LISFE meets BA in Film and Literature: Extrapolate – The review

LISFE meets BA in Film and Literature: Extrapolate – The review

One highlight of LISFE 2018 was the collaboration with the students of Film and Literature Studies (BA) (Film en Literatuurwetenschap), at Leiden University. The students were invited to view a special selection of animations, documentaries and experimental short films.

Isar van Renselaar enthusiastically attended the session and analyzed the very creative short film Extrapolate by Johan Rijpman.

Get yourself togehter!

by Isar van Renselaar

You see a diagonal line drawn on a graph. A hand appears that seems interested in extending the line even further. The hand hesitates, but eventually puts its pen down and with a smooth movement the line is put into motion. Approaching the edge of the graph the creature changes, and the initial life-like hand is replaced with an animation. This form of art we get to know as a violent spirit that puts on a turbulent display by pulling the lines, dots and scribbles of the artist’s hand apart in an anarchy of stretched out flesh, mangled bones and snapping veins. The hand seems unhappy about this state of affairs and in order to maintain order it has to continually move into new and unexplored territories of the artistic space.

The short film Extrapolate starts with live-action but quickly moves into the medium of animation. The innovative possibilities of this art form are deployed to disfigure, abstract, fade out and eventually destroy her objects (a hand, a paper crumple, an artist’s room). My interest for this film derives from the ingenious way in which there’s given birth to creating multiple layers of existence, facilitated by the formal aspects of animation. The film contains a number of transitions that let us travel between different layers of existence and where each time an inevitable fall into decay is prevented with the introduction of continually more intricate countermeasures of the artist. I took this division into layers as the basis for the method in which I deconstruct the film and analyse it. Every transition establishes a certain relation between the new and the old that tells us something about the layers themselves and the forces that inhabit them (what these forces are will follow) since each participant has different ways of travelling to the new layer and influencing the animation drawn on it. Eventually I make the argument that in Extrapolate, it seems like the lines between art and artist are blurred since the power of the artist to control the art is challenged by the art itself.

Formal aspects of animation

To start it’s essential to note the importance of animation in relation to the film’s mechanisms. At the start of the film, a real-life hand changes into an animated one. In the technical sense, an X amount of frames that have been registered in real life with a movie camera are swapped with an X amount of drawings per second. Apart from a possible symbolic meaning the major significance of this occurrence is the introduction of a certain formal aspect of animation that’s now been made possible, metamorphosis. In Extrapolate this technique is used to its extreme. Comparable to the existential crisis Daffy Duck experiences in Duck Amuck as a result of the deconstruction and hilarious re-construction of the foundations of his animation, in Extrapolate we get a hand that sees the lines that mark him as such fall apart and tries to keep himself together by continually moving closer to the existential layer of the artist itself and obtaining more and more complex attributes to keep order.

Although Daffy loses his body or his voice at certain moments, there’s always a part that remains and that we can recognize as ‘Daffy’. Wells explains what shifting between Daffy as a visual or an aural icon, while still being able to keep track of Daffy’s identity, signifies.

“This draws attention to the predetermined understanding of Daffy as a character, and to the notion that a whole character can be understood by any one of its parts. Cartoon vocabulary readily employs the synecdoche, the part that represents the whole, as a piece of narrative shorthand. Daffy may be understood through his iconic elements, both visually and aurally.” (200)

In Extrapolate synecdoche is implemented slightly different compared to Duck Amuck since the different sets of hands don’t respond to a singular identity exactly. This mainly stems from the fact we’re dealing with a more abstract character than Daffy Duck. Instead of experiencing every set of hands as belonging to a clear entity we get the feeling that every new hand is somehow different, somehow the same. We gradually get an idea of what is going as we continue along the first several layers. This understanding begins with the recurrence of a pair of hands. Next, the effort the hands put into getting back control of their predecessor, starting a process that repeat itself frequently, suggests the hands share an even deeper link since they seem to be concerned with each other’s preservation. However, we’re still not sure on whatever is behind the hands, to what body they connect. In other words, the ‘whole character’ that fits ‘any of its parts’ isn’t known. By denying the hands an obvious single origin, it magnifies the sense of their potential magnitude. We get the sense whatever force connects these hands might have even more power than we are shown. Synecdoche also occurs in the background with the different layers maintaining the similar nature of a white plain of paper. This makes every individual layer part of an also yet unexplored parallel universe but guarantees at least a stable foundation for the animation to take place amidst the chaos of the paper’s inhabitants.

