Monday, March 8, 2010

Adam Elliot's Family Trilogy (1996-1999)

Claymator Adam Elliot's semi-autobiographical short film trilogy, each one painting a portrait of a different family member, Uncle (1996), Cousin (1998), and Brother (1999), heralded the arrival of a fantastic new talent. His first forays into the art of claymation, preceding his Academy award winning Harvie Krumpet (2003) by a number of years, are an absolute joy. Although joy is perhaps not quite the right word, as these terrifically rich stories are doused with a great deal of pathos.

Uncle (1996), is about an eccentric and loving man, who paints smiley faces with his food and dresses up as Father Christmas every year, whose life-force gradually drains away after a series of personal losses. His wife commits suicide, which he manages to deal with, but when his faithful dog Reg is run over by a skateboard he goes into terminal decline and ends his days in a nursing home.

Cousin (1998), is about Adam's cousin, and childhood friend, who suffers from cerebral palsy. Their liquorice smelling, cake-baking, toe-nail collecting, one-armed cricket playing, super-hero costume wearing childhood friendship is cruelly ended by tragedy, when the cousin's parents are killed in a car crash, and he is taken to live in a group-home in another state.

Brother (1999), is the most ambitious of the trilogy, incorporating several different characters into the one tale. We are introduced to the mother, who cuts old people's hair and sells pies at the footie; the alcoholic crippled father who used to be an acrobat; the big-headed neighbour with a dislike for prostitutes and accountants; and of course, the brother, a mischievous child with severe asthma and one blacked-out lens on his glasses. Adam and his brother enjoy kicking the football at their father's undies, and watching cartoons on a Saturday morning.

Elliot's style of animation is extremely economical, with hardly any movement within the frame, and the camera itself never moving at all. What movement there is is created by the editing. We cut from a wide-shot of the cousin to a close-up of a jar of toe-nails and back again, creating just enough kineticism to keep pace with the narrative. The colour scheme is largely made-up of greys and blacks, with an occasional burst of muted colour, which perfectly matches the sad tales and the beautiful melancholia of William McInnes's outstanding narration.

One comes away from this marvelous collection of films with the distinct feeling of having spent a considerable amount of time with a these people. We feel that we know them. We care about them. We are them. Eliot's portraits are so compelling, so enriched with life, that we may even be moved to shed a tear for what is essentially just a lump of plasticine.

A devastatingly beautiful portrait of our lives.