dazzling use of lights and texture and adept camera movement give their films an eerie, sublime quality.