DIRECTED BY: Paul Driessen
PLOT: In “The End of the World in Four Seasons” small, repeating vignettes of life in each season play out in eight separate-but-interconnected frames; each ends with some sort of destruction, but by winter, all the settings are wiped out.
COMMENTS: Paul Driessen first appears in the weird movie connoisseur’s consciousness as a hired hand; the Dutchman was enlisted to storyboard and animate on Yellow Submarine. But rather than trying to move up the ladder to features, he has resolutely stuck with his self-created shorts, establishing a personal style and inspiring plenty of others. Two movies created by Driessen’s students have won Academy Awards, while his own “The Killing of an Egg” allegedly inspired marine biologist Stephen Hillenburg to try his hand at animation. (Hillenburg would go on to create the cartoon juggernaut SpongeBob SquarePants.)
In the early 1970s, the fabled patron of animation the National Film Board of Canada enlisted Driessen to come and work on the other side of the Atlantic, resulting in a series of unusual and subversive works. Six of these shorts were collected in an anthology entitled “Des histoires pas comme les autres” (“Stories Unlike Any Others”), and while we’re focused on one of those today, a quick glance at the full set can be instructive in assessing Driessen’s style and development.
Consider “Air” (1972), which presents multiple relationships with the title subject in less than two minutes. Flowers, fish, birds, and finally a being who seems to be in sheer terror of clouds all struggle to take in enough air to breathe. Of note is Driessen’s facility with the line, which does most of the work to define the space, transforming from the earthen bed of the flowers to the still surface of the sea in the space of a breath.
“Cat’s Cradle”(1974) goes deeper into the idea of transformations, with objects consistently scaling up and shifting from predator to prey. The design here hearkens back to Yellow Submarine with its large, toothy creatures and optical illusions. The French title, “Au bout du fil,” is also a hidden commentary; it means “on the line”, which of course is Driessen’s whole M.O.
In 1975’s “An Old Box”, we get our first look at Driessen’s fondness for simultaneous narratives, as the title object unfolds and refolds itself to reveal changing tableaux on its sides. We also get some of his dark whimsy, such as a garbage truck that licks its lips after gulping down a healthy chunk of refuse.
So now we come to “The End of the World in Four Seasons,” which indulges Driessen’s penchant for minimal animation by making it minuscule. The screen is populated with eight tiny screens, each of which displays its own tiny repeating vignette, sometimes connecting across the gaps. The film cleverly demands repeat viewings to take in everything that’s going on. (With a new set for each season, there are about 30 stories to take in.) Driessen also demonstrates a slapstick master’s gift for stretching out a joke as far as it can reach; for example, a skier hurtles incessantly downhill for nearly three minutes until Driessen suddenly moves his camera and the athlete slams into the side of the frame. But that cleverness points to the biggest shortcoming of “The End of the World”: it’s not much more than its joke. Actions repeat until they don’t, creatures behave grotesquely until they meet grotesque fates themselves. The shifting of the seasons changes the milieu but not the method. And crucially, the film has no real point it wants to get across. The end of each world–by fire or by crumbling–isn’t instigated by the actions or behaviors of the characters within them. It’s just time to move on. Of all the movies in the Canadian collection, “The End of the World” is the most ambitious in its technique, but surprisingly empty when it comes to generating any sense of Driessen’s feelings about his creations.
This is decidedly not a problem in the next work, a movie Driessen would later call his favorite. 2000’s “The Boy Who Saw the Iceberg” is the Walter Mitty-like tale of a boy who dreams of a more interesting life. The twinned layout has fun juxtaposing fantasy against reality, right up until the moment when reality becomes far more intense. It owes a lot to the narratives of “An Old Box” and “The End of the World” with the way attention gently shifts between two competing storylines, but is far more mature in its content and tone. The gimmick is simpler, but allows for more focus on the details that lead to the haunting outcome.
The most recent film in the collection, 2003’s “2D or Not 2D”, begins in a rush of color and movement that looks positively decadent compared to his previous films, but hinges on the discovery of a bizarre two-dimensional barrier which feels solid and impenetrable until the camera pivots slightly along the z-axis, turning the barrier into doorways, trees, or even one of the protagonists. In other words, Driessen has come back to the line, only now it has far more depth and nuance.
All told, the collection of Driessen’s output for his Canadian producers provides an excellent snapshot of the filmmaker’s styles and mindsets. While “The End of the World” does capture him at his most adventurous, it also helps define the arc of his career, marking the moment when mastery of technique became a means more than an end.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“This is a bizarre cartoon… I found this cartoon to be weird, slightly disturbing, and not entertaining in the least. But hey, I’m not complaining that they included it. The more the merrier.” – David Blair, DVD Talk (from a review of the IMAX feature Seasons, which includes “The End of the World in Four Seasons” as a DVD extra)
(This movie was nominated for review by Steven. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)