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CiTY (2009) and The Sense of Space for Urban People (2007)

Reviewed by David PROSSER

“We live by the sea so that we have the whole world behind us”.
This captivating quote from W.G Sebald’s, Rings of Saturn is something I have hung onto for a long time and makes me smile every time I think about it.

What I think Sebald is saying is this; the perfect unbroken horizon of the sea, the nothingness, helps you focus.

The horizon line in a city though is a curious thing. Glimpses are caught few and far between and thoughts can become cloudy. I live in London and I can count the amount of times I see some stretch of the landscape, and that is two. It’s a fleeting moment, once as I cross the Thames on my way to work and once on my way home. Most of us work in shrunken office buildings where we look out and see other office buildings. The feeling of being blinkered by the buildings can be stifling. Gaining some perspective in a city is imperative but it’s almost always a battle.

In both of these animation A Sense of Space for Urban People and CiTY we are presented with two rhythmical portraits of city life, both of which are dealing with space and perspective.

In A Sense of Space for Urban People we are taken through that rare meditative moment of reflection while living in a city. The narrative presents us with a lady returning home from work who struggles to put the day’s thoughts behind her. A familiar notion to anyone who has lived in a city; the over stimulation of the sights and sounds can be hard to switch off from. Her thoughts are drawn to strange sounds emanating from the roof and ours as viewers on an ethereal drift through the surrounding inhabitants of nearby buildings.

There is a powerful hypnagogic sense throughout the whole of the animation that I really enjoy. The soft ‘boiling’ pencil tones and bold design of the characters complement the rich sound design and music, which is essential for an animation as light as touch as this. I enjoyed the glimpses of neighbors tossing and turning but was left wishing to see more insight into their lives. The camera drifts ghost like around corners and into apartments. A sense that the lady has finally escaped the rigidity of city life is echoed in the movement of the camera, making claustrophobic apartments seem spacious and soothing.

I enjoyed the contrast of the film to the final shot. The shot that stays rigid and locked off shows a cramped elevator as the lady enters, contrasting with the previous sequence. There she meets her neighbors and there is a slight sense of awkwardness, a feeling of collective escapism? There is a unity they have as city dwellers, but there is no “Hello” or “Good morning!” yet we know they have met before.

In CiTY we are presented with a city that has shed its skin. We are left with what’s fundamentally more interesting, people. The city as a metaphor for the human body is not an original idea; yet CiTY manages to avoid clichés and present us with a fresh take on this well trodden metaphor.

CiTY narrative takes us through the passage of an average day, but with a rhythmical and surreal twist. With the absence of everything from concrete to toothbrushes, even clothes, all we are presented with is a void of floating bodies.

We see the bodies going about their daily tasks, the channels of people being shuttled around by trains, up lifts and into offices. We start to see how compartmentalized our city life is. It shares similarities to Godfrey Reggio’s beautiful Koyaanisqatsi, where this rhythm of humans almost feels like blood pumping through the city.

What is most fascinating about this unique animation is the amount of character we get from the individuals despite the lack of indication as to who they are. Even though this world is rushing past you at a tremendous speed, your eye manages to catch a nuanced performance, a guy itching himself in the background. All of this is wrapped up in a hypnotic soundtrack that gently ebbs and flows with the passage of the day. It’s a brave and bold animation that has plenty of replay value.

David PROSSER was born in the Midlands (UK) where he spent most of his childhood climbing trees, making bases and drawing cut-away boats and houses. His early inspirations were; The Beano, Usbourne puzzle adventure books and his gran’s adventurous cake decorating skills. All of this culminated in his studying illustration at The Norwich School Of Art. Here he began to dabble in animation and explore narrative in his drawing. Following this interest, Dave decided to study animation for a further two years at the RCA in London. After graduating in 2010, he began work as a director and designer at Studio AKA and helped to establish MOTH Collective, a collective of friends excited about drawn animation. His Graduation Film Matter Fisher was nominated for a BAFTA and won the top graduation prize in SICAF 2011. Following this he made MOUNTAIN a meditation on the city Seoul, supported by SICAF.

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