Core structure of the film

These methods, with which the images are connected make it possible to clearly recognize the changes that happen within the layers themselves and to integrate them. Usually metamorphosis plays a role in bringing these changes about, in the moments when the hands seem to decompose and fall apart. By looking at the way these metamorphoses take place you see how different layers of reality influence one another and how these connections take the line and the hand, the creation and its creator, and conflate or confuse them at specific points in order to ask the question to which degree they are interdependent. By giving a thorough analysis where I take the reader by the hand along the first several layers, pointing to the complexity of various recurring visual elements, I want to offer the reader a platform from which an individual interpretation might be formed. Enabling such an interpretation but deferring it at the same time, I try to dissect the logical structure on which one such interpretation might be based. To this purpose I will roughly use the first 40 seconds of the film. When one recognizes the inherent pattern the remaining segments could be similarly deconstructed.

Close Reading

1. The hand starts to draw (0:00-0:23)

The short is titled Extrapolate which Merriam-Webster dictionary defines as follows:

1.a : to predict by projecting past experience or known data. //extrapolate public sentiment on one issue from known public reaction on others.

1.b : to project, extend, or expand (known data or experience) into an area not known or experienced so as to arrive at a usually conjectural knowledge of the unknown area. //extrapolates present trends to construct an image of the future.

2: to infer (values of a variable in an unobserved interval) from values within an already observed interval.

With this knowledge we can suggest that the hand tries to adhere to certain expectations. The line in the graph needs to continue the course it has been running until now. This expectation will be continually disrupted throughout the course of the film. The hand seems somewhat apprehensive at the start, seemingly justified by the fact its colours start disappearing the moment it does put its pen down and begins its journey. Quickly afterwards the already black and white hand continues to shift and eventually ends up as a drawing. When the pen hits the corner of the graph you see the first lines sprout that will eventually take over the entire icon of the hand. We’re witness to the birth of a new playing field. At the exact moment the line touches the corner of the graph a gradual permeation of lines appears out of this singularity, expanding outwards in opposite directions to completely replace both the graph and the hand. With this big bang the hand has evolved into a different live-form. What’s remarkable now is the sudden appearance of dotted lines that neatly divide the hand were it a blueprint and mark these differentiated areas with bold dots.

2. The hand deconstructs (0:26-0:32)

After briefly going its merry way something interesting happens to the line. Commencing at the exact same moment, the line turns into a dotted line, the graph that we have left behind starts to distort, the hand lets go of the pen and the dots that distinguish the different areas of the hand start living a life of their own. Just as the pen does from this point out the dots start leaving a dotted line. The foundation on which the original line rested, the hand that drew it, has been destroyed since it appears that even the hand itself is constructed out of lines whose origins concern something of a higher status. The consequence is the deterioration of the hand itself into a mash of bone, veins and muscles.

3. The hand tries to reconstruct (0:32- ...)

A higher power is introduced to prevent further decay. Suddenly two hands appear that crumble the piece of paper on which everything that had happened until now took place, only to deconstruct in similar fashion to what happened as shown on the piece of paper they just crumpled. In the beginning the two hands seem to possess a stable form but it seems the black-dot virus spreads by touch from the paper crumple onto the hands. After the reappearance of the ominous black dots these new hands dissolve in quite the same way. The next layer is introduced when the second pair of hands are torn apart and disappear of screen. A third version of hands appear that throw a paper crumple on the floor. The suggestion is that whatever happened until now has been discarded and preserved into this piece of rubbish. Interestingly this constitutes a new relation between layers. The first transition was spatially marked (the animation disappeared since its drawing paper got crushed) but this second transition is only connected by chronological association. The drawing disappeared to the side but a paper crumple appeared immediately after so we assume that the drawing with the same fate as the first drawing and now resides in shown paper crumple. The dots also transfer across the different layers again, although now they have grown immune to physical antidotes since they stay on screen even after when their paper disappears. You can now start to recognize the pattern that will propagate throughout the rest of the film, where you continuously get introduced to new and innovative ways to control the subservient layers of animation from of a higher domain of reality.

Within this continual process we can distinguish three components. The artist (the hand), the art (the line) and a chaotic element (the black dots). With attention to brevity I won’t analyse the animation further but it’s essential to notice how the black dots stand outside of the represented layers of reality in the same way as the hands and to realize this means the artist doesn’t hold control over them.

Conclusion

As I hope to have shown there are characteristics of both the artist and the art itself that can influence the way in which the image takes shape. The role of the subject and object keep on shifting onto new players. What the implications are of these shifts in the segment of the short this paper doesn’t cover is also very interesting. Eventually even the dimension of time has to be invoked as a last ditch effort to remain order. I hope to have presented the reader with a structural instrument for further analyses.

References

Rijpman, Johan. Extrapolate. Project to invite overseas creators of media arts, 2016

Wells, Paul. Introduction to Film Studies. fifth edition, Routledge, 2012

Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/extrapolate