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Puppets in films


Tony Watkins
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In the thread on Philip Pullman, I mentioned the influence of Heinrich von Kleist's 1810 fascinating essay On the Marionette Theatre and speculated as to whether this essay has influenced any films. In particular, might it be partly behind Charlie Kaufmann's screenplay for Being John Malkovich (though I haven't watched this for years, so I may be on shaky ground right from the start!)?

The essay is here if you're interested in reading it.

Tony Watkins

Focus: The Art and Soul of Cinema now published - www.damaris.org/focus

Damaris: www.damaris.org CultureWatch: www.culturewatch.org Personal site: www.tonywatkins.co.uk

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Pinocchio? The Year of Living Dangerously?

Pinocchio is, of course, the archetypal puppet film - though I suspect that Carlo Collodi who wrote the story in the 1880s wasn't alluding to Kleist.

Maybe The Double Life of Veronique??

To my shame, I haven't yet got around to seeing it, though I love the Three Colours trilogy.

Tony

Edited by Tony Watkins

Focus: The Art and Soul of Cinema now published - www.damaris.org/focus

Damaris: www.damaris.org CultureWatch: www.culturewatch.org Personal site: www.tonywatkins.co.uk

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Pinocchio is, of course, the archetypal puppet film - though I suspect that Carlo Collodi who wrote the story in the 1880s wasn't alluding to Kleist.

I suspect so, too -- although there's an almost unavoidable overlapping of ideas.

Let's Carl the whole thing Orff!

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I would suggest that while drawn or CGI animation may *not* be relevant here...

I'm not so sure. The idea of grace (not in a theological sense here) intrigues me, and animated characters can display that in amazing ways.

I do agree that stop-motion qualifies for inclusion. The Corpse Bride springs to mind too. Perhaps there is a sense in which Victor is driven from paradise, and he can only rediscover it after continuing down the path away from it.

Tony

Focus: The Art and Soul of Cinema now published - www.damaris.org/focus

Damaris: www.damaris.org CultureWatch: www.culturewatch.org Personal site: www.tonywatkins.co.uk

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I would definitely second the suggestion of the Double Life of Veronique -- and also send you to look at the book The Secret Life of Puppets by Victoria Nelson - a book length essay-meditation on puppets (starting with the Kleist essay) and all the forms they take in modern life and pop culture.

Also The Ghost in the Shell animes....

A.I.

Blade Runner

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Aren't there marionettes (and a family of very strange puppet-makers) in Bergman's Fanny and Alexander? it's been so long since I saw the movie that I can't remember the details very well.

Yes. It's deeply symbolic, of course.

Am also wondering about Punch and Judy shows, as they do come up in many movies...

Something along these lines in Lili, starring Leslie Caron (one of my mother's favorite movies) based on Paul Gallico's novel, Love of Seven Dolls.

Has Jeffrey already mentioned the Muppet movies?

Which leads me irresistibly to episode 5.14 of Angel, "Smile Time".

Edited by BethR

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Isn't narrative structure enough of an ideology for art? (Greg Wright)

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Sorry if this is taking us off the current train of thought, but does anyone else long for films that take advantage of puppetry as a MEDIUM, like animation, rather than a special effect? I know the Muppets did this to some extent, but they were always in some kind of contact with the real world. It's my dream to make a film that features puppets and puppets alone in their own little world.

I appreciate the impact that the Muppets have made on puppetry in film and TV, yet I can't help but feel their influence is a mixed blessing, as most puppet-centric TV and film (of which the latter is almost non-existent) seems to be either aimed at very young children, or it's going off in the opposite direction, almost parodizing the puppets for children cliche by making them for "adults only"; ergo, stuffed with gratuitous filth (Peter Jackson's Meet the Feebles being a prime example).

Does anyone else out there share my thoughts?

My name is Darth Vader. I come from the planet Vulcan.

- Back to the Future

To me, truth is not some vague, foggy notion. Truth is real. And at the same time, unreal. Fiction and fact and everything in between, plus some other things I can't remember; all rolled into one big "thing." This is truth, to me.

- Jack Handey

The Moviegeist

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I would definitely second the suggestion of the Double Life of Veronique -- and also send you to look at the book The Secret Life of Puppets by Victoria Nelson - a book length essay-meditation on puppets (starting with the Kleist essay) and all the forms they take in modern life and pop culture.

Also The Ghost in the Shell animes....

A.I.

Blade Runner

Nelson is fascinating and highly recommended.

I wrote a brief summary of Kleist's essay yesterday, but I evidently did something stupid when editing an earlier post because it's not there now. I'll repost it:

Pinocchio raises an additional dimension to this, which is that animation would have a strong connection with puppetry in relation to Kleist's essay - perhaps particularly in these days of high-tech animation.

Let me summarise Kleist's essay: It is a conversation about grace, self-consciousness and the Fall. The narrator of the story meets a friend who is a dancer, and expresses surprise at the dancer's interest in the marionette theatre, calling it a 'vulgar species of an art form'. But the dancer asserts that puppets are more graceful than human dancers. Their advantage, he says, is that the arms and legs are lifeless pendulums which simply follow the movement of the puppet's centre of gravity - they can therefore never be guilty of affectation. A human, however, is so self-conscious that it's impossible to do anything without some measure of artificiality: 'Grace appears most purely in that human form which either has no consciousness or an infinite consciousness. That is, in the puppet or in the god.'

