Tale of Tales

Tale of Tales

Every seat's already been reserved for the Film Studies Center's free screening of TALE OF TALES. The director, Yuri Norstein, will be in attendance; we therefore have no other course of action but to advise readers to use bluffing, forgery, subterfuge, bribery, blackmail, disguise, or the trusty chloroform-soaked rag to get in. It's time to exercise the criminal element inherent to cinephilia. The promise of seeing TALE OF TALES projected - and of seeing the elusive Norstein work (he'll be making a few drawings in the course of the evening) - is worth a few misdemeanor convictions. Either that, or you can show up and hope someone doesn't claim their ticket by 6:40. "Why should I care?" you ask. "Because TALE OF TALES is one of the one of the great works of 20th century art," I say, "and Norstein is a capital-P Poet." A few (film) comparisons: NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, MY FRIEND IVAN LAPSHIN, MURIEL, THE MIRROR. During the 1970s, Norstein made animated films as though the form had been invented for him, if not by him. His animation is never in imitation of live action and his cartoons are full of examples of techniques only possible in an animated film: the figures coming to life out of frescoes and mosaics and the massed armies galloping under a sky of cracked paint in THE BATTLE OF KERZHENETS (co-directed with Ivan Ivanov-Vano, a justly legendary fellow member of the Soyuzmultfilm studio); the playful changes in size and shape of THE FOX AND THE HARE; the shifts in perspective of THE HERON AND THE CRANE, creating moments impossible with a real space and real actors; the cavorting textures of HEDGEHOG IN THE FOG. Just as a way with words or a good eye aren't enough to be a great writer or photographer, so Norstein's genius isn't limited to the quality of his animation. Though it was an intuition for the ideas of the animated film that made Norstein a great animator, what made him our greatest living animator is what he expressed through that intuition. What we can call his "formal purity" is just the most obvious aspect of his emotional purity. In its half-hour, TALE OF TALES presents - in images, references, and metaphors - simple enough for a child to understand what war does to the people of a country, how deeply personal memories can become shared, and the unfathomable trauma of the 20th century. And it has a little cartoon wolf in it. Norstein in person.