Alexandre Alexeieff DVD Forthcoming from Facets

The Animation of Alexeieff - cover of the Facets DVDI’m thrilled to serendipitously learn that July 28 late November, 2009 will see the US release of The Animation of Alexeieff, a new DVD from the good folks at Facets Video in Chicago (who also recently brought us the phenomenal and long-overdue Lawrence Jordan Album four-DVD set).

Update: release of this Facets edition was delayed for four months, for reasons I’ve not been able to learn.  Back in July, Scarecrow Video even had it on their “Coming Next Week” white board…and the following week they listed it as “delayed,” and no one there seemed to know why.  This happened again earlier in November.  At this writing (Nov. 28, 2009), the Facets web site actually lists it as “in stock,” so let’s hope they’re actually shipping, too. I’m also disappointed to see that, now that it’s finally coming out, the single-disc release has a whopping $40 price tag.

This is a North American-market re-release of the stunning (and out-of-print) 2005 French release, Alexeïeff: Le Cinéma Epinglé, issued by Cinédoc in Paris.  It brings together five theatrical shorts and 18 commercials made by Alexandre Alexeieff and his partner Claire Parker, using their remarkable invention, the pinscreen.  Also included are a couple documentaries, notably the excellent workshop film The Pinscreen, made by Norman McLaren when he brought Alexeieff and Parker to the National Film Board of Canada to do master classes and create some new work there.  (That film can also be found in the mammoth but essential DVD box set, Norman McLaren: The Masters Edition.)

One of the NFBC filmmakers inspired by those sessions was Jacques Drouin, who went on to create a number of films using the pinscreen.  His 1976 film, Mindscreen (Le Paysagiste), is also included on this DVD.

Additional enticements and goodies are a photo gallery of Alexeieff’s gorgeous engravings and illustrations, as well as an illustrated booklet.

My discovery of the pending Facets release couldn’t have been timelier — I was just about to convince myself to drop a 100 bucks (!) on a second-hand copy of the original French edition, which had just surfaced on eBay.  Alexeieff and Parker’s films are almost completely unique in film history, and I’ve been a huge fan since I first saw Le Nez as part of a “surrealism in film” program of shorts in Chicago during the late 1980s. Beautiful, otherworldly and, yes, rather surreal.

Needless to say, I recommend this DVD very highly.  (I’ve watched the original French edition, which can be rented from Scarecrow Video here in Seattle.) The only disappointment is that more of their theatrical shorts aren’t represented, and that their masterful prologue to Orson Welles’ The Trial (1962) is also omitted.

Here’s some additional stills to whet your appetite:

A still from Alexeieff and Claire's 'En Passant' (1943)

This still from En Passant (1943) shows the incredible amount of detail possible with the pinscreen, not to mention the breathtaking skill Alexeieff and Parker brought to bear.  Now imagine animating the above image, shifting one metal pin at a time…24 times per second.  Astonishing.

A still from Alexeieff and Claire's 'A Night on Bald Mountain' (1933)

One of the many darkly evocative images from their first pinscreen film, Nuit sur le mont Chauve (Night on Bald Mountain) (1933), set to the composition by Mussorgsky.

A still from Alexeieff and Claire's 'Le Nez' (1963)

From Le Nez (The Nose) (1963), an interpretation of the short story by Gogol. The wavy horizontal pattern is part of the original image and was itself animated during portions of the film.

From the pinscreen prologue to Welles' 'The Trial' (1962)

Alexeieff and Parker’s pinscreen prologue to Orson Welles’ The Trial (1962), above, is not included on the forthcoming Facets DVD, but makes that film even more worth renting that it would be on its own considerable merits.

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