LRFF: Q&A with Warren Criswell | Rock Candy

LRFF: Q&A with Warren Criswell

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"Nude Descending Staircase"

Warren Criswell is the creator of “Six Moments,” an animated short film made up of six shorter films, to be shown at 1 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday as part of the Arkansas Shorts Program at the Little Rock Film Festival.

Have you lost your mind?

Yes. It’s taken me four years to do 12 minutes. 

Why are you making the videos?

I went to New York in 2005 and saw [work by] William Kentridge. His work is in charcoal, rough animated drawings. They knocked me out. I was determined to try it. At the same time, at the Met, I saw a show of Rubens. I conflated the two in my mind … I thought I could make my drawings and paintings come to life. But when I got into it, it was so time consuming I gave it up, but I kept coming back to it over and over again. “The Crow” was the first.” They’re crude, but I like it that way. It’s an obsession.

So how do you make them?

Each one is done a different way. Kentridge has a camera set up and shoots a drawing and then erases it and draws the next. … I tried that and that’s really difficult. Just starting out I didn’t know how many frames I had to do to make it look right. … For “Nude Descending a Staircase” and the culvert scene in “The Crow” I painted the background in acrylic and drew the moving parts. For “Nocturne” I drew on a light table. ... I did it on gray sheets of paper and I reversed that with the computer.

Not everyone could draw a crow and make it look like it was flying. It’s flying correctly, the way a bird flies. How did you do that?

I shot video of a crow flying, and I’m looking at this thing while I’m drawing.

Maybe you were born to do this.

I love it. The thing is with painting you’re looking for a perfect moment and then the painting is there forever. With this thing, I’ve added stuff before that perfect moment, given it a past and a future. I’ve not only brought them to life but given them death now. … It’s more like real life, like performance art. It’s got mortality to it.

How many drawings did you have to make?

It takes 24 drawings per second. 

The music is perfect. Bob Boury’s music is wonderful. How did you do that?

It’s just amazing the way these things came together ... accidentally, serendipitously come together. You’re not looking for it, it just happens. [In “Nude Descending a Staircase”] the woman turns into a crow. I wasn’t thinking of it as kind of a witch-like thing but when I play the music [Boury’s “Variations on a Descending Theme” from 1968, when “he was doing Schoenberg”] that’s what it turns into. That happens to be the personality of the model.

Some unconscious part of your mind is putting things together …

It’s all the unconscious. That’s what Schoenberg said, it’s on my website. ["Art belongs to the unconscious! One must express oneself!”] “The Crossing” [in which Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” segues into John Lennon’s “Because”] is a perfect example of that. I had the “Moonlight Sonata” playing and then I heard on the radio that Lennon and Yoko, that Yoko was playing Moonlight Sonata, and John told her to play it backwards. … The chords in the beginning of “Because” are the same.  [In the soundtrack] I come out of the Beethoven into the Beatles, and then when vocal comes in ... it’s roadside carnage. [An aside: “That comes from Schoenberg’s “The Lucky Hand.”) … Lennon’s song is a hymn to life and love and superimposed on that is the guy, with a winged hyena chewing at his neck.

Another lucky thing was meeting Steve Whiteacre, a country rock guy. I don’t listen to that kind of music much but I was trying to replace the Seeger song [in “Night Moves,” in which a couple necking in a car becomes just a man in the car]. … By putting “Misery” in there, he’s like saying, Fuck it, and drives off. It adds a note of humor to it that wasn’t there before …

I love the scene in the culvert, where the man shoots the crow.

The crow is mortality. You can’t shoot it, can’t get rid of it, it’s an empty gesture. I got that black out from the “Sopranos” by the way.

What’s next? Are you thinking of collaborating with anyone?

Maybe I’ll end up at the Cannes Film Festival.

Some say your work is autobiographical.

I deny everything.

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