A meticulous medium requiring extraordinary patience and ambidexterity, pinscreen animation has had very few virtuosos over the years. For artists up to the challenge, though, that means there’s still a great deal of room for discovery and experimentation, for improvisation and play.
That sense of creative exploration comes through in every frame of Michèle Lemieux’s ambitious 2012 film, Here and the Great Elsewhere. Split into four parts, the film is somewhere between a visual poem and an expression of philosophy, cycling through acts of creation and destruction, evolution and remembrance. Volcanoes erupt, creatures evolve as sort of whimsical exquisite corpses, the pins that make up the animation dance around the screen in a strangely minimal ballet.
When writing about pinscreen animation, it’s easy to get lost in talking about the tools instead of the film. In Lemieux’s case, though, that’s not really a problem: Here and the Great Elsewhere can’t be separated from the tools that created it. Since the pinscreen works by casting light at an angle at the pins, pinscreen artists are quite literally drawing with shadows and light.
That makes it so the medium itself becomes part of the film’s metaphor. As Lemieux explains in a closing note, the nearly quarter-million metal pins that make up each image represent atoms and the universe, discrete parts that come together to create something more. And the process of using the screen, starting with shadow and manipulating it until the images emerge, makes for a very different creative experience—one that Lemieux expanded on in an interview:
“One is always speaking of the fear of the blank page. With the pinscreen, I don’t have such a blank page, but rather a dark surface. And I have the impression to grope around for something that already exists in the dark. Being in the darkness has something to do with your inner self, and I have the feeling to be in a place where the ideas are there but I have to find them, to illuminate them. When I work with the pinscreen, I make things appear from obscurity. It’s a work process which is inverted…I search for something in the dark and I always have the feeling that it’s where I have to find it.”1
Here and the Great Elsewhere does feel like a film about illumination and exploration, playfulness and improvisation. And like the film’s everyman protagonist, viewers have a choice: you can approach it cautiously, trying to understand it. Or you can dive in, and lose yourself to the flow of it.
Here and the Great Elsewhere
dir. Michèle Lemieux
Syn: This abstract yet compelling philosophical tale uses the Alexeïeff-Parker pinscreen as a metaphor for the particles that make up the universe. Through 4 tableaux that explore her character’s thoughts, filmmaker Michèle Lemieux takes a look at the profound reflections of this everyman, whose questions are part of humanity’s eternal quest for meaning.
Click the image below to watch Here and the Great Elsewhere at the NFB:
(And the Making Of, which is incredibly worthwhile)
1 Quoted from an essay on womenandfilm.net, which was very influential in putting this post together.