The dancer says that this problem of self-consciousness is unavoidable 'now that we've eaten of the tree of knowledge. But Paradise is locked and bolted, and the cherubim stands behind us. We have to go on and make the journey round the world to see if it is perhaps open somewhere at the back.' In other words, now that we have partial knowledge and self-consciousness, there is no way back; all we can do is continue pursuing knowledge until it is total. 'Only a god can equal inanimate matter,' says the dancer, because 'this is the point where the two ends of the circular world meet.' The narrator asks if this means 'that we must eat again of the tree of knowledge in order to return to the state of innocence?' 'Of course,' replies the dancer, 'but that's the final chapter in the history of the world.'

Tony

Edited by Tony Watkins

Focus: The Art and Soul of Cinema now published - www.damaris.org/focus

Damaris: www.damaris.org CultureWatch: www.culturewatch.org Personal site: www.tonywatkins.co.uk

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Sorry if this is taking us off the current train of thought, but does anyone else long for films that take advantage of puppetry as a MEDIUM, like animation, rather than a special effect? I know the Muppets did this to some extent, but they were always in some kind of contact with the real world. It's my dream to make a film that features puppets and puppets alone in their own little world.

I appreciate the impact that the Muppets have made on puppetry in film and TV, yet I can't help but feel their influence is a mixed blessing, as most puppet-centric TV and film (of which the latter is almost non-existent) seems to be either aimed at very young children, or it's going off in the opposite direction, almost parodizing the puppets for children cliche by making them for "adults only"; ergo, stuffed with gratuitous filth (Peter Jackson's Meet the Feebles being a prime example).

Does anyone else out there share my thoughts?

Still aimed at children, but Gerry Anderson's 'Supermarionation' in Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and Stingray made a big impact on me at the time (the TV series were much better than the film Thunderbirds are Go). And I still love it - perhaps especially because I'm aware of the strings and the puppetry now, whereas I guess I was caught up in the stories as a kid. My boys enjoyed Jonathan Frakes' Thunderbirds as much as the old Anderson stuff, but for me it was a travesty!! I do think it's a great shame that nobody picked up where Anderson left off in the 60s.

Tony

Focus: The Art and Soul of Cinema now published - www.damaris.org/focus

Damaris: www.damaris.org CultureWatch: www.culturewatch.org Personal site: www.tonywatkins.co.uk

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Tony Watkins:

I do think it's a great shame that nobody picked up where Anderson left off in the 60s.

Team America anyone?

:P

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Team America anyone?

Yes, me. A masterpiece.

"The things we enjoy are channels through which the divine glory strikes us, and those who love and delight in any good thing may yet learn to love God." --Gilbert Meilaender

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Let me summarise Kleist's essay: ... The dancer says that ... now that we have partial knowledge and self-consciousness, there is no way back; all we can do is continue pursuing knowledge until it is total. 'Only a god can equal inanimate matter,' says the dancer, because 'this is the point where the two ends of the circular world meet.' The narrator asks if this means 'that we must eat again of the tree of knowledge in order to return to the state of innocence?' 'Of course,' replies the dancer, 'but that's the final chapter in the history of the world.'

I find this intriguing and quite profound. It also reminds me of the passage from The Last Battle in which they encounter the wonderful fruit trees and hold back from picking the fruit, until Peter encourages them, "I'm sure...we've got to the country where everything is allowed" (172).

There is this difference between the growth of some human beings and that of others: in the one case it is a continuous dying, in the other a continuous resurrection. (George MacDonald, The Princess and Curdie)

Isn't narrative structure enough of an ideology for art? (Greg Wright)

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Team America anyone?

I was kinda referring to films such as this when I said:

or it's going off in the opposite direction, almost parodizing the puppets for children cliche by making them for "adults only"; ergo, stuffed with gratuitous filth (Peter Jackson's Meet the Feebles being a prime example).

However, I can't really judge Team America, since I haven't seen it. From what I read, though (as well as its Canadian 18A certificate), it sounded a bit... how do I say this? Raunchy? "Adults Only"?

That's not to say that raunchy and adults only are inherently bad things. But I'd really like to see puppetry taking a middle ground; somewhere between Muppets and Feebles, y'know; not rigidly "G", but not well-deservedly "R" either.

Still aimed at children, but Gerry Anderson's 'Supermarionation' in Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and Stingray made a big impact on me at the time (the TV series were much better than the film Thunderbirds are Go). And I still love it - perhaps especially because I'm aware of the strings and the puppetry now, whereas I guess I was caught up in the stories as a kid. My boys enjoyed Jonathan Frakes' Thunderbirds as much as the old Anderson stuff, but for me it was a travesty!! I do think it's a great shame that nobody picked up where Anderson left off in the 60s.

Yeah. I haven't actually seen any Thunderbirds, but I've heard it's great. That's the kind of thing I'm talking about. And like you said, it's a shame no one's picked up where they left off.

