By • Aug 2nd, 2013 •

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The advancements in computer software programs in recent years have taken animated films to great heights. But has computer technology replaced real ingenuity and creativity in moviemaking?

Let’s take a step back, for a moment—or rather, a step off to the side of the beaten path. I recently attended the Independent Filmmakers Showcase (IFS), a yearly film festival held in Los Angeles, and saw a number of really excellent independent films; among the most original was the winner of the IFS “Best Animated Film,” THE IMMORTAL HEAD, directed by Portland-based artist and filmmaker Mark Andres.

A silent movie blending romance with overtones of horror, THE IMMORTAL HEAD is told entirely using still drawings and title cards. The result is a motion picture / graphic novel hybrid. The fantastical story is set in Weimar Berlin, where a young doctor, Max Lenz, treats soldiers disfigured by severe facial injuries from World War I and develops a radical procedure for tissue transplant surgery. Disturbed by the ruined faces around him, Max fixates on an ancient bust of an unknown woman on display in a museum (this would be “the immortal head” of the title) until fate delivers into his life a beautiful Jewish artist who reminds Max of the sculpture. The pair falls in love as the Nazis rise to power—and the story takes a grim but unexpected turn.

I asked Mark Andres what inspired the unusual storyline. “The story was inspired by my struggle to come fully alive and to integrate the feminine in myself,” he replied. “In the film, this process gets enacted for my two lovers, Max and Veronika, in the most concrete, romantic, and horrific way. Max learns a lesson in what it means to be alive and what it means to find the feminine within himself—at a horrible price. Setting this story in the Weimar period in the context of WWI, the horrors of facial reconstructive surgery, and the rise of Nazism seemed to enlarge a private moment, and also connected the story to German Expressionism and early silent films.”

Andres worked as a painter and fiction writer for years before growing frustrated with the limitations of both. But a trip to Italy that Andres made in 2005 introduced him to Renaissance frescoes by artists like Ghirlandaio and Piero Della Francesca that reminded him of graphic novels or the storyboards for silent films and sparked some creative ideas in his head.

The drawings for THE IMMORTAL HEAD are rendered in a rough-hewn style that evokes Bauhaus imagery, capturing perfectly the spirit and style of the Weimar era. The flowing camera movement, whether pulling back or zooming in to the illustrations, suggests fluid motion without the need for traditional “animation.” While Andres initially wondered if he should animate the films in a traditional way, audience response thus far suggests otherwise, and as he himself pointed out, “One audience member said THE IMMORTAL HEAD was proof that beautiful drawing was enough to hold an audience’s attention for 90 minutes, which made me happy.

“At first I tried making paintings comprised of separate panels like pages of a graphic novel, then I began making those paintings into short films, and finally the most obvious solution presented itself: a series of drawings with inter-titles and music, a form I call the ‘kinographic novel,’ a hybrid of early cinema and drawing.”

“My films would not exist without Kevin,” admits Andres, who adds, “When the three things come together: image, music and text—it is pure magic for me…I feel his music is uniquely suited to my imagery and sensibility.”

THE IMMORTAL HEAD is currently traveling the festival circuit, while the trailer as well as his earlier six-part film serial, THE WOMAN AND THE APE, a melodrama about a love triangle in the big top, can be viewed online. “THE WOMAN AND THE APE was made for YouTube,” Andres explained, “meaning the serial format was a response to YouTube’s (then) time restrictions on length (10 minutes), which was a weird conflation of the old-time serial format and modern technology. The film premiered in conjunction with a show of my paintings at Augen Gallery in Portland and screened at Living Room Theaters to a full house with standing room only. The entire film is available on YouTube, as are all my trailers and shorts.”

His other works include the feature-length NAZOOK, which the talented filmmaker describes as “a science fiction film about the first woman on Mars and is my first film in color. POMPEII, OREGON is my attempt to make a first-person film that is the cinematic equivalent of a first-person novel; all the information is filtered through one (unreliable) narrator, including the drawings, which are made by that character.”

In the meantime, Andres is working on several projects, including a science fiction film he expects to be finished this year called THE SOMNAMBULISTS, which he describes as “my most ambitious film to date in terms of visual complexity and plot. It is a love story set in an underground city on the moon, where nobody sleeps because everyone is taking speed. The other film, about the death of my father, is a documentary essay, and will probably take a long time to finish.” He plans to screen both films in Portland, as well as submit them to festivals. He is also working on a retelling of DRACULA, which he is planning as a full-length kinographic novel; currently, a nine-minute trailer he created can be found on YouTube as well as on his own website.

For more information on Mark Andres, his art and films, click here:

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2 Responses »

  1. What a welcome surprise to see talent of this order celebrated. Andres is an Oscar winner in the making.

  2. Bravo: A wonderful presentation of a great talent. I had the good fortune to study art with the Father of Mark Andres, and have followed his sons work since the beginning.

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