Norman McLaren’s Begone Dull Care (1949) is probably my all-time favorite animated short with a jazz score. The music to the short is provided by the Oscar Peterson Trio. This film avoids tying the music to any kind of representational imagery, using shapes and color to illustrate the music of O.P.’s trio. McLaren deals with the music on its own terms.
My favorite aspect of the film is the way it supports the musical wit of Oscar Peterson, resulting in some laugh-out loud moments (a remarkable accomplishment for a cartoon with no characters or story).
When I showed this film to a friend of mine, an alto saxophonist, she mentioned that she liked how it never repeats itself. The animation is a stream of conciousness, much like O.P.’s improvisation. The film follows the musical structure of three “movements,” each with its own individual identity.
Begone Dull Care is often compared to the work of Jackson Pollock, but I think it more closely resembles the work of abstract expressionist Willem de Kooning.
In the first “movement” of the film, McLaren uses white lines against black to augment the musical unison lines which O.P. plays in octaves on the lower register of the piano. McLaren achieves this effect by scratching directly onto the film stock.
I can’t help but notice the similarities between these drawings and the charcoal-like paintings of Willem de Kooning, made just one year prior to McLaren’s film.
Willem de Kooning. Painting. 1948. Enamel and oil on canvas. On view at MoMa, NYC.