Hubley: Modern Arts in Motion

Hubley Classics

Going to the movies, at its best, is a transformative experience. Even if it is temporary, the great joy of seeing a film has less to do with what happens on screen than how you feel when you walk out. That is how I would describe my reality after Hubley. It may be temporary, but that feeling of being animated in the world struck me, strolling through downtown Portland on my way to the yellow line home. In the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s when the Hubley collection, presented by NW Film Center, first debuted, it is very possible that viewers had a more profound transformative experience. At the time, the vast population had seen nothing like it.

Until the 1960’s, most feature films were preceded by some kind of animated film and nobody complained if it wasn’t lifelike. Today, these animations can look choppy and retro, and of course that is why down the road at the multiplex and all over the country, vastly more people were watching Spider-Man, a glorified animation film branded as live action, full of computerized backdrops and characters. But the analog and paper love that these Hubley classics were produced with are no match. And I mean that in favor of Hubley.

I love modern art and jazz. That is why I jumped at the chance to blog this event. Modern art is characterized by a liberal use of color and abstract forms. Unlike post-modern art or even today’s post-post modern, where the physical representation is no longer is required, where a performance can be a dialogue with the audience, modern art still is very tactile. Hubley’s animation is modern art in motion, soundtracked by the modern music of that era: jazz.

When I speak of Hubley, I speak of the duo as if they are one. John and Faith Hubley is a super power couple responsible for a prolific stream of groundbreaking works known as the Hubley collection, restored by MoMa (Modern Museum of Art). Animator and daughter, Emily Hubley, picked these eight shorts in the screening. Each film, usually indirectly, responds to socio-political issues of their day while speaking directly to the compassionate heart.

In Moonbird, two children catch an elusive bird, not with bait or cages, but with song. The Hat is a dialogue featuring Dizzy Gillespie, providing both music and speech, involving two soldiers at some mysterious border, discussing the absurdity of their legal and economic position, yet they can not stop defending it, despite the convincing socratic method of Gillespie’s character, revealing all the absurdities. This was the definite crowd favorite. Eggs has a similar dialectic approach addressing the alarms ringing by 1970 about the industrialization of life itself.

I was carried away by the appearance of everything and the music. The first film (1957) features signature fifties jazz by Benny Carter with walking bass lines and smooth melodies. The newest film (1970) features music by a young Quincy Jones and his totally groovy funk. Dizzy Gillespie’s contribution (1964) caters to my favorite era of modern jazz with its disjointed, energetic, angular riffs and robust emotional experience. Visually, each film carries its own aesthetic, but essentially, every piece involves abstract scenery overlayed by abstract characters with a colorful palette. I didn’t need to follow any storyline to dig it.

Next week, Sunday May 11th, Hubley returns to NWFC’s Whitsell Auditorium with a feature film entitled The Cosmic Eye. I’ll be there to tell you all about it.

READ the article by IndieWire for more information about this centennial exhibition.

Enjoy one of the more tender films below.




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