Wednesday, 20 January 2010
(Part of Animation Month)
Conceived by Walt Disney and surrealist Salvador Dali in 1945 as part of proposed portmanteau film Fantasia 2006, this short was at long last completed only three years shy of that space-age date. Whatever the input of Disney artists and director Dominique Monfery, Destino is typically and uniquely Dali. In the desert a young woman walks towards what could be a statue or a mausoleum. This is where Chronos, the personification of time, lives. Quickly she falls for him and he falls for her.
The contrast between them is magnetic. She is sinuous and warm, a sultry Spanish lady, and he is angular and hewn from cold stone. He is durable while she is flighty and metamorphosises into new forms, melting into shadows or sprouting a seed-like head. However, the union is impossible. Oddly, we feel that what keeps them apart is one thing that links them, which is time. Time is both fleeting, like her, and steadfastly eternal like him. This heady cocktail of distant romance, of coldness and warmth and irretrievable time took me back to the train journey in Wong Kar Wai's 2046 (which was made afterwards of course), took me back to Faye Wong's android and that elusive...
They dance around each other unable to touch. The balletic ritual is equal parts wistful and blissful. Achingly he grasps a white heart-shaped sheet to his chest (see photo, bottom) and it briefly takes her form. Destino is dripping with sexual imagery of entrances and cavernous holes (and telephones too, objects Dali believed had strong sexual connotations) but its eroticism is well tempered with the innocence of a pure and simple infatuation - the fresh breeze on a baking hot day.
Destino was inspired by a Mexican song of the same name. The music is perhaps too melancholic and too melodramatic while the images, which are strong and idiosyncratic, don't quite cohere. Like in love, though, the two go better together. They make sense of each other, of the baseballs and the eyeballs, and the film is lavishly hypnotic and rather seductive because of it.
What doesn't go is Destino's mixture of hand-drawn and computer animation. The layers don't match. Computer animation has a different weight, a different texture and fluidity. The two elements are oil and water. In hand-drawn animation the artist's hand may add, subconsciously, little details and meanings that we can pick up on subconsciously. In computer animation the image is divorced from the hand by a mouse or by the screen and the result feels baseless and soulless. It repels visually and emotionally like Teflon.
I confess that I am not sure why computer animation is being increasingly introduced into hand-drawn films. The artist may consider it a worthwhile aid or a complement but I suspect that, in most cases, it is used as a shortcut or for its novelty or ready availability. Good recent animations, like Korean film Sky Blue or Howl's Moving Castle, scupper sequences with computer-aided inserts that would have been rendered more appropriately and more successfully in the traditional way. Think of the introductory underwater jaunt in Ponyo and it is hard to think of what can't be done hand-drawn. I'm not writing off the marriage as doomed but I would be tempted to shout "Don't cross the streams!".
Destino earns its place in the story of animation if only because it's a one-time chance to see Dali's paintings move. It's not a great film but it makes you come back to it and once you begin it is hard to resist its advances.