I fully acknowledge that cameraless animation can be difficult to appreciate. It’s pretty easy to create something by drawing, painting and scratching on film, but to make an engaging piece takes incredible amounts of skill. Norman McLaren is the go-to example, and his blend of playfulness and technical mastery is hard to match—it still amazes me how many people who couldn’t be bothered with experimental animation in general have a soft spot for films like Bilnkety Blank and Begone Dull Care.
But there have been other masters of the format, and Richard Reeves ranks among the best (and I’m not just saying that because of his tenure at Quickdraw). Linear Dreams, his most acclaimed work, is entirely cameraless—the images and sound are both created by hand, directly on film—and it contains some of the most stunning sequences I’ve seen in a cameraless film. Being a fairly literal-minded person, the mountain sequence around 2/3 of the way through is the first part that really jumped out at me, but the more I’ve watched it, the more that even the most abstract segments strike me as just perfectly executed. Reeves’ pacing is relentless, ramping up tension and then releasing it in tiny bursts of sound and briefly glimpsed images. It carries a sense of motion, an idea that you’re whirling through the universe, or maybe a microscopic landscape, or maybe just seeing fragments of dreams; whatever it is, it never feels like you’re on the outside, looking at a drawing. As odd and abstracted as it is, you’re a part of the film’s world.