My name is Darth Vader. I come from the planet Vulcan.

- Back to the Future

To me, truth is not some vague, foggy notion. Truth is real. And at the same time, unreal. Fiction and fact and everything in between, plus some other things I can't remember; all rolled into one big "thing." This is truth, to me.

- Jack Handey

The Moviegeist

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Yeah. I haven't actually seen any Thunderbirds, but I've heard it's great. That's the kind of thing I'm talking about. And like you said, it's a shame no one's picked up where they left off.

I neglected to mention Anderson's other series, Joe 90 (a nine-year old spy - predecessor to Alex Ryder; I wouldn't be at all surprised if Anthony Horowtiz grew up watching Joe 90), Fireball XL5 and Space 1999. I never watched the latter two much but I don't recal why.

You can find more about Thunderbirds et al at ScreenOnline.org.uk. They have links to some complete episodes but apparently their video streaming is not available at present. If you want to sample some of Anderson's genius, keep on an eye out for when it's functional again.

Focus: The Art and Soul of Cinema now published - www.damaris.org/focus

Damaris: www.damaris.org CultureWatch: www.culturewatch.org Personal site: www.tonywatkins.co.uk

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  • 2 months later...

Sorry if this is taking us off the current train of thought, but does anyone else long for films that take advantage of puppetry as a MEDIUM, like animation, rather than a special effect?

The best example that I know of of this is Strings, which, as the title suggests, is not just starring puppets but actually builds their puppet-ness right into the story. When a puppet in the story is born, their string is attached - and to kill them you must cut their string. It's a fascinating concept.

Sorry this reply is so late . . . I hadn't registered the fact that this thread existed before now.

That's just how eye roll.

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Jan Svankmajer's "Alice" is very special indeed. It's a real shame that it is no longer available on DVD in the UK.

We are part of the generation in which the image has triumphed over the word, when the visual is dominant over the verbal and where entertainment drowns out exposition. We may go so far as to claim that we live in an age of the image which is also the age of anti-word and potentially is the age of the lie. ~ Os Guiness

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17)

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  • 1 month later...
The best example that I know of of this is Strings, which, as the title suggests, is not just starring puppets but actually builds their puppet-ness right into the story. When a puppet in the story is born, their string is attached - and to kill them you must cut their string. It's a fascinating concept.
Now THIS looks interesting. I'll have to check this out.

Jan Svankmajer's "Alice" is very special indeed. It's a real shame that it is no longer available on DVD in the UK.

I've heard of this. It looks surreal, to say the least (which is a very GOOD thing, BTW). I was under the impression, though, that it used stop-motion (I first read about it in a book on animation techniques), as opposed to live-action puppetry.

My name is Darth Vader. I come from the planet Vulcan.

- Back to the Future

To me, truth is not some vague, foggy notion. Truth is real. And at the same time, unreal. Fiction and fact and everything in between, plus some other things I can't remember; all rolled into one big "thing." This is truth, to me.

- Jack Handey

The Moviegeist

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Shinoda's film 'Double Suicide' - available as a Criterion DVD - is based on a bunraku puppet play. The movie starts out depicting preparations for a puppet play, before crossing over into live action, while maintaining some puppet performance conventions, which somewhat analogously to 'Fanny and Alexander,' has significant philosophical implications. A fascinating film experience, with a terrific Toru Takemitsu score, to boot...

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
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Jan Svankmajer's "Alice" is very special indeed. It's a real shame that it is no longer available on DVD in the UK.

I've heard of this. It looks surreal, to say the least (which is a very GOOD thing, BTW). I was under the impression, though, that it used stop-motion (I first read about it in a book on animation techniques), as opposed to live-action puppetry.

Yes, stop-motion is correct, but I figured that the film might be of interest since the Quays have been mentioned above.

We are part of the generation in which the image has triumphed over the word, when the visual is dominant over the verbal and where entertainment drowns out exposition. We may go so far as to claim that we live in an age of the image which is also the age of anti-word and potentially is the age of the lie. ~ Os Guiness

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17)

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By the way, if you want an idea of the flavour of this particular Alice in Wonderland, try to imagine Bagpuss as if directed by David Lynch.

Edited by The Invisible Man

We are part of the generation in which the image has triumphed over the word, when the visual is dominant over the verbal and where entertainment drowns out exposition. We may go so far as to claim that we live in an age of the image which is also the age of anti-word and potentially is the age of the lie. ~ Os Guiness

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17)

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Just saw Beck's music video for "Nausea," from The Information, and it's made to look like a Beck concert... except that Beck and his band are all wooden marionettes. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9BzDjRPvmRI.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

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Just saw Beck's music video for "Nausea," from The Information, and it's made to look like a Beck concert... except that Beck and his band are all wooden marionettes. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9BzDjRPvmRI.

The music doesn't do anything for me but the marionettes are fun. I particularly liked the drummer when I could see him.

But how they managed to play guitars without fingers that move I don't know :)

Focus: The Art and Soul of Cinema now published - www.damaris.org/focus

Damaris: www.damaris.org CultureWatch: www.culturewatch.org Personal site: www.tonywatkins.co.uk

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