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Chris Landreth's Ryan


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#1 Robert Edge

Robert Edge
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Posted 20 May 2005 - 12:47 PM

I walked into my local video store yesterday and discovered that this film, which won awards at Cannes and a 2005 Academy Award for best animated short, has just been released on DVD.

It is an animated documentary about Ryan Larkin, who worked at the National Film Board of Canada until cocaine and alcohol reduced him to making a living by panhandling in front of a Montreal landmark, Schwartz's Deli. By animated documentary, I mean that the images are the product of computer generated animation, but the story is Larkin's and the dialogue comes from discussions that Landreth had with Larkin and people associated with him. Larkin's own reputation rests on the animated shorts that he made between about 1964 and 1972.

I watched the DVD last night and it is a wonderful package. In addition to Ryan, the DVD contains:

Laurence Green's Alter Egos, a 52 minute documentary about Landreth and Larkin that includes, in the last 20 minutes, the film Ryan and Larkin's reaction to it

Two additional Chris Landreth films, The End (for which Landreth was nominated for an Academy Award in 1995) and Bingo

Three Ryan Larkin films, Syrinx, Walking (for which Larkin was nominated for an Academy Award in 1969) and Street Musique

For anyone interested in this material, I'd suggest watching Green's documentary first. It is a nice film on its own. It charts the relationship between Landreth and Larkin (the juxtapostion between Landreth showing Ryan at a film festival in Monaco and Larkin hanging out on the streets of Montreal is striking) and contains interesting interviews with Larkin's former colleagues at the NFB and friends from his post-NFB life.

Green's documentary moves seamlessly into a session in which Landreth and Larkin watch Ryan together. The film is shown almost in its entirety. The discussion at the end of the screening is gut-wrenching. Larkin doesn't say so specifically, but I think that he was completely taken aback not just by the content of Ryan, but by the style. Landreth's film (and I don't mean this as a criticism) is harsh and ugly. Larkin's films were lyrical. This comes through most forcefully if one watches Larkin's films right after Green's documentary. The film Walking is as fresh and as beautiful as when it was made 37 years ago.

The DVD also contains director's commentaries, including commentaries by Larkin about the substance and techniques involved in his films, that are a good deal more insightful than usual. Both in Green's documentary, and the commentaries, Green and Landreth show that they are fully aware of the ethical issues that were involved in making their films, and they address these issues directly. Those who know the work of Norman McLaren, who was Larkin's mentor, will smile at the passage in Ryan in which Landreth pays homage to McLaren's film about dance, Pas de Deux.

Edited by R. Edge, 20 May 2005 - 12:48 PM.

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